Stranger Things‘ fourth outing feels more compelling than ever before
Starring Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Joe Keery, Maya Hawke, Brett Gelman, Priah Ferguson, Matthew Modine, and Paul Reiser
A staggering three years after its third season (and six since its first), Netflix’s flagship series Stranger Things has aired its fourth outing in its entirety – and it is undoubtedly one of the most ambitious things that the streaming behemoth has ever attempted. With every single one of its episodes breaking the one-hour mark and the season finale clocking in at longer than many feature films, it certainly seems like Netflix have been more daring here than it has been with its more conventionally structured series.
Based eight months after the events of Season 3, Hawkins once again finds itself under threat from the Upside Down. A spate of mysterious murders unsettle the town, leading to Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn), the leader of Dustin’s (Gaten Matarazzo) Dungeons & Dragons group, being widely regarded as a murderer – none more so than by one of the victim’s boyfriends, Jason Carver (Mason Dye), who mobilises the entire basketball team, including former Hellfire Club member Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) against him. Sure enough, however, when it comes to unusual happenings in Indiana, it’s probably the work of the Upside Down, and fan favourite characters Dustin, Max (Sadie Sink), Lucas, Erica (Priah Ferguson), Steve (Joe Keery), Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Robin (Maya Hawke) soon find themselves taking on the malevolent Vecna who has mysterious, and doubtless deadly, machinations for the entire world.
That’s far from the only thing happening in Stranger Things’ fourth season, however. After Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) relocated to California with Joyce (Winona Ryder) and two sons Will (Noah Schnapp) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), boyfriend Mike (Finn Wolfhard) flies over to visit her. Soon, Eleven is taken to a secret facility to regain her powers to help in Hawkins while Mike, Will and Jonathan desperately try to track her down, while Joyce travels to Russia, hoping to reunite with Hopper (David Harbour), who had appeared dead after the events of Season 3.
The plot of Stranger Things Season 4 is certainly more sprawling than before: its geographical spread if nothing else helping this collection of episodes feel considerably more epic than its comparatively insular Seasons 1 – 3. The overall tone is noticeably darker, and Vecna as a villain is a far more worthy adversary than the largely CGI creations that have been fought against since the beginning.
Stranger Things‘ latest outing is a perfect demonstration of the creative freedom that comes with creating for a streaming service. Unlike more traditional series, it is not encumbered or limited by a specific runtime but instead form can be dictated by story. While this mostly works, especially within the beginning, allowing for a tense, intriguing slow build, the Duffer Brothers seem to have operated under the adage “more is more” when, in fact, there could have been considerable trimming of these storylines.
While the slow build at the beginning of the series, as well as the many, many, many establishing shots, this at least held the audience in wilful anticipation. The finale, however, spent an agonisingly long time to achieve even the smallest detail and the impact of large plot points were diminished because they were stuffed amongst many other things happening at once, which lessened the tragedy.
Ultimately, the main thrust of the storyline occurred in Hawkins. Will, Mike and Jonathan spent the vast majority of this season being nothing more than glorified furniture – spending most of the episodes travelling around the country as if they’d somehow been misplaced into Game of Thrones and, to be brutally honest, the entire of Joyce and Hopper’s storyline could have been left on the cutting room floor and there would have been no impact. But when the audience is so riveted by the teenage characters taking on the Upside Down in Hawkins, this really does beg the question why so many characters are still left standing for Season 5 when they are clearly surplus to requirements.
Having said that, Stranger Things Season 4 is certainly its strongest contribution yet. Vecna is the most captivating villain that it has yet to craft, with a brilliant backstory and a fantastically creepy visual realisation and gravitas. The threat faced here seems far more challenging and terrifying than in previous seasons yet, despite how daring the Duffer Brothers seem to have been in crafting such a large narrative, they could afford to be even more fearless as, four seasons in, the core cast of characters have yet to be shaken with a significant loss – which almost beggars belief considering those around them have an irritatingly regular habit of dropping dead.
Let’s hope it’s not another three year wait for Stranger Things’ final instalments.
Stranger Things Season 4 is streaming now on Netflix