'Stranger Things' Season 4 May Be The Best the Series Will Ever Be - Knotfest
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‘Stranger Things’ Season 4 May Be The Best the Series Will Ever Be

Posted by Nicolás Delgadillo in Culture on July 21, 2022

Metallica, Kate Bush, and an emotionally rich season make it the strongest the show has been

After a much delayed wait, Netflix’s pop culture phenomenon Stranger Things finally returned to the television sets, tablets and phones of millions last month. It had been a long three years since the series’ third season dropped, and that time apart was exceptionally eventful. The onset of a catastrophic global pandemic, one of the largest racial justice movements in history, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (just to name a few) all contributed to changing our mindsets and worldviews in different ways. In other words, with so much having happened since we last joined the Hawkins gang in defending their town from monsters from the Upside Down, it’s not strange (sorry) to wonder if the series would be able to come back with the same kind of impact or care.

There was a lot to live up to, but Season 4 of Stranger Things impressively proved that the Duffer Brothers and their creative team are still able to deliver on the heart and excitement that made the show such a phenomenon to begin with. With a focus on bringing its story and characters back around to the start of their journeys (at times literally, at others spiritually) Season 4 is the show at its very best. The sci-fi horror, the emotional character drama, and the thrill of 80s nostalgia are at their strongest here, solidifying the series’ place in pop culture for good and setting the stage for a massive finale.

The series once again splits up the cast into separate groups. Each goes on their own perilous journeys, but this time around, they’re further apart than ever. In Hawkins we have Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Max (Sadie Sink), Erica (Priah Ferguson), Steve (Joe Keery), Nancy (Natalia Dyer), and Robin (Maya Hawke) dealing the new threat of Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower) as he begins horrifically murdering the town’s high schoolers. Caught in the crossfire is everyone’s new favorite metalhead Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn), who becomes public enemy number one in Hawkins after Vecna’s first victim is found in his home. With nobody in town having the benefit of superpowers and the adults as oblivious and wrong as ever, the kids are on their own in putting a stop to Vecna’s interdimensional reign of terror.

Joseph Quinn stars as Eddie Munson in ‘Stranger Things’
Courtesy of Netflix

Meanwhile, in California, Will (Noah Schnapp) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), along with Mike (Finn Wolfhard) who came to visit for summer break, and Jonathan’s co-worker Argyle (Eduardo Franco), find themselves on the run from the military, who are in pursuit of Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). Eleven, with her powers now absent following the events of Season 3, winds up back in the care (or confinement) of Dr. Owen (Paul Reiser) and, more shockingly, her own “Papa” Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine). The two are looking to help her restore her powers in order to combat Vecna, but with the military hot on their trail with the objective of killing Eleven outright, they have precious little time to do so. 

And finally, we have Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Murray (Brett Gelman) on a rescue mission all the way over in Russia. They enlist a less-than-trustworthy pilot named Yuri (Nikola Ðuričko) to help them bust a miraculously alive Jim Hopper (David Harbour) out of a particularly nasty Russian prison, where he’s become reluctant allies with a guard named Enzo (Tom Wlaschiha). During their mission, they learn more about the Russians’ secret plans and experimentation with the Upside Down and its many monsters. 

Stranger Things has always split up the group into their own factions and juggled those simultaneous storylines, but this season was their most successful at bringing them all together in a connective and satisfying way. The most compelling is the seemingly futile mission of the group still in Hawkins. Armed with only their wits and rudimentary homemade weapons, they not only have to work out Vecna’s powers and plans, but also find a way into the Upside Down and somehow kill him – without the help of the superpowered Eleven or the only pair of capable adults, Joyce and Hopper. On top of that, they also have to contend with an angry, Satanic-panicked mob led by star football player Jason (Mason Dye).

Sadie Sink stars as Max Mayfield in ‘Stranger Things’
Courtesy of Netflix

What Stranger Things continues to be exceptionally good at is how it builds its big emotional moments to help give them a genuine impact. The Hawkins group proved to be the storyline this season that gave us not just one but two of the series’ greatest and most defining moments: Max escaping Vecna’s grasp and sprinting through hell to reach her friends (set to Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’) and Eddie stepping up as a hero by shredding Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’ to keep the demobats at bay. It’s here that everything everyone loves about the show – the action, the 80s soundtrack, the otherworldly thrills – comes together in its best way. Both moments are especially earned; Max finally chooses to fight and to live after spending the first episodes traumatized and shut off, and Eddie (who quickly became a fan favorite) chooses to make a heroic stand rather than run away. both for himself and for Chrissy.

Meanwhile, Eleven returns home in a sense. Back in a secret lab with Dr. Brenner, whose motives are forever murky, she’s forced to dive back into her most repressed memories of her upbringing in the original Hawkins lab in order to reawaken her missing powers. These long flashbacks can seem a bit redundant at the start of the season. We already had a pretty thorough understanding of what she went through in her earlier life and what Brenner did to her, and this detour to get her powers back can feel exactly like that: a detour. But thanks to continuously strong performances from Brown and Modine and a story that’s truthful about the emotional complexities of their relationship, it ends up serving as a worthwhile conclusion to that particular plothread of between Eleven and her “Papa”.

Of course, Eleven’s journey into the past also unexpectedly takes the series back to its very beginning while acting as the lynchpin for the season’s seemingly disconnected storylines. We not only learn where and how the original portal to the Upside Down opened in Hawkins lab, we learn that it’s been Vecna who’s been behind all of the town’s tragedies from the start – and that he’s One, the very first child from Brenner’s experiments. Bower makes for a tremendous and imposing villain and the season does a brilliant job of fully realizing his character. He’s a worthy Final Boss and the only fitting one. No other antagonist could possibly have the same kind of crucial and emotionally powerful ties to both the plot and the characters.

Jamie Campbell Bower stars as One and Millie Bobby Brown stars as Eleven in ‘Stranger Things’
Courtesy of Netflix

Ultimately, Season 4 is about trying to live without regrets, at taking chances even when things seem scary. It’s very telling that these kids are willing to take on literal monsters and supervillains from other dimensions (more than once!) but are still too afraid to admit their true feelings for each other. Mike can’t tell Eleven that he loves her. Robin is scared to ask out her crush. Nancy and Jonathan are afraid of admitting that their relationship may not be what they want it to be. Will can’t tell Mike how he really feels. Some overcome their fear by the season’s end. For others, perhaps they’ll pluck up the courage before it’s too late in next year’s final season.

This was an exceptionally strong comeback for Stranger Things. Even with a very unwieldy runtime for many of its episodes (maaaybe they could’ve trimmed things just a little bit), it stays compelling and exciting throughout its many hours. If it weren’t for its cliffhanger ending, it very well could act as a satisfying finale to the entire series. It will certainly be very hard to top. 

‘Stranger Things’ is streaming only on Netflix.


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