Three years. We waited three years for a show to return to make us endure hours of unbearable tension, emotional manipulation, cheer-worthy moments and complete and utter devastation. Netflix’s crowning jewel, ‘Stranger Things’ has finally returned to the forefront of the pop culture scene again with a mighty vengeance, making it the inescapable summer event of the year. Even if you haven’t seen a single episode, you’ve seen the memes, you’ve heard the names, Chrissy and Eddie the most you will ever hear them in a singular summer. You’ve heard the clock chime and you’ve undoubtedly heard Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ play somewhere. Every time a season of ‘Stranger Things’ comes out, it genuinely feels like an event, it makes that time in our lives feel more special and this year more than ever, this season comes along and created perhaps the biggest phenomenon the show has ever evoked, four seasons in and it’s all due to the natural progression of the story where finally, some stakes have been introduced.
major spoilers for the entirety of ‘Stranger Things 4’ are featured in this review.
It makes for a show starring children to finally transition into more mature territory once they become teenagers. As we watch this cast grow before our very eyes, this show felt like it was outstaying its welcome despite still being very entertaining. Seasons 2 and 3 didn’t really expand the world of this show in that exciting of a way as the first season, they were more of an extension rather than an expansion. This fourth season feels like the true sequel to the first season in its tonal shift, maturity and higher stakes. The innocence of this show starts to wear off here as the effects of the previous seasons finally start to sink into these characters. Eleven is getting bullied and feels lonely, Will is coming to terms with his sexuality on his own and feels even lonelier, Max is suffering from depression and survivor’s guilt following Billy’s death and Lucas doesn’t have his friend’s support like before as the group splits up. Nancy and Jonathan are in this weird space and Steve for some unexplainable reason cannot find a date. All this to say, these characters have seen better days. Out of all these character arcs however, one of them sticks out more than the other and that is Max.
With that spectacular first season, I believe a crucial aspect of its immense success was the fact that we as an audience were invested in Joyce saving Will from the Upside Down. It laid down its emotional core and got us to care immediately. The other seasons never quite replicated that, it felt like more adventures that had to happen because Netflix wanted more seasons. Season 4 however lays down perhaps the most emotional character arc of the entire series with Max Mayfield. After a horrible two years, depression isn’t something new to any of us, we all went to a numbing darkness that we had to fight to get out of and seeing Max go through that in a metaphorical and literal way was beyond powerful. She went from becoming a likeable character to a vastly compelling lead. The entire metaphor with Vecna and his search for traumatized souls to feed upon was so clever. I also loved how music was so integral because it evokes different emotions and states of mind and although without it Max wouldn’t have survived, it was at the end of the day, herself that got her out of Vecna’s hands. It was up to her to fight for her will to live and to remember the good times and run up that goddamn hill. It’s one of the best moments of the entire show, easily the best of the season and with that being said, Sadie Sink fucking nails it, she delivers what is easily my favourite performance of the season.
The introduction of Vecna and the ultimate reveal that he has been pulling the strings since the day Eleven escaped the labs was both clever and inspiring because to change the base of a show and risk messing up the lore and actually getting away with, it’s not a small feat. In fact, I have to commend the Duffer Brothers for how well-written this season was. This season gave the show meaning again and it did so without undermining the previous two seasons. It connected everything perfectly and doing that while simultaneously doing a three-way reveal of the same person, that’s just insane. The ambition of this season truly paid off. At times it provided some of the best moments and other times it was a bit of a chore because while I love the idea of splitting the group up, I cannot say I cared for every storyline. The ‘Saving Hopper From Russia’ storyline was so elongated by the end that it’s insane. It couldn’t be clearer that they had no idea what else to do so they stretched it out as long as possible. The ‘Jason is convinced Hellfire is a cult’ subplot is intriguing, I love what it adds to the season however I don’t appreciate how it plays out in the end. I couldn’t believe it lasted as long as it did. The California gang including Jonathan, Will, Argyle and Mike was a hit or miss every episode. Jonathan, man what happened? Also #JusticeForWill and #ProtectArgyle. The introduction of Eddie brought some great interactions with the young adult group in the show but sadly he didn’t make it. #RestInPeaceEddie
This season more than any other understands the ambition of a true spectacle, this pushes the limit to what a television series is able to achieve and through that ambition, it has created some instantly classic moments that we’ll remember forever. Max running away from Vecna in Episode 4, Steve, Nancy and the others in the Upside Down in Episode 7 and Eddie playing ‘Master of Puppets’ in the Upside Down in the finale. It’s truly wonderful seeing this show get the ability to go as big as the creators want it to and lucky for us they have big ideas. Tonally, I really do appreciate how cohesive this season feels. Every little thing matters, from the excellent soundtrack to the clothes and the new characters and obviously, the references, this season is going for a darker, more mature tone and it definitely achieves that. Grabbing darker elements from the ’80s like town paranoia involving satanic cults, using movies like ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ as inspiration and using tracks like ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)’, ‘Psycho Killer’ and ‘Master of Puppets’ its genius. The writing matches this darker tone perfectly as it sets up these insanely high stakes and for the first time ever, they end up losing. I will talk about this more in my spoiler-filled discussion of the last two episodes but the decision to kill off Max and have Vecna win is both incredible and disappointing. I’ll talk about why it’s disappointing in that post but basically having these characters go through their ‘Empire Strikes Back’ moment and experience such loss and tragedy, it’s the perfect way to sum up their coming-of-age tale, it’s how these characters react and move from this that will shape them into wiser people.
Overall, ‘Stranger Things 4’ managed to reshape the entire show in massive ways by taking massive risks and gambles that honestly all paid off. The more emotional story brought back that connection with the audience that the show has been severely lacking in the past few seasons. Max’s character arc touched people in a phenomenal way and it’s one of the best things the show has ever done. Vecna’s entire story was a masterful example of fantastic storytelling and planning and brings the entire show to the beginning of the end in quite a spectacular way. My love for the show has never been this strong, I cannot wait to see what they do next and until then I will have probably listened to all of Kate Bush’s discography.
All episodes of ‘Stranger Things 4’ are now streaming on Netflix.