After nearly three years since its brilliant third season, Stranger Things released the first part of its fourth season this past weekend on Netflix. While Part II won’t release until July 1, Part I consists of seven very long episodes.
So was it worth that wait?
That really depends on what you’re hoping to get out of the series. If you want a continuation of the narrative, which pretty much had to expand past Hawkins, then it’s highly enjoyable. If you primarily enjoy the ’80s coming-of-age aspect of the show, however, then this might be where you decide to hop off the ride.
Let’s take a look at what did and didn’t work in Part I of Stranger Things‘ penultimate season. There will obviously be spoilers, so tread carefully if you haven’t watched it yet.
As usual, the interaction between Stranger Things‘ characters is fantastic. The chemistry/banter we know and love is still present (especially between Steve and Dustin), but it’s the new pairings that really shine. My personal favorite was Nancy and Robin. They are complete opposites, but their differences end up making them a great team — and even better friends.
I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed Hopper’s growing friendship with the Russian security guard Dimitri. Their bond could have felt incredibly forced and cheesy, but it developed organically into something that created one of the season’s best moments.
I also can’t be the only one who wasn’t expecting to love Joyce and Murray working together so much. Their plotline may have dragged on a bit too long, but they still provided some of the season’s funniest moments.
Even the new primary characters were good. I hated Eddie and Argyle at first, but they totally won me over by the end. In Eddie’s case, it was primarily due to him finally showing some humanity along with the way he and Steve bonded over their shared annoyance at Dustin.
As for Argyle, his brand of stoner humor became exponentially more tolerable (and funny) once the pineapple pizza hit the fan.
Calvin Powell isn’t a new character, but I like him more than ever in his role as the Hawkins Police Chief. He also makes a great straight man for Officer Callahan, who’s as wonderfully insufferable as ever.
There’s still a lot about Max that bothers me — namely that she’s a constant source of negative energy no matter what the circumstances are. But damn if Sadie Sink doesn’t do such a great job with the character that I’m finally starting to come around. It also helped a great deal that her chemistry with Lucas (played wonderfully as always by Caleb McLaughlin) felt genuine for the first time.
The Mike/Jonathan/Will grouping was almost unbearable until they found themselves inside the familiar confines of a world-ending crisis. Once bullets began flying and they went on the road, the trio’s entire dynamic changed for the better — with a comic relief assist from Argyle, of course.
This was likely by design in the script, but I’m not sure the Duffer Brothers realized just how much this grouping threatened to drag down the rest of the narrative. I get that we’re supposed to see them going through difficult life changes, but there has to be some joy to balance it out.
Erica’s inclusion in the primary narrative took far too long, but it made a huge difference once she went from being a bratty sister to a sharp-witted team member. Priah Ferguson plays the character a hair’s breadth from being too precocious, which results in some great comedy and a much-needed voice of razor-tongued reason.
Speaking of that, Steve isn’t just great in his role as the world’s best babysitter. He’s also a fantastic voice for the audience, willing to ask questions about the narrative that initially don’t make sense — like why one seemingly random family would be affected by the Upside Down followed by an incident-free gap of over two decades. Steve’s commentary doesn’t patch all of the plot holes, but it does make the story feel more cohesive and purposefully directed.
And then you have Steve’s rekindled romance with Nancy. What could have been a ridiculously bad storyline ended up feeling like it was meant to be. I never thought I’d see the day when I’d root like crazy for Nancy to dump Jonathan and get back together with Steve, but here we are.
From an action/horror standpoint, Stranger Things 4 delivers and then some. In fact, some of the gorier parts were so intense that I’m surprised it kept the TV-14 rating. We also FINALLY got to see creatures in the Upside Down other than the Mind Flayer and demogorgons/demodogs.
That said, the scene we did get with a demogorgon was fantastic (as long as you don’t have a weak stomach). It’s one of the best action sequences in a season filled with moments of kinetic terror.
For my money, though, the best one was the shootout in the Byers home. I’m a sucker for a single-take action scene and director Shawn Levy absolutely knocked it out of the park.
From a story standpoint, Stranger Things 4 starts off with a strong framework that remains mostly intact by the end of the seventh episode.
Old folks like me might be disappointed that the series is no longer a small-town coming-of-age story, but the narrative made that inevitable. Once you introduce a plotline involving the Soviets attempting to steal the secret to interdimensional travel, it’s going to be hard to confine things to a small patch of middle America.
Thankfully, Stranger Things 4 managed to organically construct multiple connected plotlines, all while adding a fascinating (and intriguing) new element to the series’ mythology. Unfortunately, the execution of weaving those plotlines together didn’t always go very well.
What Didn’t Work
I’m far from the first critic or fan to think that Stranger Things 4 felt a bit bloated. While some of this was because of the narrative’s inevitable expansion, it was also due to how much the story jumped around.
The best example of this was Hopper’s time in Russia. Combined with Joyce and Murray’s rescue mission, this plotline likely would have played better as the focus of one or two episodes on its own. Instead, it ended up feeling like a bleak interruption of more interesting events until its explosive conclusion.
The other plotline that felt like treading water every time we visited it was Eleven’s trip back in time. Even though most of us likely figured it out early on, the show treated Vecna’s painfully telegraphed reveal as something that was supposed to blow our minds.
As if that weren’t bad enough, he capped off the final episode with a momentum obliterating exposition dump. It was one of many things that made him a terribly uninteresting villain. Unlike the Mind Flayer‘s constant escalation last season, Vecna just floated around like a gaslighting asshole with an occasional gory kill to remind us how evil he is.
The one time he attacked a character we actually care about, she was able to defeat him with the power of Kate Bush’s voice…which honestly tracks since Kate Bush is awesome, but it still doesn’t help Vecna feel like the threat he’s supposed to be.
The human villains weren’t much better, either. Eleven’s tormenters were so over the top that they make the actors on anti-bullying PSAs appear subtle. I’m not saying we needed to sympathize with them, but their evil was so undiluted that it rivaled Vecna’s.
As for Jason Carver and his team of vigilante jocks, they were a bit more believable, but not by much. At first, the satanic panic angle combined with teammate Patrick McKinny‘s abusive homelife looked like a springboard for some great character moments.
Unfortunately, that all came crashing down when Jason picked up the microphone at a town hall meeting. His speech was so absurd that my eyes nearly rolled into the back of my head like one of Vecna’s victims.
And then you have the return of Dr. Brenner, which was more bizarre than shocking.
I get that we’re dealing with speculative fiction here, but there still have to be rules and parameters within the narrative. I can grudgingly go along with Eleven repressing a memory that involves Stranger Things 4‘s central premise, but I struggle to see how Brenner came out of his season 1 encounter with a demogorgon bearing only a distinguished-looking scar — especially when the seventh episode went to great lengths to show us just how brutal the creature is.
To be fair, I do appreciate that his miraculous survival allowed us to see Brenner and Owens butt heads. There’s also a chance that his survival will be explained later, although I’m not hopeful.
What can’t be explained is how Hopper had his foot bashed in (which helped him get free of his restraints) only to immediately start hopping around like a barefoot action hero. In fact, we never saw any fallout from his injury except a few winces and a failed escape attempt.
I’m 100% on board for traveling to other dimensions and fighting supernatural monsters. But a story having those aspects doesn’t mean that details about basic human biology and story continuity can be thrown out the window.
Even with its obvious flaws, Stranger Things 4 is still a lot of fun to watch. It also has two feature movie-length episodes debuting July 1, which could iron out a few of the story’s wrinkled details. No matter what happens, though, the story is driven by a fantastic cast of characters that’s always a joy to watch.
I should also note that Stranger Things 4‘s narrative isn’t bad at all. Just because some of us miss the small-town setting doesn’t mean the story has failed. Its execution has just felt very uneven thus far. In the moments where it succeeds, Stranger Things 4 is as strong as any previous season. The production values are also out of this world — something that’s likely to shine even more in the final episodes.
Now that all the pieces are in place for Stranger Thing 4‘s final act, there’s every reason to hope that the final three and a half hours (!) will work as an explosive lead-in to the series’ final season.
Watch Now:Powered by
Join the AIPT Patreon
Want to take our relationship to the next level? Become a patron today to gain access to exclusive perks, such as:
- ❌ Remove all ads on the website
- 💬 Join our Discord community, where we chat about the latest news and releases from everything we cover on AIPT
- 📗 Access to our monthly book club
- 📦 Get a physical trade paperback shipped to you every month
- 💥 And more!