When Stranger Things 4: Part I concluded back in May, multiple narratives were left hanging in the balance. This weekend, we finally got to learn how things played out leading into Stranger Things‘ fifth and final season. Despite Part II only being two episodes, both are longer than many feature-length films. Episode 8 is 1 hour and 25 while Episode 9 clocks in at a whopping 2 hours and 19 minutes (!).
Let’s take a look at whether or not Stranger Things 4 puts that runtime to good use. There will obviously be spoilers, so tread carefully if you haven’t watched it yet.
The first thing we need to talk about is what a badass 80s dreamgirl Nancy is. She’s a near-perfect mix of Ellen Ripley and Sloane Peterson with just the right dash of T2 Sarah Conner (which is technically from the ’90s but you know what I mean). Even before she became adept with firearms/combat, Nancy showed intelligence, courage, and leadership that’s organically grown even stronger since we first met her.
In a similar vein, Steve has developed so much since the first season that it’s hard to remember when he was just a walking redemptive plot device. Without adding uncharacteristic personality changes or intelligence, he’s matured into a true leader who we all love to root for.
When you consider Steve and Nancy’s development over the last four seasons, it’s no wonder so many of us want to see them together again.
Another relationship that benefitted from this season was the one between Lucas and Max…which is weird since they weren’t even officially together. Maybe it’s simply a matter of their chemistry needing more time to develop, but the affection the pair have for one another is far more believable now — especially during that wonderful scene where they wrote notes to each other.
That affection also led to us absolutely getting our hearts ripped out when Max fell into a screaming Lucas’ arms. Hats off to Caleb McLaughlin for making us feel every bit of his character’s pain and then some.
Will and Jonathan became likable characters again via some incredibly poignant scenes — especially the one with each other. In Will’s case, the writers finally stopped making him the script’s emotional punching bag and gave the poor kid some agency. Although his heart was still reeling, Will came through to help Mike when he needed it the most.
As for Jonathan, it was just nice to see him more like his previous empathetic self rather than a burned-out asshole. He also returned to being the big brother Mike needed instead of simply shooting him furtive glances every few minutes.
While that was happening, Mike and Eleven’s relationship was allowed to be something other than a source of strife for the first time in years. It was far too brief (and involved the unholy combination of pineapple and pizza), but still really nice. It was also good to see Eleven’s confidence return, both in herself and her powers. As awesome as it was seeing her take down a helicopter, her aggressively defensive posture in the season’s final scene — bolstered by Hopper’s return and everyone reuniting — was when she appeared the strongest.
Oh, and Argyle continues to win me over despite being someone I totally expected to hate.
And then we have Max, who better not be dead. I know it’s doubtful, especially with how beloved her character is and the fact that Sadie Sink makes anything she’s in better.
But as someone who absolutely couldn’t stand Max after she was introduced, the thought of her dying (or being sidelined) after this season is unconscionable. I still think her death would have provided the narrative with its desired impact (which we’ll discuss later), but the next season of Stranger Things will be much better with her in it.
Over in Russia, Hopper and Joyce finally got to have a romantic moment together. Part of me worried it would be cheesy, but David Harbour and Winona Ryder knocked it out of the park. I was disappointed at the lack of Hopper/Dimitri and Joyce/Murray interaction, but getting to see the Hawkins couple reunited and together more than made up for it.
And all those awesome monster scenes, of course.
I would’ve been happy with Hopper vs. the Demogorgon, but the Demodogs (who were from my least favorite season of the show) were all kinds of great. I also never knew how much I needed to see Hopper use a sword to fight a Demogorgon.
Sticking with the story side of things, the planning and preparation for everyone’s final showdowns were a lot of fun — so much so that it often outshined the execution.
Case in point: The scene between Jason Carver and Nancy in the gun store was significantly more tense than a large portion of the scenes in the Upside Down. Even Eddie’s great Michael Meyers RV Heist, which was played for laughs, felt significantly more urgent than much of the season’s actual climax.
Speaking of Eddie, let’s talk about how poorly used his character was.
What Didn’t Work
I think we can all agree that the scene where Eddie played “Master of Puppets” to draw a horde of Demobats was one of the coolest things ever. We can also agree that Eddie was a really good character whose redemptive arc ended in a heroically tragic manner.
That said, it became clear early on in these last two episodes that he’d been created specifically to die.
That doesn’t mean Eddie’s death didn’t carry any weight. On the contrary, watching the effect it had on poor Dustin was one of this season’s most impactful moments. But at the same time, Stranger Thing 4’s attempt to conclude with a tragic loss was undercut by Eddie’s comparatively brief existence with the established group. Yes, people in Hawkins died, but we didn’t know any of them except for Jason (and good riddance).
Much as I hate to say it, Max’s death would have truly brought home the cost of the interdimensional war Dr. Brenner and Dr. Owens were preparing Eleven for.
Speaking of Brenner, that’s one character who I’ll be glad never to see again. Aside from the scene where he went from menacing Eleven to protecting her, his return did very little to advance the story. It certainly didn’t help that he went from Snidely Whiplash levels of treachery to shedding tears when Eleven pointed out all his past misdeeds (which he almost appeared to revel in during the first season).
Also, as a Star Wars fan, you’d think I’d be okay with characters cheating death. But I still can’t get over how he survived a face-to-face with a Demogorgon with only a distinguished-looking scar — especially after all the times we were shown just how fast and merciless the creature was this season.
Meanwhile, other great characters like Robin and Erica got sidelined a bit. They participated fully in the final battle prep/execution, but aside from a couple of key scenes (Erica’s talk with Lucas and Robin spending time with Vickie), their personalities were put on the backburner.
And then we have Vecna, who once again displayed his powers of grinding the narrative to a halt via exposition and stream-of-conscious gaslighting. I get that it’s necessary to retcon him into being the force behind everything, but that’s hard to accept as a viewer when Stranger Things has had better and scarier villains.
He also finished things with the classic “THIS ISN’T OVER” trope, meaning we’re going to have to do this all over again. At least the first Demogorgon and Mindflayer had the decency to permanently bow out in spectacular fashion. Vecna might have unleashed all types of cool monsters to fill Stranger Things‘ final season, but he’ll no doubt crowd them out at times by aggressively trying to convince characters that they suck.
It would also help Vecna’s case if his footsteps didn’t make him sound like he was in severe need of a diaper change.
From a production standpoint, the eighth episode’s fantastic climax was undercut by Zack Snyder-levels of slow-mo. Don’t get me wrong — some of it was pretty cool. Scenes like Hopper chopping off a Demogorgon’s head or Nancy shotgun blasting Vecna are worth a bit of extra time (and can be injected right into my veins).
By the second prolonged lighting of a Molotov cocktail, however, I was over it.
Those complaints aside, Stranger Things 4: Part II was still a lot of fun. It also improved on some of the character deficiencies from Part I while setting up what should be an explosive final season.
For older fans like myself, there’s probably some sadness that the narrative has morphed from a weird smalltown tale to a massive interdimensional war, but it had to. Even the nostalgia of Starcourt Mall couldn’t keep Stranger Things from going international. I’m honestly impressed that the writers were able to keep the 80s coming-of-age story vibe going this long.
With all the exceptional character work we saw these last two episodes, there’s every reason to believe Stranger Things 5 can continue telling a character-driven tale despite the incoming chaos. Monsters and explosions are great (obviously), but the smaller stories and interactions are what really make this series truly special.
That said, I won’t mind one bit if we get another sequence of Nancy blasting Vecna repeatedly with a sawed-off shotgun.
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