Season Four of Stranger Things is far gone from the conspiracy-comfort of the first two seasons, sometimes for better, often for worse. Has it just gotten more epic, or is it too big for its own good?
When seasons one and two of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” were released, the world’s attention was captured. The show expertly balanced large scale conflict with personal relationships and struggles. Stranger Things is driven by its characters. Unfortunately, Season Four fails many of the best characters in the series.
Will had the potential to bring depth to the show by exploring his sexuality, but the painting that was built up for so long is just used for a “power of friendship” gag. The biggest letdown of Season Four has to be Jonathan. One of the most conflicted, deep, and best acted characters throughout seasons one and two is turned into pure comic relief.
How could one talk about Season 4 without mentioning its two newest characters, rock-star Eddie Munson and the terrifying Vecna? Munson is a great addition because he behaves how a real person would when overwhelmed by so much new information. Even if the viewer can’t relate to Munson, they have to sympathize with him.
Vecna is a mixed bag. The character design is flawless, the sound of his tendrils retracting and grabbing onto things around him is perfectly unsettling. One issue with having a more complex villain than a demogorgon or mind flayer is that said villain now needs a motive, a backstory. Vecna’s reasoning is cliche at best, laughable at worst. He comes off as a stereotypical misunderstood boy, but explanation to why he went so far or even how he got his powers is muddled.
Stranger Things is secondly a plot driven show. S4 has so many plots that it is hard to give an overall review. Lucas’ conflicts between the basketball team and the Hellfire Club is the best plotline of the season. Not only is it relatable, but it avoids cliches (nerd returns to his nerd friends after becoming popular) until just the right moment.
Joyce and Hopper’s exploits in Russia are tedious, but a welcome change of setting for the show. Jonathan, Argyle, Mike and Will’s road trip back to Hawkins is a low point. Not only does the comic relief get old after one scene, but the emotional depth we expected from Mike and Will fizzles out into nothing. As usual, though, the action scenes are perfectly choreographed and have great cinematography.
In the end it’s all about how a series closes. In this way, seasons one and three can be used as a flawless model on how to end a season. Season one’s cliffhanger and season three’s massive battle are satisfying and well made conclusions. By season four, most viewers had gotten tired of introducing new characters and killing them off in finales (Bob, Billy), so a gut wrenching ending to season four would have been welcome. Instead, we got Eddie Munson’s death, which was predictable and didn’t bring the real punch as Hopper’s temporary death in season three or a main character like Dustin or Steve.
The final shot displays an apocalyptic Hawkins landscape. Stranger Things has a choice – go full post-apocalypse mode or focus much more on the characters’ relationships. The current balance just isn’t working how it did in the first two seasons.
Overall score: 55/100
This will be Joe Harned’s first year on ECHO Staff. He also made several contributions while taking journalism class his freshman year.