*TV SERIES RECAP: STRANGER THINGS (Season 4)

A few months ago, I went to the Stranger Things Experience pop-up in Times Square; I wasn’t really impressed with anything I saw. I mean, the whole thing is all about selling overpriced merch — it is just a blown-up gift shop, to be precise. But as a massive fan of the series, I couldn’t leave empty-handed, so I bought a pretty cool t-shirt that I now love wearing weekly — I walked out of this pop-up, realizing how much I missed new Stranger Things content. I was like, man, I can’t wait for the new season to drop.

With that in mind, I was beyond hyped for Stranger Things Season 4, especially with the way things ended in season 3. Encouragingly, every season has been excellent, and considering how long it took for them to deliver on a new season, I was expecting to be rocked to my core with season 4, and boy did it deliver the goods. This season is more extensive; Every episode is almost like a feature film in time duration, with a total running time of about 13 hours, and every episode is packed with so much information and action. Plus, the show is getting progressively darker and darker with each season. When season 3 ended, we were left with so many lingering questions dating back to season 1, but season 4 answered many of those questions, not all, but many.

Warning: This blog post contains spoilers.

It’s been a few months since the battle at Starcourt mall. The group of young friends has been geographically split apart; Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) has moved to California with Joyce (Winona Ryder), Will (Noah Schapp), and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton); they moved there at the end of season 3. Also, Mike (Finn Wolfhard) has taken a trip to California to visit Eleven and the Byers. As a result, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) is the only member of the original Season 1 group left in Hawkins, well, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) is around, but Lucas is a wannabe jock now, trying to fit in with a new crowd. So without him, Dustin is now hanging around a new crew of friends deeply involved in Dungeons and Dragons role-playing culture, calling themselves The Hellfire Club. The leader of this new group Eddie (Joseph Quinn), is a fresh new addition to the series. Eddie helps introduce metal music, D&D, and drugs into the story’s narrative. He is a cool nerd, almost like the lord of the nerds. The only issue is that he looked a bit older than an average HS teen.

Anyhow, ritualistic murders are starting to pop up all over Hawkins. Eddie becomes the number one suspect and goes on the run. Dustin partners up with Steve (Joe Keery), Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Robin (Maya Hawke), and Max (Sadie Sink) to track down Eddie and help prove his innocence. Brilliantly, the show plays on the 80s/90s hysteria about D&D and its connection to satanic rituals.

Meanwhile, Jonathan discovers weed in California, and his life changes completely; He is now more disconnected from reality, especially for the first few episodes, and neglects his relationship with Nancy. Jonathan has a brand new bestie, Argyle (Eduardo Franco), a lovable and hilarious stoner who drives around in a pizza delivery van. Argyle is here for pure comic relief. Eleven is being bullied at school by the most popular girl, and she is struggling with making new friends. This part of the series has some shades of Stephen King’s Carrie. At the same time, Will struggles with his sexuality and seems to have feelings for Mike. This was another excellent plot line, especially considering how important Will was in season 1 — and as he appears to be still connected to the Upside Down.

Additionally, we have the whole Russian storyline. Joyce finds out Hopper (David Harbour) is still alive, and she recruits Murray (Brett Geiman) to help rescue Hopper from a gulag type of Russian prison. Hopper’s Agent Orange experience in the Vietnam war and all the trauma he brought back with him, as he believes he is cursed, was solid storytelling. Murray had some of the best scenes of this entire season. His karate fight scene with Yuri (Nikola Duricko) was fantastic. Also, it was cool seeing Tom Wlaschiha, best known as a Jaqe H’ghar from Game of Thrones, playing Dmitri, a Russian prison guard. All the Russia stuff was fun and all, but I feel like they spent too much time there.

But most significantly, the introduction of the entity known as Vecna was outstanding. This entity can influence things in the real world from the Upside Down; it feeds off emotional trauma and suffering. I felt some subtle Hellraiser vibes in some parts here. Finding out that Vecna has been behind everything all along — made sense to me; it didn’t feel like there were any plot holes; there were some but not many. I also learned that the name Vecna comes from D&D; it is supposed to be a powerful, evil, undead wizard. Another cool 80s thing is that there is a Nightmare on Elm Street influence throughout most of this season — so having Robert Englund, AKA Freddy Krueger, show up as Victor Creel was epic. The character of Henry (Jamie Campbell Owen), a creepy and weird orderly, was remarkable.

On top of all that, we get to see some lab origins stories between subjects 1 and 11. I was delighted to see Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) and Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) back this season. The relationship between Dr. Brenner (Papa) and 11 gets a deeper dive. Eleven getting bullied at the Lab and Papa allowing it to happen, presumably to get the best out of her; that was powerful stuff. Dr. Brenner believes he is doing the right thing. But still, he pushes all the lab kids mentally and physically. In turn, they also become abusive to each other.

The love/hate relationship between Papa and Eleven is intensely complicated. Brenner is awful; his experiments are why this chaos has unfolded. But 11 can help undo all of the bad things Brenner has caused. This was all pretty compelling stuff. In contrast, Dr. Owens is a lot more caring. And he seems to look out for Eleven’s best interest. The twist about the massacre at the lab was well executed.

The entire premise of El getting her powers back this season was genius. She is no longer an immediate option to battle the enemy, sending the rest of the characters on side quests to find ways to fight Vecna without relying on Eleven’s powers. Another thing I liked was all of the HS jock kids and their leader Jason (Mason Dye); they were the perfect obstacle for all our heroes to overcome. Nerds vs. Jocks is always a good thing. There are some brilliant song choices — The Kate Bush running up the hill song scene was insanely good — extraordinary cinematic use of the song. The idea that you can drown out your bad thoughts with your favorite music and escape Vecna was superb.

The characters of Steve and Nancy continue to grow and endear themselves more. Nancy is a complete badass this season. Conflict is building up here, where Nancy may face a love triangle between Steve and Jonathan. Steve’s character arc is excellent, going from the bully in season 1 and now an all-out hero. But Steve has to hook up with someone next season or get back with Nancy. Oddly, Steve is one of the few characters that hasn’t aged out of their character. Alarmingly, the rest of the kids are growing up pretty fast. The performances and the special effects are top-notch. The demon Bats were another fantastic inclusion. There are some spectacular cinematic moments throughout this entire season.

All in all, this was a mind-blowing season. We finally got the whole backstory or most of the backstory behind the show — We all thought we knew or had an idea what the backstory was, but things were never 100% clear for me, and now everything makes better sense. Still, many questions remain. Hawkins has been left devastated. Max is in a coma fighting for her life. We now know that everyone is expendable going to next season. We don’t know what happened to Dr. Owens and if Dr. Brenner is genuinely gone; I thought he died before, yet he came back. Will Vecna come back stronger than ever and unleash monsters all over the world?

Nevertheless, there is a deeper connection between El and Vecna that hasn’t been revealed yet (I think). We need to see more flashbacks to Henry’s early days under Dr. Brenner’s program and who is El’s biological father. Here is the thing, the Star Wars references and influences are all over this series, particularly this season 4, which leads me to think that we are being set up for an Empire Strikes Back moment.

This was an exceptional season with plenty of things to look forward to in season 5. it is clear to me that the Duffer Brothers have a clear direction to where all these characters are going and what the end game will be. And they have been clear that the series will end in season 5. Stranger Things has become a cultural phenomenon and one of my favorite shows ever. It is the perfect hangout series — I will be sad to see it end.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

STRANGER THINGS (Season 4, 2022).

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