Some people considered it a PR stunt when the cast and crew of Stranger Things constantly hinted at a “darker” and “scarier” season four, but it was wholly accurate.
The first part of the fourth season of Stranger Things dropped on Netflix on May 27th, 2022, after a three-year-long hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, and it did not disappoint. Indeed the Duffer brothers’ creation goes into darker, gorier and scarier territory than ever before. Moreover, the first volume of the penultimate season is full of welcome surprises.
Fresh faces in the ensemble cast include Amybeth McNulty, Myles Truitt, Regina Ting Chen, Joseph Quinn and Grace Van Dien, alongside returning favourites such as Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Maya Hawke, and Winona Ryder. While the show began with a band of kids battling a monstrous Demogorgon with petals for a head in Hawkins in the first few seasons, season four sees them as mature teenagers who now have to deal with the adult world.
Set across three distinct locations, Hawkins, California and Kamchatka, the programme no longer solely focuses on a single event like the disappearance of Will Byers or Eleven’s powers and backstory. Instead, every character arc is intimately explored, as previously promised by the showrunners. For example, in California, Eleven, now known as Jane Hopper, is constantly bullied at school. Without her powers, she appears helpless as people gang up against her and constantly shun her.
Meanwhile, Will is dealing with problems of his own which mainly include him missing Mike. It remains to be seen whether the showrunners will strictly keep their friendship platonic or delve into the realm of homoerotic awakening in the case of Will, which can only be known later. Will’s older brother, Jonathan, is on a weed binge with his new friend, Argyle, while missing Nancy and awaiting college applications.
Their mother, Joyce, is lost in her own world as she attempts to track down the allegedly dead Chief Jim Hopper after receiving a Russian Doll, which indicates his survival. In actuality, Hopper is in Russia after miraculously surviving the major explosion at the end of season three.
Hopper’s relentless and undying spirit keeps him going in the Gulag-like Russian prison camp despite being tortured and bruised. While battling various horrors and daily abuse, Hopper conspires to get to his loved ones before indulging in an epic showdown.
However, the Hawkins gang is undoubtedly the most impressive this season. As a more sinister evil in the form of the terrifying Vecna plagues the town and claims innocent lives, the people of Hawkins face imminent danger. Vecna is more cruel and vicious – the victims die a slow, painful death, plagued by horrifying hallucinations and images.
The Hawkins firm, now comprising Dustin, Nancy, Robin, Max and Lucas, find themselves trapped in a dire situation. Max, guilt-ridden after Billy’s sacrifice in the previous season, feels her imminent death while trying to escape the clutches of Vecna.
Subsequently, Eleven is later taken hostage by Dr Owens and Dr Brenner in a secret bunker where they attempt to restore her powers, for only Eleven can battle Vecna.
If the Duffer brothers are looking to make an Eleven spin-off, they probably should not, as most of her backstory is explored this season. Eleven’s traumatic past is linked closely with the nightmarish Vecna, and spoiler alert, people with arachnophobia like myself, will certainly find it challenging to sit through some scenes.
Although the season is a bit too long, with a running time of nearly nine hours, it sets the tempo for an explosive season finale which is scheduled to arrive via two feature-length episodes on July 1st, 2022.
It also has a host of pleasant surprises, including a cameo from the horror legend Robert Englund in a pretty heartbreaking role. The groovy background scores and the inclusion of classic hairstyles and clothing help the show stay true to its core and still serve as an evocative ode to the nostalgic ’80s. However, the Duffers tone it down in terms of nostalgia to make way for more narrative points to flesh out the story.
With the cast as resilient as ever, battling spatial and psychological horrors, and plenty of gruesome and unprecedented deaths of both kids and adults, hence the warning tag after the shocking Texas school shooting in the United States.
While the bloody beginning indicates inevitable deaths in the upcoming episodes and the fifth and final season, Stranger Things season four is a spine-chilling ride that sets the ball rolling towards a darker, promising end.