By: Amanda Guarragi
Heading back to Hawkins is no easy feat considering what happened in the previous season. Even though it feels like a while back, and the kids have grown into mini-adults, the grief from season three lingers at the beginning of season four. The Duffer Brothers throw the audience right into the mix with a little catch-up with Jane Hopper (Millie Bobby Brown). This season takes place six months after the Battle of Starcourt. She explains everyone’s living situations and how divided they all are. To recap, Hopper (David Harbor) is dead, Joyce (Winona Ryder), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), Will (Noah Schnapp), and Jane are all living in sunny California now. While the Wheeler’s (Finn Wolfhard and Natalia Dyer), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Steve (Joe Keery), Robin (Maya Hawke), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Max (Sadie Sink) are in Hawkins. This cast is massive and they all play a huge part in this season, but you could also sometimes feel the disconnect between the characters.
Season four of Stranger Things is truly the best yet and it’s because The Duffer Brothers decided to go back to basics. It felt like they stripped down the excess from the last season with the upside-down and showed how these characters are processing their grief. Out of everyone, Eleven is taking everything the hardest. She lost Hopper, she doesn’t have Mike by her side, and she has to start at a new school in sunny California. Even though Will is with her, Eleven feels lost and everything seems hopeless without her main two sources of support. We see her struggling to come to terms with everything that has happened to her. In this season, Eleven is tested in every way and it can be considered more of a rebirth for her spirit. The Duffer Brothers set the tone for the season within the first episode and it does send chills up your spine.
Each season of the series has gotten darker, more thrilling, and a bit more graphic. Season four shows the extent of all of these things through a new, compelling monster from the Upside Down. The thrills come from a new villain named Vecna – a ghoulish, powerful lich that slithers out of the Upside Down to wreak havoc on Hawkins. This monster preys on everyone’s worst fears and can destroy them from the inside out. What Vecna is capable of is much scarier than anything they’ve faced in the past and the journey to uncovering the truth about him makes this season incredibly interesting to watch. Everyone in Hawkins is in danger, and the only ones who know how to try and stop Vecna are Steve, Dustin, Nancy, Robin, Lucas and Max. They work together using their detective skills and extensive knowledge of the Upside Down to uncover the truth. The core characters are together in Hawkins, while the rest of them are scattered all over trying to add different pieces to the puzzle.
The way The Duffer Brothers structured this season works for the most part because each section of characters has to go on their journey. But, they still find a way to connect all the layers. The promotional posters show that there is some connectivity and they all work together like a well-oiled machine. However, the one thread that didn’t work for me was the Russian connection. Of course, it is a piece to the storyline that is necessary, but it felt too drawn out to fit the pacing of the other two. Out of the three sections going at once, this is the one that was lacking because it wasn’t that interesting. There are surprises throughout and some great emotional moments. Sadie Sink is the standout of this season, we see that Max also has to process her grief after losing Billy (Dacre Montgomery). Sink was able to develop her character a bit more and The Duffer Brothers let her scenes breathe for fans to connect with her on another level.
Season four of Stranger Things is some of the best television that you will watch this year. The Duffer Brothers pick up on all the 80s nostalgia and add a wicked soundtrack to the madness. Their camerawork has always been impressive, but in this season they almost matched the filmmaking style of the 80s. The quick cuts, the camera moving swiftly from character to character, and some epic transitions to dive into the horror elements. None of it felt jarring or out of place when going on this journey with these characters. The episode lengths are warranted because of how much development goes into these characters and that every minor detail is relevant to the big reveal in episode seven. Volume one is a whirlwind of information and horror being thrown at the audience, but the connection to these wonderful characters makes it possible to process everything with them.