It’s been a long wait, but Netflix’s premiere original series, Stranger Things, will be back soon enough.Season 4 lands on the streaming service on May 27, but this season will be split into two volumes, and there is a lot going on. Regardless of the different roads the first volume of the new season, which was provided for early viewing by Netflix, takes, Stranger Things is still a dynamite show, and the latest offerings get very weird.
The latest season of Stranger Things splits up the group, with the Byers family and a powerless Eleven living in California and everyone else still in Hawkins. Lucas has joined the basketball team, leaving Dustin and Mike to play Dungeons & Dragons with a new group of friends. Meanwhile, Hopper is a prisoner in Russia. And, of course, there are also numerous other threaded subplots. It’s a lot to take in, and you’ll need a notebook to keep track of everyone at times.
Of course, the gang is brought back to solve a mystery in Hawkins about a powerful creature they’ve dubbed Vecna–another D&D monster. From there, there’s a mystery to solve, and the kids of Stranger Things are on the case, but they’re all working different angles–from different locations–and there’s even a drop of Satanic Panic in the mix for the people of Hawkins. Oh, and Hopper needs to be rescued. We can’t forget about Hopper. Again, there’s a lot going on, and this isn’t even scratching the surface.
However, the way this season keeps viewers invested is the fact that it changes things up. The audience now has a specific knowledge of what the Upside Down is, who the bad guys are, and who these characters are. But through the course of this season–without getting into spoiler territory–new info is delivered to the viewer that flips everything upside down, pun intended. This keeps the show fresh and makes what was old new again without retconning too much from Stranger Things’ past.
Eleven’s journey is far different from everyone else, offering up some of the best and the worst the season has to offer. As for the character herself, El is a bit all over the place. Millie Bobbie Brown’s portrayal is a poor balancing act between someone who is socially inept at times and at others is capable of intense, emotional conversations. Could it be that the character is ignorant to how things work in the real world? Possibly, and maybe she feels the most comfortable with Mike or Will, but the issue is that the performance feels inconsistent.
Her journey in this volume, though, serves as a backstory to how she became who she is now. We’ve caught glimpses of how she became a super-powered kid in the past, but Season 4 lays it all out. Without getting into spoiler territory, things get pretty strange with Eleven’s story this season–and oftentimes rather dark. Ultimately, though, her arc builds throughout Volume I, kicking into overdrive in the final two episodes.
Season 4 leans heavier into horror–more specifically ’80s horror, which shouldn’t be a surprise. There’s a bit of body horror here, and because this show involves the Upside Down, there’s a specific look to this show that feels like the cavalcade of ’80s VHS horror movies you saw at your local video store in 1988. However, it never truly transforms into a horror series–the Spielbergian essence of what makes the show great is still there. This is still a story about kids banding together to solve a mystery. Because of this, there’s a heavy feeling of nostalgia for older viewers who may think they know what’s coming next. And at times, the twists and turns are a bit predictable, following that ’80s horror format, but that doesn’t make what’s happening any less enjoyable.
There’s a new character this go around named Argyle, played by Eduardo Franco. He’s a stoner pizza shop employee who comes off as some sort of comic relief–which really isn’t needed. Tonally, there’s enough humor in the show between the already existing characters, and the addition of another strictly for laughs feels a little off, primarily because this season leans heavier into horror. Case in point, there’s an incredibly intense scene that loses a lot of its luster and seriousness because Argyle shows up and “Jeff Spicolis” his way through the scene. This is nothing against Franco as an actor, rather that the character doesn’t serve a point beyond “check out this dumb-dumb.”
Another knock against it, this season is incredibly disjointed because of everyone being split up. While that was somewhat true in previous seasons, now characters are literally scattered around the world. And this season of Stranger Things feels the need to include every character from the past, present, and future in these opening offerings. Because of this, the show becomes a bit harder to follow than previous seasons. It still feels like Stranger Things, just a bit more choppy.
Diving into the new season, don’t be surprised to find it takes a little while to get on its feet. By the time Episode 4 ends, though, the viewers have a much better understanding of what’s going on this time–something that feels like it should have happened in Episode 2 at the latest. Still, the individual stories are all building to their individual conclusions, and for some of these stories, it is a slog to get through–Hopper’s story is a prime example of this. Hopper is in Russia and looking for a way out, and there are plenty of times where you’re just waiting for something to happen. You know it will and when it does it will be amazing, but the waiting for it can be tedious.
Volume I of Stranger Things Season 4 is chaos in a good way. Yes, the episodes are disjointed, and yes, it feels a bit slow throughout the first four episodes, but it leaves you in a place where you’re clamoring for more, even if there are only two more episodes arriving on July 1.