Pop culture hasn’t seen something like this happen in years, it’s a phenomenon. I got off from work last week and Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ was playing only to leave and grab a bite at McDonalds where a remix of it was playing. It’s actually incredible. I managed to get my family hooked on it and we got to watch these last two episodes together, we bought a bunch of snacks, toasted some waffles, got some Coke cans because… nostalgia and we had a grand time. After the season was done I legitimately couldn’t sleep, I was in such a state of shock and sadness and looking back on it now, I can’t really say that a lot of media has done that to me, even more so in the past few years.
major spoilers for ‘Stranger Things 4: Volume 1 and 2′ are featured in this review.
After three seasons of more lighthearted adventures, Season 4 comes in to properly move the story along and it does so in quite a dark manner. The darkness present in this season is complex on multiple levels. The characters are at a point where life is starting to hit them and they have to be responsible for that weight on their shoulders, it’s arguably harder than anything the Upside Down has thrown at them so far. The kids, or should I say teens have naturally grown apart and gone on separate paths. Will is figuring out his sexuality all on his own in hiding, Max is suffering from a massive depression following the death of her brother Billy. Eleven feels lost and starts to spiral into negative self-reflection following the loss of her powers. Lucas feels lonely as he does what he wants to do for once and he gets left alone in doing so. Nancy and Jonathan have never been quite this far apart both physically and emotionally. Steve and Robin cannot seem to find a girl to date, well just Steve. The point is that even with all of this happening, there is another type of darkness, the looming threat of the Upside Down takes shape in the form of Vecna who after years of planning finally enacts his grand revenge on the world.
Before the grand finale, Episode 8 titled ‘Papa‘ saw the return of two things, Eleven’s powers and Dr. Brenner’s abuse. In terms of character development and writing, this episode was one of my favourites. Seeing this haunting dynamic being explored so honestly was truly powerful. Millie Bobby Brown is fantastic as expected but she brought her A-game to this episode. We truly saw Eleven grow before our very eyes here and she sells it. The endless gaslighting and abuse didn’t work on her anymore because through her closest friends and family she understood what love and care meant. It’s an obvious thing to point out but it felt especially powerful to me because I could understand where Eleven was coming from. The self-doubt and negative self-reflection, it’s something I have experienced many times with my own father. What was even more powerful and truly wowed me was the complexity of Brenner’s death. The theme of him and Eleven playing in the background, this time bringing a new sense of melancholy had a great effect and it acknowledged that even though he is a truly horrible man, Eleven still felt sorry for him, however, what’s most important is that she did not give him the satisfaction he desired and left him alone to die. A powerful representation that forgiveness isn’t necessary to move on.
Episode 9, the grand finale to an already epic season is two and a half hours long and somehow it was simultaneously needed and unnecessary. In terms of scope and atmosphere, the runtime allowed for it to feel like this cinematic event, not even some of the blockbusters from this summer achieved what this season has achieved in that regard. However, the endless teasing and baiting was a bit unnecessary looking back on it now. Steve Harrington, my beloved, what compelled you to share your hopes for the future right before going into battle? I took every word he said as a sign he was going to die but somehow, he didn’t, he got the scheduled beatdown that he has yet to avoid every season and that’s that. The love triangle with Steve, Jonathan and Nancy was just weird honestly, I don’t care for it but if I had to pick, I’d rather Nancy stays on her own focusing on becoming a writer. Jonathan, oh how they massacred my boy. Past season one, this man has not had any relevancy and this season he was on cloud nine the entire time. That being said I really did like the scene with him and Will where he provided that support for Will without explicitly saying what it was for. That’s the Jonathan I remember! Robin’s ongoing saga with Vicky ended in a very cute way, I hope they become closer either as friends or as something more. Eddie Munson, THE Eddie Munson, I haven’t spoken about him a lot and honestly, there’s a reason why. I love Joseph Quinn with my entire heart and his work as Eddie is great but I mean, they shouldn’t have killed him off, it was stupid but I guess someone had to die so let’s go with the new one. Thank God, Argyle is still with us.
This brings us to the climax of the finale, Max’s death. Max and Vecna’s dynamic has been one of the season’s strong suits. As I mentioned in my other review, this season belongs to Max, her character is the heart and soul of the season which is why it is utterly devastating that it stops beating at the end. Seeing how her ‘Running Up That Hill’ moment was lauded as a metaphor for mental health and suicide, it felt particularly off-putting that Vecna gets away with killing her at the end. It makes the fourth episode seem less valued which is a shame considering it’s one of the entire show’s greatest achievements. The message it sends gets lost in translation and overall, I just feel like it was done a bit lazily, from both a writing perspective and a character perspective. Why bring one cassette player and one copy of ‘Hounds of Love’ by Kate Bush when you could bring back-ups just in case? Why not already put the cassette player and headphones on her so that you just press play when shit goes sideways? Why not start singing acapella? Fine, maybe that last one was a stretch but if I ever witnessed my girlfriend go through that, I would be singing at the top of my lungs. That being said, Max’s death did bring a fitting end to the story, it’s heavily grim and devastating and sets the stakes higher than ever. I’ll be honest, I was so busy trying not to cry that I didn’t even notice Jason getting ripped in half until my mom started cheering. The town getting destroyed was genuinely so haunting, that it was tough to process what was happening. I was in heavy denial. I was in a state of mind where I couldn’t care what plot device the Duffer Brothers pulled out of their asses, I just wanted Max to come back so when Eleven restarted her heart, it was this huge relief. Also, a telekinetic restarting a heart isn’t that hard to believe!
Ending this endless blabber with a few predictions and hopes for Season 5 aka The Final Season. I think the search for Max’s soul will be integral to the plot and it gives me a lot of 80’s vibes, I don’t know why. I need Will to have a proper arc this time around and get to be the main character once more. His connection to Vecna and the Upside Down clearly isn’t fully resolved. I want Eleven to actually fly because they kept teasing it so much in this season, that I expected it in the finale. I hope Steve finds something to do with his life. I obviously expect Max to be revived and for her and Lucas to go on that goddamn date. Speaking of dates, we better get to see Joyce and Hopper being the corniest of couples, well as much as a half-dead Hawkins allows. I honestly don’t have any predictions on how the show will end and as much as I love it, I honestly just care that my favourites are alive and well.
‘Stranger Things 4’ is available to stream in its entirety on Netflix.