Stranger Things returns to give us our mandated dose of 80s nostalgia. Gimme. Read on for my thoughts on ST 4…
Hawkins highschool kids have mental breakdowns, then wind up dead; Russian soldiers study a beast from another dimension; and the American government hunts some teenagers over Spring Break. And even stranger things are afoot.
I know a lot of Stranger Things fans were annoyed with S3’s focus on comedy. I wasn’t one of them. But I acknowledge those grievances to give those people good news: S4 delightfully shifts back to Stranger Things’ horrific roots.
NOTE: I’d call Stranger Things 4 a mix between Nightmare on Elm Street and Footloose, as weird as that combo sounds.
I wouldn’t call Stranger Things 4 outright scary. But I was frequently on the edge of my seat in anticipation, my heart filled with dread. Tone, music, color choices, and general atmosphere are more self-serious again– and Stranger Things is better off for the changes.
Stranger Things is the type of show where I can’t trust my favourite characters will survive till the end! Anybody can (and will) go at any time. That’s great from a critic’s standpoint, yet nerve-wracking as a fan. I can only advise you don’t get too attached… if you aren’t already.
Still I wish Stranger Things would be more gutsy with its character deaths. I hated seeing anyone go, to be clear, but the Duffers toyed with my emotions a little too much. They’d often tease the possibility of death, make the audience pre-grieve, then fail to deliver.
Some people are relieved when characters survive these situations, but I’m not. If anything, I’m increasingly frustrated by these repeated fake-outs. Makes me feel like Charlie Brown with the football…
But that’s just one of a few gripes I had (I’ll have others for you). The writing was largely excellent this year! I haven’t been so floored by plot twists in a LONG time. The Duffer brothers have, in fact, restored my faith in modern writers to create compelling and sensical plotlines. Everything comes together in unexpected and fully satisfying ways.
OK, maybe not EVERYTHING comes together… The Russia thread felt like a loose end and never got the closure I felt it deserved. Also, the army storyline was easily ST 4’s weakest. I get why it was there, but it only existed to inject some conflict whenever the status quo grew too (relatively) tame.
Stranger Things 4 began strongly with a great cold open which immediately left me with questions… The mysteries only piled up from there: why is Hawkins’ history so important. And how does it connect with the Upside Down’s history? We’re offered great answers to these questions. Just don’t expect to get them quickly. Be patient and let the story get there. You’ll find the wait is worth it!
It’s a testament to the great writing of this series that I have a new favourite character each season! I’m often consistent with my favourite characters in shows. Whomever I like in S1 will probably be my favourite till the end. But the writing on this show is so good, and the cast is all so excellent, there’s new stand-outs each year!
FOR THE RECORD: I liked Nancy the most in S1, then Steve, El, and now I favour Robin.
Stranger Things has this strange ability to continually introduce new and lovable characters to its main cast. I often balk at other shows which do this, because new characters take the limelight away from my old favourites, and sometimes hurt the show. But Stranger Things‘ writers somehow make new characters fit in as if they’ve been there all along.
Eddie (Joseph Quinn), Argyle (Eduardo Franco), Chrissy (Grace Van Dien), and Jason (Mason Dye) were worthwhile additions to the show. Well, actually, I dunno if Argyle is really “worthwhile”, but he’s funny so I’ll allow it. And we can’t forget Vecna: The Upside Down’s intimidating new villain. I’ll go so far as to claim he’s Stranger Things‘ all-time best villain!
Vecna’s goals are unclear for most of the season. But that’s by design. It’s a mystery to unravel. And, when his plans are finally revealed, I was left shocked!
Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and El’s teen drama wears thin. I’m still invested in their relationship, but we’ve had four seasons about their bond now. I get it. Only now they’re moody teenagers who over-dramatize everything… I’m not criticizing the show’s execution, because it was fine. I’m just growing tired of this plot.
Funny thing about El’s storyline this year: her struggles at the season’s start were even more ruthless than those at her ending! Many will disagree with me there. But Vecna showed her more mercy than Angela.
SIDE NOTE: If El was in California in the mid-80s, she ought to have joined Cobra Kai!
Millie Bobby Brown continues to kill it. She out-acted most of the adults on this show since season 1. And she remains a stand-out cast-member in a supremely talented cast!
Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) received his best storyline this year. I’d argue his plot is the most relatable too: with him hiding less “desirable” parts of himself to fit in with the popular crowd. This story could have easily come across as contrived, but I believe the Duffers did a good job at making it feel organic.
Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Steve (Joe Keery), and Robin (Maya Hawke) have a great dynamic. I loved them all together! The actors have incredible chemistry, which shines through in all their scenes.
Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), however, was a loser for most of S4. And I don’t think there’s a good enough reason for his change in character. He’s just dumber than he used to be. And he makes decisions which make me root against him.
Alas poor Will (Noah Schnapp) is relegated to the sidelines again. He’s little more than a supporting character in other people’s plotlines. And he deserves better!
Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) somehow became team leader this year. The older kids still don’t always take him seriously, but he’s the one who most consistently knows what they’re talking about. I love Dustin’s multi-season growth into a leadership role! He earned it.
Max (Sadie Sink) is the star of Stranger Things 4, with the most emotionally impactful story of the year. “Dear Billy” is one of the all-time best episodes Stranger Things has ever produced! I was neutral on Max before this year, but she’s quickly shot up my character rankings.
Rest assured that, though drama dominates this year, there’s still plenty of comedy. Most of the humor landed– especially Steve and Dustin’s banter. The jokes were mostly organic, in line with the characters, and offered much-needed respite from the seriousness. But Stranger Things, unlike other properties which shall remain nameless, doesn’t undercut tension with poorly timed gags. They know when to buckle down and let tense scenes be tense.
Stranger Things 4‘s dialogue is sharp and witty as ever. But I feel like sometimes the writers were too in love with their own cleverness. For example: there’s multiple times this season where characters deliver impassioned monologues. They’re well-written but go on WAY too long! I could forgive if this happened once. But I noticed this happen enough times to see a pattern of excess.
Stranger Things 4‘s production values look higher than ever. The effects work on this series puts most recent film and TV VFX to shame! I’ll bet they made every dollar count. Vecna in particular ought to go down as one of the best practical creature designs in history.
Stranger Things 4 is investing, impactful, and intense. It wasn’t perfect, but it blew my mind and left me wanting more. I can’t wait another year to see how this series ends!
Stranger Things 4 is something you ought to Watch A.S.A.P
CHECK OUT THESE EPISODES OF CLOSE UP WITH RYAN AND JOE FOR SPOILER-FILLED DISCUSSION
Is this season of Stranger Things better than S1? What did you think of Stranger Things 4? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know.
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Till next time,