What a wild ride Stranger Things has been. It has encapsulated and become a cultural phenomenon. Recently we finally got our characters – albeit aged and matured to a degree – back for Part 1 of the second to last season. This entry has longer than usual episodes, making the first part (Part 2 will arrive July 1st) a deft delivery of the finality of what has been a real significant part of TV life for the last six years.

source: Netflix

This season, while it may have some deficits in comparison to previous ones, is still a worthy dive into the Stranger Things world. It delivers on most of its character progressions, but more than anything, it gives us a real idea that Matt and Ross Duffer know what they are inching toward. And it is a strange, but an enticing invitation.

But let’s catch up

Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) has moved to California with Joyce (Winona Ryder), son Will (Noah Schnapp) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) for a fresh start. Things aren’t exactly as they had hoped, as El struggles with bullying and the loss of Hopper (David Harbour) – or is he gone? – as well as her powers going away. Meanwhile, in Hawkins, Max (Sadie Sink) deals with the loss of her brother and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) his newfound popularity within the basketball team.

Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) have found a new family, in essence, with a D & D club led by the “freak” Eddie (Joseph Quinn), a new personal favorite addition of mine. Meanwhile, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan have varying paths, pulling further away from one another in their senior year. Meanwhile, Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin’s (Maya Hawke) friendship continues, while they both struggle with their own romantic endeavors. In other words, everyone is dealing with their current angst, in one way or another, while something evil brews.

Of course it does. This is Stranger Things. 

source: Netflix

This time around the baddie comes from the same, upside-down realm, but this one is targeting specific teens that are dealing with their own sort of pain and trauma. In many ways, this season tackles the weight of PTSD, and as always, it ties in some real paranoia and concerns that people at this time had. Satan-worshiping? Criticism for a normal pastime like D&D? Yeah, that was a thing. Stranger Things finds a way to work this successfully into the plot. I have always enjoyed the marriage of a fantasy game with the real workings of sinister beings. 

What’s not new but concurrent with previous seasons is an accouterment of great music (including a Kate Bush song many are finally discovering). Also, the importance of friendship and camaraderie. We get to see some new friendships form, others deepen, and perhaps some previous romantic flames reignite? There’s also a spotlight on what distance, time, and the inevitable truth of growing up (and apart) can do to friends. 

There are definitely some aspects lacking. As in some past episodes, there are characters that have more of a distinct trajectory and purpose than others.  I like the longer run times, and I was completely enthralled, especially in the stellar standout episode 4 “Dear Billy”.

However, even when season 4 takes a dip and doesn’t fully deliver, it still continues to breathe life into a cast and a world that we have fallen in love with for a reason. That same reason and pull are evident here. By its finish, I was left wanting more. This is a series that has become drenched in nostalgia; for another time, but for also the show itself. In season 4 we see retellings of early El, before even season 1, and it’s clear that this series is wrapping around, reminding us of its roots to appreciate its effect. As you have seen this group evolve and grow on screen, there’s a sense of embedded connection. We saw their origin, now we want to see their end.  

Horror Takes A Bigger Shape

This season really digs into its horror roots, and it’s something that makes this season different. In season 3 it was Summer, it had a brightness to it even amid the darkness. Now, that flame is flickering, and what’s hiding in the shadows is bound to be the biggest hurdle yet for our group.

As our characters have gotten older, so does the audience. The genre-blending centerpiece this series has become is as evident as ever. I adore it when the show shocks and vibes with the relevance of horror. These aren’t “kids” anymore, not really. We are getting to the point where things are truly deadly. Not only does it bring in legend Robert Englund, for a disturbed character that is as formidable as any seen before, but some of the scenes in this season are more terrifying and challenging for audiences than they have.

Some familiar faces and other new supporting characters enter this realm of weirdness. Our favorite wonky supporting character, Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman) is also back, with a big role and even bigger energy. The same goes for Lucas’ sister, Erica (Priah Ferguson) fully relishing her newly accepted geekdom. They each bring their own style of humor and are just two of the characters including Jonathan’s stoner, pizza delivery friend, Argyle (Eduardo Franco) who brings on the levity. Jamie Campbell Bower‘s mysterious new role as Henry Creel rounds out our newest cast.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that I love the burgeoning friendship between Nancy and Robin, as well as the duo of Joyce and Murray. More? Yes please!

There is also terrific use of special effects and creature designs, a valued part of the series, undoubtedly, but this time around it’s much creepier. The editing is also exceptional. It’s another season full of moments that make you marvel at the revelatory nature of what imagination and creativity can do. 

source: Netflix

It still rally’s the masses in terms of a coming-of-age story, utilizing all of its efforts to make sure this has humor, drama, and plenty of moments you won’t soon forget. Not to mention all of the pop culture references that fans adore.

What I love most though, is the fact that I can truly see the end. It’s not just a pass time anymore, a potential foggy future. I feel like these characters that we love are finally facing their real, formidable foe. It ties back into the first season (sometimes sloppily, but in a forgivable fashion) and in a way that makes me not only excited but confident in what is to come. There’s some sense of mythos here, as well as the investigative nature of our characters that is always entrancing. The overall stakes are evident. I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen, but the series takes plenty of time breaking these characters into groups who all have their own motives and dangers. Obviously, they will all link together eventually, but for now, they each have their own pivotal punctuation.

Some of the characters didn’t get quite their due, yet. Jonathan, Mike, and especially Will, feel a little underused. That’s not to say they won’t have those moments, but for now, I was wanting more. (Also, what did Will paint for Mike? I want to see it!). Will’s character in many ways has remained perfunctory, not as a slight to the actor, but he deserves more depth.

Conclusion: Stranger Things Season 4

With all of this being said, I understand the challenge of juggling so many characters while maintaining all of their stories. It can’t be easy to provide a tenable link with so many while keeping a plot line that makes sense.  There are some storylines that just aren’t as fascinating as others, which shows the deficits apparent in this entry. The entrance of a real villain (I’m being specifically vague about this person because there’s a terrific reveal), one that isn’t going to be easily disposed of, is really a highlight to this overstuffed course of horrific delights.

While it isn’t always perfect, I can’t imagine many loyal fans being disappointed overall. I have seen too many shows overstay their welcome, unfortunately, and I’m starting to see these pieces fit, and it’s a bizarre, gruesome, and intelligent puzzle that I enjoy seeing solved. 

There’s love, there is friendship, and there is the ultimate battle for good and evil. Be it Russia, the west coast, or the midwest, Stranger Things is still exercising its ability to be an entertaining, influential and indicative coalescence of horror, fantasy, and the challenges that come with growing up. It remains familiar but doesn’t shy away from taking a leap into the great, yawning, unknown. Enjoy the spectacle while it lasts. 

Have you seen season 4? What did you think? How do you think it will end? Let us know in the comments below!

Stranger Things 4 Part 1 is currently available on Netflix.

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