Stranger Things Season 4 – The Eternal Teenagers Face More Supernatural Horrors

SERIES REVIEW – It seemed like a lifetime since Netflix subscribers left Hawkins, Indiana, in July 2019 when the third season of Stranger Things ended. What do the characters of this universe still mean to a fanbase that has watched them grow up (and arguably “age out”) through the camera? Can a series that started rhyming with the 80s works of Stephen King and Steven Spielberg prove that, like its actors, it has grown up in the process?


It is clear that the creators themselves were sceptical about the relevance of the series and were trying out new ideas. In Stranger Things 4, the creators of the Duffer Brothers broaden the scope of their hit series: the characters are scattered around the world, the season is split into two parts, they go from 80s action to 80s horror, and they give episodes as long as a feature film, and they show, among other things, the trauma that these people have to carry with them every day.


“But you’ve grown, my boy!”


The three years that Stranger Things was off the screen were so tense and traumatic that it feels like a decade was taken out of our lives for many of us. And though only six months have passed in the story’s chronology, the teenagers of Hawkins, Indiana, seem to have gone through a supernatural growth spurt. But in most other respects, the town – and the Netflix series itself – seem stuck in a time warp of their own making.

Stranger Things had fed off our nostalgia for the 1980s as a supposedly uplifting era before the internet, smartphones and social media – a bygone age of innocence when kids ran free physically and imaginatively, and parents didn’t worry as long as they did; they got home in time for dinner. When the first season premiered in the summer of 2016, the series’ evocation of “analogue” adolescence, woven with heartwarming references to 1980s pop culture, was both joyous and moving. The series creators, the Duffer Brothers, infused every element of Stranger Things with wistful warmth: the Demogorgon threatening Hawkins from another dimension functioned like a dark side version of ET, turning the main cast of early geeks – Dustin, Mike, Will and Lucas – into a cohesive, resourceful band of Dungeons & Dragons-ers and Huffy-skills turned weapons in the fight against cosmic evil.


Repetition the mother of horror?


How do you repeat a winning formula without it seeming repetitive? It’s a risky move to signal this to the audience – even laced with self-irony. “You do know I saved the world twice, right?” says Mike (Finn Wolfhard) as he chats up Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) this season. “And you still got a C in Spanish!” retorts Dustin.

In another episode, Robin (Maya Hawke) comforts a new character who unwittingly finds herself at the centre of their horror story. “We’ve been through this before,” she says sweetly, pointing to her fellow monster hunters. “Mine was more human flesh-based, and theirs was more smoke-related, but the point is that collectively I feel like we really pull it together.”

The new season really delves deeper into the Stranger Things mythology. Disturbing flashbacks offer insight into Eleven’s (Millie Bobby Brown) past and her time at the CIA’s top-secret lab school under the tutelage of Dr Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine), aka “Papa.” He honed his supernatural skills alongside an army of similarly bald warrior kids who apparently ended up dying at her hands. The revelations leave El (and viewers) wondering whether he’s a hero or a monster – though the question is somewhat academic, as he begins the season by losing all his “supernatural” powers in the season three finale after the season-ending big battle.


Trauma… Trauma everywhere…


With Hopper (David Harbour) presumed dead, Joyce (Winona Ryder) takes El and the boys with her to start a new life and move across the country to California. You can tell it’s California because the popular kids who keep harassing El at his new school look like they’ve robbed the costume archives of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. But for El, it’s more a situation reminiscent of Stephen King’s Carrie. You can’t help but root for her to get her powers back and give all the mean girls and boys at the local roller skating club a good smack.

The theme of trauma permeates this season, making sense when considering how much death and loss these kids have suffered. There are certainly plenty of them among the Stranger Things gang: for example, there’s Will (Noah Schapp), who suffered when he was sent to the “other world” and had “visions” when he got back, or Max (Sadie Sink), who watched his stepsister die in front of him, and El grew up as a guinea pig. The monster that emerges this season, named Lord Vecna after the dark wizard of Dungeons and Dragons, seems to feed off the emotional trauma of the victims. While it’s not a bad idea to depict the price paid by the survivors of the series, it’s often overwritten with so much melodrama in the script that it brings the series ever closer to cartoonish clichés.


Winona Ryder goes from drama queen to cool heroine


Meanwhile, Joyce, known for her spectacular crying spells (big comeback Winona Ryder), is somewhat surprisingly transformed this season into a more charismatic, laid-back heroine who teams up with private investigator Murray (Brett Gelman) to find Hopper, who the Russians have captured. Ryder and Gelman are a delightfully goofy pair who goof off in the middle of nowhere Alaska, just when the kids need them most.

Everyone goes their way, but somehow they keep finding each other, despite the absence of smartphones. Like tentacles on the monster they’re battling, the characters reach out in so many directions that their connection sometimes blurs. The intense friendship between Mike and Will has frayed; Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) has broken away from the gang because he’s trying to be a famous basketball player; and Dustin has fallen under the wing of the charismatic, sports-hating, anti-authoritarian Eddie (Joseph Quinn), who runs the school’s D&D team, the Hellfire Club. This season, the cast settles into new pairings, with Robin and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) teaming up to play clever detectives and have great dialogue. Steve (Joe Keery) continues to be one of the show’s secret weapons: instead of the former fake-boy pretty boy, he’s now a much wiser and more likeable character in some ways, whose heart is always in the right place at the right time.


Is your time up?


Stranger Things always likes to keep many balls in the air, but the sheer abundance of parallel plot threads makes it dizzying this time. There’s even a mini retro-horror movie embedded in the season, starring none other than Robert Englund, aka Freddie Krueger. Almost every scene feels like a cliffhanger, even if there’s no real need for constant tension. The period tunes are as great as ever this season (Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” is particularly punchy), but the eerie synthesizer sounds constantly warn the viewer that danger is lurking. There is also a ticking wall clock that signals doom to potential victims. Perhaps it signals that ‘time is up – and there is some self-deprecation on the part of the series.

The fourth season is also the most gruesome yet, and the special effects go far beyond anything we’ve seen in the 80s movies that line the shelves of the video store where Robin and Steve now work. Stranger Things has always straddled the line between homage and parody and sometimes ends up on the wrong side. Despite this, the series has remained exciting and entertaining, thanks in part to its more adult but still very likeable characters.


Stranger Things has lost its innocence beyond redemption


The show must go on – Queen sang it once, and it’s true for this show too. Netflix needs Stranger Things, one of its best-known franchises, to keep subscribers, especially in recent times when struggling rival operators have started to drift away from them, and their shares have fallen on the stock market as a result. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why the season was split in two, leaving us with a mega-cliffhanger to ‘hang’ before the last two huge episodes on 1 July. A lot of pressure on this bunch of nerdy kids. For a streaming giant, they’re backing, destroying monsters is child’s play.

Successful series always reach a crisis point where the magic formula either needs to be repeated, served up again with the risk of stagnation, or, in this case, intensified even further, causing previously well-established proportions to shift beyond repair, which makes the plot somewhat discredited and tiresome. Somewhere along the way, Stranger Things lost its innocence.









Stranger Things Season 4

Direction - 7.4
Acting - 7.2
Story - 6.8
Visuals/music - 8.2
Ambiance - 7.2



Successful series always reach a crisis point where the magic formula either needs to be repeated, served up again with the risk of stagnation, or, in this case, intensified even further, causing previously well-established proportions to shift beyond repair, which makes the plot somewhat discredited and tiresome. Somewhere along the way, Stranger Things lost its own innocence.

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BadSector is a seasoned journalist for more than twenty years. He communicates in English, Hungarian and French. He worked for several gaming magazines - including the Hungarian GameStar, where he worked 8 years as editor. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our impressum)

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