Stranger Things is most definitely back with a vengeance. The hit series has returned to Netflix with the first volume of its fourth season. Three years and three episodes later, the most notable Netflix original has given us yet another epic finale – well, sort of. Since Season 4 has been split into two different volumes, Volume One coming to a close means there’s still plenty left to unpack.
The first three episodes end with the shocking reveal of Max (Sadie Sink) as Vecna’s (Jamie Campbell Bower) next victim. We then pick up with Episode 4, “Dear Billy,” which might just be one of the best episodes of Stranger Things as a whole. Right up there with Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) speeding and crashing into Billy (Dacre Montgomery) to save Nancy (Natalia Dyer) in Season 3, of course.
Meanwhile, in Alaska and the Soviet Union, the plan to rescue Hopper (David Harbour) goes awry when Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Murray (Brett Gelman) are drugged by Yuri (Nikola Djuricko) during their ransom exchange. Nancy and Robin (Maya Hawke) are able to visit the legendary Victor Creel (Robert Englund, best-known as the infamous Freddy Krueger) and learn that the way to defeat Vecna’s nightmarish grip is through music. By the end of “Dear Billy,” Max is able to escape the main bad’s clutches to the tune of “Running Up that Hill” by Kate Bush. This leaves us to ask: Sadie Sink Emmy nomination when? And let’s not forget the brilliant one-shot take I have baptized as the Byers’ shootout. In Brett Jutkiewicz we trust.
However, Episodes 5 through 7 seem to blend together. They follow the usual formula, with different groups journeying off into their own side quests. All of these will eventually reunite in the grand finale the Duffer Brothers have planned for us in Season 4, Volume 2. The main evil, on the other hand, begins to grow beyond Vecna, with religious banter and uproar in Hawkins. It seems many buy into the myth that Hawkins is in fact cursed – but not by monsters or an alternate dimension. Instead, the fiend behind all this suffering is the devil. This puts all the members of the Hellfire Club, especially newcomer Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn), at risk. Even the parents of the main kids begin to question whether they are truly innocent.
Stranger Things Season 4 constantly raises its own stakes. Previous seasons have always been good at maintaining a human threat to counteract the paranormal one. Season 4 is no different. Jason’s (Mason Dye) adamant need to avenge Chrissy (Grace Van Dien) creates a real monster – not unlike the ones we continue to see today – by using religion as a shield. While this season’s outward aspects of horror did not faze me as much as earlier seasons of Stranger Things, Jason’s presence was chilling due to his inquisitive nature alone.
The Duffer Brothers have always admitted their clear inspiration for the show. It’s intended to pay homage to the adventurous spirit of Steven Spielberg’s work. Then combine this with the terrifying nature of everything Stephen King. The new season cranks it all up. It pays plenty of tributes to the creepy and epic popular media of the 80s. While Vecna’s background is linked to Freddy Krueger’s own (and is even referenced in the show), it also bears resemblance to Anakin’s demise in Revenge of the Sith. This all continues to feed into the nostalgia factor we all love. It’s why viewers keep tuning in season after season.
Nevertheless, there are some downsides. Stranger Things‘ new season relies more on CGI than ever before. Some storylines get lost and forgotten within the noise. Specifically, the last we see of Mike, Will, Jonathan, and Argyle is their escape from the Byers Shootout, on their way to find Eleven. This is obviously due to the Duffer Brothers’ aforementioned attempt at something epic and grand.
However, despite the episodes’ now-infamous length, the season never feels overwhelming. Everything builds to an epic reveal. Not only is Jamie Campbell Bower the infamous Patient 001 of the Project MKUltra experiments, but we also find out that Eleven created the gate after banishing him to the Upside Down. This, in turn, created Vecna.
After Volume One, we’re left with a lot of questions. While we won’t know all the answers until Volume Two drops on July 1, there’s one thing we can say for certain: Stranger Things continues to deliver.
Stranger Things Season 4 is now available to stream on Netflix.