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The significance of Kate Bush's song in 'Stranger Things' season 4

Like every other season, the first volume of Stranger Things season four has an eclectic mix of soundtracks that complements the overall dark, gory and scary atmosphere of the season. With a record-breaking premiere, this Duffer brothers’ creation is an ode to the enigmatic eighties and features a popular song that has been revitalised nearly four decades after its release.

With seven episodes premiering with its first volume, Stranger Things season four is set across three locations, namely California, Hawkins and Kamchatka, Russia. While Hopper fights for his life in Russia and gets saved by Joyce and Murray in the end, Eleven is taken hostage by Dr Owens and Brenner to restore her powers in an undisclosed location while Mike, Jonathan, Will and his friend, Argyle embark on a journey to find Eleven.

However, Hawkins faces the real terror in form of a demonic presence called Vecna who preys on people’s guilt before killing them in a gruesome manner by luring them into the Upside Down with hallucinations. With brutal deaths on the rise, the Hawkins gang, namely Max, Dustin, Lucas, Steve, Erica, Nancy, Robin and Eddie try to get to the bottom of this before encountering the horrors of Vecna.

The Duffer brothers had already talked about how the fourth season was going to be “Max-heavy”. From the beginning of the season, Max, played incredibly by Sadie Sink, was seen reeling under the aftermath of her step-brother, Billy Hargrove’s death at the end of season three.

Billy’s death induces unbridled guilt in Max’s mind while she copes with various family issues. Max is seen struggling with depression and other mental health issues which leads to poor grades and daily counselling sessions at school which ultimately do not seem to help her. She also begins having the same hallucinations as Vecna’s prey and is convinced that she will die next.

The fourth episode of the season titled “Dear Billy” is the most epic episode. While Nancy and Robin manage to infiltrate Pennhurst to meet Victor Creel and figure out the history behind the haunted Creel House, Max is seen writing letters to her friends, convinced of her inevitable death. While she writes one each to her parents and friends, Max writes a heartfelt letter to Billy which she reads out loud for the audience to hear. The heartbreaking monologue is a testament to the amount of guilt, sadness and grief she harbours in her mind.

Soon, Max is enshrouded by darkness and Vecna begins to play vicious mind games with her, prying on her guilt to break down her defences and ultimately kill her. While Max is caught in her personal hell, Steve, Lucas and Dustin listen to Nancy’s advice and play Kate Bush’s iconic 1985 song, “Running Up That Hill” as Max levitates; she is seen hearing the song from the very beginning of the season and soon seems to find her way as she gets guided back to reality by her favourite song and various memories with her friends, especially Lucas.

While the sequence saves her life and us from potential heartbreak, the song and the entire sequence have a greater significance. Besides the song fitting seamlessly well into the Duffer brothers’ timeline for Stranger Things, it emphasises the healing power of music. While Max is trapped within Vecna’s vicious clutches, the darkness that clogs her mind is somewhat pierced by Bush’s haunting vocals; Max finally finds her way back home.

However, Bush’s song also seems to be the perfect choice for Max, especially in this season, given how close they are thematically. Max is grieving. She cannot talk about it with her friends or family and is gradually seeping into depression while failing to cope with angst and grief. Bush’s songs, too, have dealt closely with concepts of grief, loss, longing and loneliness. One of her lyrics in the song, “If I only could, I’d make a deal with God, and I’d get him to swap our places” is an eerie reminder of what Max possibly feels. Since it is difficult to process the complexities of grief, a heartbroken Max might have constantly wanted to be the one dying instead of her brother, Billy with whom she had a difficult relationship.

The following lyrics say: “Be running up that road, be running up that hill, be running up that building, If I only could”, describing Max’s current state of turmoil. She drags herself through her daily activities while her mind is stuck in a vicious and continuous cycle of guilt, sadness and self-accusation. Processing her brother’s death has been hard but the resentment she feels towards herself has been harder to understand and accept, thus making her an easy victim for Vecna to possess, initially. However, the same song pulls her back to reality.

The overall dark and mopey tone of Bush’s melancholy song perfectly showcases Max’s pain as she drowns the outside noise by replaying the same song on her Walkman. Bush’s independent and fiery spirit is also reflected in Max’s character as she does not succumb to Vecna’s curse and fights till her last breath to prevent the possession. The song is not only a way for Max to process grief but also a constant and powerful reminder of the love she blissfully receives from her friends who will do anything to bring her back.

The Duffer brothers did immense justice to both Max and Kate Bush’s iconic hit in a significantly moving fashion.

Starring Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink, Joe Keery, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Maya Hawke, Priah Ferguson, Robert Englund, Jamie Campbell Bower, Matthew Modine, Brett Gelman and Raphael Luce among others, the fourth season is the penultimate season before the series comes to an end with a fifth and final season.

The second and final volume of Stranger Things season four is scheduled for a July 1st, 2022, premiere on Netflix and will have two feature-length episodes.