For those of you who haven’t canceled your Netflix subscription, you’ve likely seen the latest outing from The Duffer Brothers sitting somewhere on its trending chart. The fourth season of “Stranger Things” was one that I had almost no faith in when I started it, but by the time it was done I was thoroughly impressed.
I’m happy to say that The Duffer Brothers and Netflix managed to do something that not a lot of titles have been capable of doing, and that’s getting back to what made them good in the first place. In the case of “Stranger Things,” it’s a solid mix of horror, coming-of-age themes, well-fleshed-out hero’s journeys, and 80s nostalgia.
The fact that many people were still willing to give the show a chance shows you just how amazing and original the first season was. The fact that the second season was something of a disaster and season three, though far better, didn’t live up to the standard of the first season and had people ready to shrug off the series. However, many decided to go back to Hawkins, Indiana, one last time to check in on the kids, even after three years since season three.
Season four picks up where the last season left off but in a way, it presses the reset button on the series. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) now lives in California with the Bryers. She’s lost her powers since the third season and is attempting to navigate being a new student at a high school where she doesn’t know anybody, a tough mountain to climb given that she never truly had a normal childhood. She’s often picked on and for reasons, she can’t understand.
The rest of the kids are back in Hawkins, going through their own high school experience. The boys are now part of a D&D group called “The Hellfire Club” led by Eddie Munsen (Joseph Quinn) who evokes comparisons to Judd Nelson’s John Bender character in “The Breakfast Club.”
Meanwhile, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) is attempting to locate Jim Hopper (David Harbour) who disappeared after the climax of the third season. It’s soon revealed that Hopper is being kept in a Russian prison. Byers recruits Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman) to help hatch a plan to get him out with some unlikely help.
The plot kicks off when Munsen witnesses a cheerleader from his school get brutally murdered in front of him by a mysterious, unseen force right in his own home. The murder shocks the town to its core, especially the cheerleader’s boyfriend, the captain of the basketball team Jason Carver (Mason Dye). Carver begins a manhunt for Munsen who goes into hiding. While the town blames Munsen, the kids know he’s innocent, as they’ve seen this kind of horror before.
What kicks off from there is a thrill ride with a lot of heart, character development, emotional scenes, and superb horror mixed with a solid mystery that will likely catch you off guard.
The show has its flaws. Some of the plotlines run a little long and could have been summarized a bit better. The show starts off slowly because of this and doesn’t really get going until around the third episode. Your mileage may vary but Eleven’s plotline is, in my opinion, a tad drawn out. Despite this flaw, the season is well fleshed out and you sort of forget that slowness by the end since the Duffer bros wrap it all up in a nice action-packed bow by the finale.
But you’re probably wondering whether or not they injected politics into the show, as this could make or break whether or not you watch it. The answer to that is yes…and no.
Modern television is only now beginning to depart from the wokeness that plagued it, meaning that Stranger Things still has some of it clinging to some of its characters. It’s established in the third season that Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke) is a lesbian, but they don’t ever make it her entire character like some writers tend to. It never feels forced into the story, or on you. She’s one of the more charming characters this season.
But I can’t say the same for Will Byers whom the show continuously hints at being gay to the point where it becomes too much. The character will be delivering a perfectly good line or exposition, and then suddenly say or do something to remind you that he’s holding back a painful secret from the rest of his friends. It makes his character exhausting and it brings down almost every scene where he’s the focus. Luckily, there are enough plotlines in the show that it doesn’t weigh it down too badly.
Moreover, it’s balanced out with some things I didn’t expect to happen in today’s modern entertainment. Men are allowed to be heroes in this season with Steve Harrison (Joe Keery) actually reminding me of a young 80s action hero in various ways. Murray proves to be more than just a cooky sidekick as he gets to be a badass in various parts of the show. The only 100-pound girl you’ll see tossing around men three times their size is Eleven, and she does that with powers not possessed by the average person.
Dare I say it…the men actually shine in this series, particularly Munsen who has an incredibly satisfying hero arc.
That isn’t to say that the women are all fainting damsels in distress. The women are driven and dead-set on achieving their specific goals in this season. Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) and Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) have some of the best arcs in the entire show with the latter having the scene that defines the entire season for me and many others.
The Duffer Brothers did something you don’t get to see very often nowadays, which is allowing characters to be themselves and not cave to some outside ideological force that has no business including itself in the storyline. With only a few hiccups, this “Stranger Things” outing is likely a contender for the best season the show has ever released.
If it can keep this pace, then Season 5 will be something incredible.