Ok, ya’ll, Stranger Things 4 has FINALLY graced our screens. They brilliantly released the episodes over the holiday weekend for us here in America. That meant an extra day of binging after waiting a long-ass three years for it!
To start, I have loved Stranger Things since the beginning. When it was first released, I hopped right on the hype train. It’s rare for me to do that, as I typically don’t like shows that everyone else is raving about (calling out The Queen’s Gambit here. That show was awful!). Anywho, from the first Christmas light twinkle, I got hooked. Some of the creepiest moments I had seen on TV were happening, especially before really understanding what was going on. The scene when Joyce (Winona Ryder) thinks she can hear Will (Noah Schnapp) in the Upside Down floating around her house right before the Christmas Lights is television gold.
Season 2 was eh, but it was still good and watchable, then Season 3 crushed everyone's souls. Let me throw out a RED ALERT here, as there will be spoilers moving forward. If you haven’t seen any Stranger Things, go watch it. If you haven’t watched the 4th season yet, I implore you to stop reading this article and enjoy some of the best television you will watch this year.
Now that we have that out of the way, I will return to my woe (singular) about season 3. Our boy Jim Hopper (David Harbour) did the damn thing and sacrificed himself for all of Hawkins and Joyce. Was he disintegrated? Was he alive? Did Joyce go through YET ANOTHER loss?
TANGENT ALERT: Can we talk about that really quickly? Joyce Byers went through losing her son in the first season, and everyone thought she was insane when she knew he was alive. Then she lost her boyfriend Bob (Sean Astin) to a Demogorgon in season 2. Then she gets cozy with Hopper and loses him! And what does she do? She picks herself right up, adopts Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), says fuck you to Hawkins, and peaces out to California. She is the mom figure we ALL need in our lives. Moving on….
The teasers released for Season 4 gave us hope that Hopper was alive, and boy was he! We find him in a Russian *almost* concentration camp, being tortured and put to work building railroads. (heh). So that’s a relief…kinda. Let’s finally dive into the gloriousness that is Season 4.
Another quick side note, there is SO MUCH to dive into this season that I really cannot hit all points. Honorable mentions of conversation should definitely go to Chrissy (Grace Von Dien), which left us with quite the climax of Episode 1, Jason (Mason Dye), who is this season’s love-to-hate character, and Angela (Elodie Grace Orkin), who would give Jason a run for his money as the asshole bully…or date him. Then they can go try to murder people on their own. With that out of the way, let’s get started!
Re-learning the characters
A 3-year gap between seasons is a long one (right, GoT fans?!) so opening the season with the main characters is necessary. The season opens by showing us the grand adventures of Will and Eleven, or shall we say, Jane? She is narrating a letter she wrote to Mike (Finn Wolfhard) that describes a perfect adolescence in the mountains of California. However, what her words are saying and what the screen shows us are quite contradictory. Eleven is being bullied harshly. We see spit wads, queen bees, general rudeness; you know, typical high school bullying. We see Joyce working from home, settling into a new job to afford this new life, and Will’s brother, Jonathon (Charlie Heaton), making new friends. This new friend, Argyle (Eduardo Franco), is one of the best supporting characters in this season, if not all of Stranger Things. He’s a total pothead hippie, and if anyone needs some weed in their life, it’s the Byers’.
Then we get to see Hawkins. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Mike support Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) in a basketball pep rally! Max (Sadie Sink) is around, but she is more of a side-eyer than a participant. The crew has somewhat broken up while still being supportive of one another. The first conflict arises for the crew when we find out Lucas’s championship ball game is the same night as the DnD club’s final match of the season. This club (dubbed the Hellfire Club) is of a lot of importance later in the season. We then get introduced to another amazing supporting character named Eddie Munson (Joseph Quin VIII), also quite important later. He’s the Game Master that won’t reschedule the game, so Dustin and Mike have to find a replacement for Lucas in their DnD game, and they turn to none other than Lucas’s sister Erica (Priah Ferguson). Such a sass, that one.
We get to see Steve (Joe Keery) prepping Robin (Maya Hawke) for a potential girlfriend (YAY!), and you just can’t beat their dynamic. It’s as if no time has passed, and they are one day after leaving Scoops Ahoy.
Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is still an aspiring journalist and has left the sleazy asshole world of males to make her stories. Mike is…Mike. Disappointingly, his character this season was as exciting as the jar of PB that rolled up to Yuri on the airplane. Between him and Will, their characters took a beating this season.
TANGENT ALERT: The fact that Mike went from protecting Eleven in the mall to not even being able to stand next to her and support her decision to whack the shit out of her bully’s face with a roller skate irked the crap out of me. Meanwhile, I was cheering for all victims of bullying and understood what drove Eleven to that point. You go, girl. Having the DJ turn the song down was NOT enough. Moving on…
The new villain 4-1-1
Vecna. This. Fucking. Villain. We are learning more and more about the Upside Down, what it is, and where it came from this season. The writers have been able to pull everything together and tie it with a beautiful bow in almost Marvel-like fashion, spanning all the seasons to this one. Vecna took the creepiness to a whole new level. The meatier Crypt Keeper-looking asshole is just an asshole to be an asshole (have I said that enough?). There is clearly a throwback to Freddy Krueger; peep Robert Englund as Victor Creel in ep 4, meaning Vecna puts his victims in a trance-like state before mutilating them all to hell. The reason he does this is what makes it the creepiest….just bc he can. He got all pissed at his mom one day and tore her up. That simple.
Then he got introduced to the show's 2nd most terrible villain, Papa (Matthew Modine). Papa found a kid with special powers and decided to clone his ass and make more, all while telling them they’re special and that he would take care of them. What a psychopath. The first kid he found, aptly named 001, turns out to be Vecna. (I would just like to interject and say I guessed this twist! I thought Vecna would be 001, and I thought the nice gentleman helping Eleven in her flashbacks would be 001, but I did not think they were Victor Creel’s son. That was an M. Night Shyamalan-style twist, and I am here for it).
We’ve all known Eleven is incredibly powerful but is it because she’s the only one like her? Do we think she is so powerful because we witnessed her close a gate to the Upside Down? This season, we quickly learn she’s not the only one with special powers. In a disturbing yet important scene to open the season, we see her brothers and sisters have been murdered in their beds and in the Rainbow Room. We are meant to believe Eleven does this herself, which terrifies her. We do find out at the end of Volume 1 that Eleven did not do this, but she will blame herself for it. We find out that 001 coerced, or tricked, her into helping him. He was quite good at it, too. After Eleven sees the monster 001 is, she sends him into the Upside Down, banishing him. This allows him to grow in his nuttiness (a la Doctor Manhattan), creating a world around him that mirrors his awful soul and lets him become a dementor-esque prick that sucks the soul out of people who are troubled or traumatized by something in their life.
All Hail Max and Episode 4
Ok, I am now to the point of this entire article. Episode 4, “Dear Billy,” is the. Best. Television. In. Modern. Day. Television. You heard me. Read that again. Max’s character arc is *chef’s kiss* brilliant. She comes into this season distant from her friends after suffering the trauma and loss of her step-brother, Billy. She is unsure of herself and unsure of her friends and turns to her headphones to drown out the sadness. This ends up coming in handy, as we know. All while Max is trying to defeat Vecna’s hold on her, Nancy, Robin, and the gang are trying to find ways to help her. The secret? Music. The crew throws her world-drowning headphones on her and blasts Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.” This episode (and season) has been such a hit that it has given this song a resurgence, throwing it to #1 on iTunes and Spotify and giving it a 9001% boost over previous years of downloading it!
The suspense and tension in this episode are top-notch. The puzzle pieces being put together in real-time make you stay on the edge of your seat the entire time. Max, realizing she has something good in her friends, all while getting important hints into the world of Vecna and running for her fucking life to escape, has so many emotions in just one sentence. I will watch this season again just to enjoy that episode repeatedly.
The Hopper and Joyce reunion we all deserve (and Murray!)
Ok, I lied; one more thing. I couldn’t wait for Hopper to see Joyce. Can I just say that Murray (Brett Gelman) stole the freaking show? When he said he was a black belt but then actually put his heel in some throats and took some people down, I was in shock. This guy has always been a great sense of comedy relief in previous seasons, but he just hippity-hoppity’d his way to California and joined Joyce on a trip to Alaska like it was nothing. The man is supportive of his friends, if nothing else.
Watching Hopper go through the struggles just to stay alive to see the women in his life warmed my cold black heart. He stands out once again, but his partner Enzo (the man without a face, Tom Wlaschiha) was a pleasant reprieve from the other maniacal Russian guards. Their dynamic was fun to watch, even when it got incredibly serious. Hopper escaping his imprisonment by setting a cabin on fire, exploding some guards, and peacing out on a snowmobile was AWESOME.
So, now we have the California crew as the only ones that know Eleven has been taken to get her powers back. The Alaska/Russian crew are the only ones who know Hopper is even alive. And the Hawkins crew are the only ones who are aware of Vecna’s psycho ass and how to get past his trance-like state (if the person is strong enough like Max).
TANGENT ALERT: that federal agent who danced around the Byers’ home in California doing his duty and protecting those kids was AMAZING. Yeah, they then had to bury him later in the middle of the desert, but his actual security skills were top-notch. Kudos to that guy.
Everyone is working on their own things in completely different areas of the globe yet are still all interconnected. The Duffer Brothers have done it again with the 80’s nostalgia, the pop-culture references, the throwbacks, and the storytelling. All in all, this season was phenomenal. I cannot WAIT for a Vecna/001 vs. Eleven fight. I seriously hope there are no character deaths, but the way this season is going, Volume 2 may have some tricks up its sleeve. The final 2 episodes of season 4 air on July 1, 2022, with the penultimate episode clocking in at 85 minutes and the finale 2.5 hours long.
Will you be watching? Did you watch Season 4? Let me know what you think in the comments!