It’s finally happened: Stranger Things 4 Volume 2 has been released, and reactions run the full spectrum of emotions. As the show has progressed, its style and its heart remain consistent despite each new season presenting us with entirely new locations, new characters, and higher stakes.
Season 4 Volume 1 came with plenty of excitement. It revitalized the Stranger Things fandom as well as viewers that had claimed to have given up on the show. Every episode felt like a reward as we ventured deeper into the madness – it was as though we were reaching toward something great. Unfortunately, the two episodes that make up Volume 2 have the opposite effect. Essentially, they lean toward a misguided destination. Despite the episodes being a fantastical spectacle on a grand scale, they leave a great deal to be desired.
Spoilers ahead, my dudes!
Episode 8 shows us our beloved ragtag team of misfits preparing for their battle against Vecna while coming to terms with their own internal struggles. For Will (Schnapp), this means accepting that Mike (Wolfhard) isn’t going to love him the same way that Will loves Mike – because, while they haven’t blatantly said so, it’s clear from the subtext that Will is gay. In fact, it’s so clear that Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), being the great big brother that he is, tells him that he’ll always love him no matter what, in a scene that shows the depth of the pair’s care for each other and how strong their bond is.
For El (Brown), it means releasing herself from Dr. Brenner’s (Matthew Modine) clutches, watching as he dies (for real this time, thank God) after the government tries to kill her because they still think she’s to blame for what’s happening in Hawkins. Even though, you know, she hasn’t been anywhere near Hawkins in almost a year. She’s rescued by Mike, Jonathan, Will and Argyle (Eduardo Franco); while her reunion with Mike is what most of us looked forward to, El’s reunion with Will really steals the focus. The two have always been bonded by their experiences in the Upside Down, and being outsiders in Hawkins has only strengthened their connection since El became a member of the Byers family. Since we’ve seen all season long how much Will truly cares for El, it’s incredibly heartwarming to see the adoptive siblings reunite.
With so many characters realizing of what’s at stake for them, Episode 8 seems a bit like filler. Its length – 85 minutes – could’ve been shortened significantly by cutting a few scenes. Personally, we’re not big fans of the lab story line and never have been, and some of those scenes definitely would have benefited from trimming. There’s only so much Papa one can stand before getting tired of him. Brenner’s demise comes with modicum of peace of mind: that’s one less thing that El will have to deal with during Stranger Things Season 5.
(Dr. Owens [Paul Reiser], on the other hand? We love him and will never be sick of him. Please let him be in Season 5.)
The highlights of the Episode 8 are the scenes between Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Hopper (David Harbour). The characters behind the series’ slow burn give us a softer side of their relationship in this episode. We see how much the two care about one another, even though we’ve known it for years – but something about watching Hopper say “I thought I lost you” to Joyce, only to have her respond “I did lose you”, and to have her then tell him how he’s the “hero of Hawkins“? It really solidifies how much care has been put into the relationship not only by the Duffer Brothers, but by Ryder and Harbour themselves: they’re always happy to talk about the bond their characters share.
The ninth and final episode of Stranger Things 4 then starts off with the Hawkins besties about to enact what might be the riskiest plan they’ve come up with in the history of the show. While in theory everything sounds foolproof, the setup for the conclusion leaves an ominous dread looming.
There is a lot to enjoy in Episode 9. It continues the trademark flair that sets Stranger Things apart from mere emulations of the works of Spielberg and King. It maintains the show’s well-established love for sound design. And Episode 9 might also be the Stranger Things episode that plays most like a Dungeons & Dragons adventure. It reminds us that this is what the show is all about: appreciation for a fantasy game that blends into the lives of these characters.
With all this comes the essence of the campaign we’ve been following. We’ve got characters spread out across state lines and international borders, slowly regrouping to defeat Vecna. In an attempt to overcome the Big Bad, the Hawkins group goes their separate ways: Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Erica (Priah Ferguson), and Max (Sadie Sink) stay behind at the haunted house, while Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo); Eddie (Joseph Quinn); Robin (Maya Hawke); Steve (Joe Keery); and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) venture back into the Upside Down.
A true standout this season is Joseph Quinn. It’s been a while since a character’s death meant as much as the performance accompanying it – the way that, for example, Bob Newby’s (Sean Astin) had. Of course, this isn’t to diminish the significance of other notable Stranger Things deaths, such as Barb, Benny, and even Dr. Alexei. They all packed a punch, sending ripples of sorrow throughout the fandom still felt years later.
However, Eddie Munson’s death struck a chord, either for better or for worse. Eddit was a doomed character to begin with, seeing as Hawkins never truly shifted its perspective on him. Thanks to Jason’s (Mason Dye) manipulation, if Eddie had survived the attack on Vecna, he most likely would have gone to jail or worse. But being able to see the death coming doesn’t mean it hurt any less.
Ultimately, the sequence of events was satisfying – but then the show jumps forward two whole days. This undercuts everything that we watched throughout entire feature-length runtime –this one clocks in at a whopping 150 minutes – of Episode 9. With so much time given to the finale, it feels unnecessary to skip forward with an air of normalcy. Doing so makes us lose track of the order of events.
The best example is, again, that of Eddie’s death. The only character who truly mourns Eddie is Dustin, leaving many to believe that his body was simply left behind. There’s also the strange indifference of the other characters, all of whom appear unaffected by the loss of someone they had sworn to protect.
In general, everyone’s collective composure seems uncharacteristic. The group lost to Vecna. Hawkins is going to suffer a fate worse than death. Yet we’re left with this unearned sense of hope? Stranger Things‘ fourth season hit the ground running, but it failed to truly stick the landing. Despite this, the show does leave room for excitement, in the form of anticipation for what will hopefully be one of the most epic conclusions to a fantasy drama of all time.
Stranger Things 4 Volume 2 is now available to stream on Netflix.
Sydney Grulloń-Matos – Episode 8: 6/10; Stranger Things Season 4: 9/10
Josie Meléndez – Episode 9: 6.5/10; Stranger Things Season 4: 8/10