Maya Hawke, Sadie Sink, Joe Keery, and Gaten Matarazzo in Stranger Things, Chapter Two

Series Review: Stranger Things: Season 4, Volume 1

Film Reviews

Stranger Things: Season 4, Volume 1
Created by The Duffer Brothers

21 Laps Entertainment and Monkey Massacre
Streaming on Netflix 05.27

The third season of Stranger Things  had a riotously fun ’80s summer blockbuster feel, and it built to such a strong finale that the abnormally-long wait for season 4 amid COVID–19 delays has been maddening for fans. The good news is that Stranger Things: Season 4 is finally here. I’ll get to the bad news shortly.

Stranger Things: Season 4 begins approximately six months after the Battle of Starcourt.  The core group of friends, now entering high school, are separating for the first time in their young lives: Joyce (Winona Ryder) has uprooted her boys and moved away from Hawkins, taking Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) along with them following the heroic sacrifice of her surrogate father, Police Chief Hopper (David Harbour); meanwhile, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) has joined the basketball team, and he’s becoming part of a whole new social circle, leaving Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) to spend their time getting deeper into Dungeons & Dragons culture, joining a group of misfits called The Hellfire Club. At the same time, Max (Sadie Sink) is keeping to herself and avoiding all of them. It goes without saying that it isn’t long before teen angst gives way to supernatural terrors, because this is Hawkins, and to quote The Simpsons—which I haven’t done in at least a week—“There’s a doins’ a transpirin’.” 

The first and second episodes don’t do a whole lot more than set the scene, and they require a little patience as the anticipation of jumping into the action is palpable. Luckily, it’s so nice to see the kids again that it’s still engaging even if the characters are all a bit down in the dumps. Max and Eleven are given the strongest overall plotlines, though you just can’t go wrong with Dustin and Steve (Joe Kerry), especially with Robin (Maya Hawke) and a surprising fourth joining their little gang. D&D takes its most overt role in the plot since season one, and the convergence of hardcore gamer lore and Nightmare on Elm Street’s Robert Englund will have lovable, Metallica T-shirt-wearing loners of all ages standing up and cheering in their mother’s basements. 

The weakest threads involve Lucas’ cartoonish small town football team and Jonathan’s devolution into a pothead slacker in a bad wig. A little bit of stoner humor goes a long way, and Jonathan’s friend, Argyle (Eduardo Franco), is meant to be endearing comic relief, but he’s an intrusive annoyance. The freedom to go longer on both episode length and number of episodes this season has lead to some unnecessary padding via too many unnecessary supporting characters that are a small but persistent stain on an otherwise bright season. 

There’s not a lot that can be said about Joyce or Hopper without getting into spoiler territory, except that both Ryder, and especially Harbour, get some great chances to shine. In fact, while I felt quite frustrated that it takes too long for Hop’s plot to actually go anywhere, when it finally does, Harbour’s acting is electrifying and makes up for it. In general, the cast of favorites does not disappoint, and yet the strongest element of Stranger Things: Season 4 is the introduction of the biggest thing the series has struggled with up to this point: a truly memorable and tangible villain. I wouldn’t spoil anything even if I was allowed to do so, but I will say that in terms of development of the larger story, this is by far the best we’ve had since the first season.

Stranger Things: Season 4, Volume 1 is a bit overcrowded and circuitous at times, and the broadest and most irrelevant supporting comic relief characters don’t quite work. That being said, the shortcomings are a small price to pay for an overall mix that’s funny, engrossing and expertly spooky. The show has always been a mashup of Steven Spielberg and Stephen King, and where season three went heavy on the Spielberg, this one invokes King to great effect. Volume 1 will keep you hooked all the way through to the end of episode seven. The aforementioned bad news, of course, is simply that we have to wait until July for Season 4: Volume 2. It’s going to be a nail-biting month of waiting, but as Heath Ledger‘s Joker said, “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stranger.” –Patrick Gibbs

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