stranger things 4 is like the seasons that preceded it in the way it draws from the pop cultural canon of the 80s, making its individual chapters considered homages to genre cinema of the time. In this fourth installment, however, stranger things embraces a new sense of itself as something more than a stylized homage to the creature features and coming-of-age classics that filled theaters decades ago. stranger things 4 is bigger, bloodier, and far more intense than the seasons that preceded it, but it also feels like a natural evolution of the sprawling epic the Duffer brothers tell from the very beginning.
Time has always been a bit tricky in stranger things‘fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, where slimy portals to nightmarish parallel dimensions are known to open occasionally, but it takes on new meaning as stranger things 4 catches up with its teenage heroes. Set roughly six months after the events of its Season 3 finale, stranger thingsThe final batch of chapters open with Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Will (Noah Schnapp), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Max (Sadie Sink), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) all doing their best to find some sense of normalcy after their last battle with a being from the Upside Down.
“Normal” for Eleven, Will, Will’s older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), and the boys’ mother Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) means settling into a new life as a seemingly average family in California where they believe “Jane” – Eleven’s birth name – can get a fresh start. With Eleven’s powers over the fritz and her adoptive father Jim Hopper (David Harbour) still missing, learning to simply exist as an ordinary teenager is both a challenge and a thrill for her. But the genuine excitement of Eleven and the Upside Down that’s all but dormant after they leave Hawkins makes the Byers’ trip out West feel like something for all of them.
stranger things 4 finds the rest of the gang in Hawkins also thriving as the town’s kids prepare for their impending spring break. With Lucas devoting more time to the Hawkins High basketball team and Max still coping with the death of his brother, Mike and Dustin find new friends at the Hellfire Club – a group of Dungeons & Dragons-playing outcasts led by outgoing senior Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn).
By dividing the kids into smaller units and introducing other new characters, like basketball team captain Jason Carver (Mason Dye) and pizza delivery boy Argyle (Eduardo Franco) into their arcs, stranger things 4 establishes change as one of its defining themes this season. stranger thingsThe core group of childhood friends doesn’t exactly break up or fight, but they grow and grow apart like kids tend to do as they get older.
Addressing this reality is part of how stranger things 4 tries to get around the fact that virtually all of its young actors have already visibly aged their characters. Distraction works, especially since stranger things‘ central mystery brings its protagonists closer to the supernatural once again. But when kids are faced with daily challenges more grounded in normal contexts, like understanding the social dynamics of their high schools, it’s sometimes hard to buy them off as unpopular freshmen.
What is much easier to believe and more interesting to dig into is the psychological baggage stranger things 4 highlights in each of its protagonists. But stranger things has always and continues to revolve around Eleven and her connection to the Upside Down, this season plays with the idea that Hawkins is a cursed place that has a weird way of changing people who know its secrets. While most people are busy going through puberty and staying on top of their schoolwork, they’re also dealing with the weight of knowing what kinds of horrors the Hawkins National Laboratory has unleashed upon the world.
Although this season introduces yet another Dungeons & Dragons-creature inspired from another world – this time a Nightmare on Elm Street-like ghoul – the monster plays an important role in how stranger things 4 begins to flesh out and answer some of the show’s biggest mysteries. For characters like Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin (Maya Hawke), stranger things 4 is a story about self-knowledge and accepting responsibility at a time when the adults in their lives are not equipped to do so. What is impressive is the efficiency with which stranger things organically brings their threads together to tell a story that seems to be gaining momentum in the build-up to the not-too-distant series finale.
Like stranger things 4 evoked the real-world satanic panic that gripped 80s parents who didn’t understand why people would want to fight imaginary dragons in dungeons, you get the feeling that’s the direction the Duffer Brothers always intended to go. There is attention to both stranger things 4and the obstacles he throws at Eleven and co. which keeps this season mostly crackling with vibrant energy. But this energy weakens each time stranger things slows down for one of its many wacky exhibition dumps that appear with increasing frequency as the season progresses. These caches of plot details – always delivered in breathless exchanges of almost rhetorical questions – also partly explain why some of this season’s episodes are (unnecessarily) long.
A reason stranger things 4 sometimes feels the need to over-explain itself perhaps because there’s quite a bit going on this season that’s all meant to fit together like a satisfying puzzle once enough pieces are laid out. This impulse can be justified considering how far this story has come in the six years since stranger things began airing, but that only underscores how straightforward most of the show’s twists are when you step back to consider them.
Unlikely because stranger things 4 is to confuse you, he has a much better chance of bugging you with his unusually gruesome and graphic way of dispatching this season’s kills. There’s a logic behind it and a meaning to the amount of gore stranger things 4 highlights, and the way these things are revealed really works to underscore the level of threat Eleven and her friends face.
What is curious about the episodes of stranger things 4 that were provided to the press is how the show already feels in the series’ impending endgame territory. It’s not that Season 4 answers every burning question you might have had. But he somehow manages to stand on his feet, instead of just feeling like he’s ready for the finale. It’s bold, gory, and a little too big – but it’s also a good reminder of what made Hawkins such a hit in the first place.
The first seven episodes of stranger things 4 premiering May 27, 2022, with the final two dropping July 1.