‘Stranger Things’ is growing up

Fourth season is more mature in all the right ways

Image by: Amna Rafiq
The evil Vecna steals the show.

When Netflix released the first season of Stranger Things back in 2017, the world immediately fell in love with the show’s endearing cast of quirky characters.

Over its first three seasons, the series proved itself as a fun, weird, and sometimes creepy love letter to ’80s pop culture. Its episodes provided viewers with Stephen King-inspired small-town horror, Breakfast Club shenanigans, and some great music, too.

These elements are all present in season four. However, it’s the show’s maturing characters and relationships that hold the interweaving storylines together this time around.

After the events of season three, the gang is divided—geographically and emotionally.

Eleven, Mike, Will, and Johnathan are in California with newcomer Argyle, a lovably goofy pizza delivery driver who loves to smoke Purple Palm Tree Delight. His stoner antics provide the much-needed comic relief throughout the show’s scariest season yet.

Meanwhile, the rest of the gang is still in Hawkins along with new friend Eddie Munson, the rock-and-roll loving leader of high school’s Dungeons & Dragons club. He’s taken some of the boys under his wing to help ease their transition out of middle school.

Lastly, Joyce and Murray are searching for Hopper—he’s stuck in an unforgiving Russian prison. 

It’s admittedly a lot to wrap your head around, and that’s before the villainous Vecna begins terrorizing the town for reasons unexplained.

There’s no denying that season four is bloated; all the episodes clock in at well over an hour, with several reaching feature-film lengths. Fortunately, the show never drags.

Each of the nine episodes are packed with the suspenseful action and emotional haymakers audiences expect from Stranger Things—however, the season truly excels when it’s willing to ramp up the scares and deviate from the well-established formula. 

Everything starts with the terrifying Vecna. Unlike the Demogorgon and Mind Flayer of seasons past, Vecna is a human-esque demon built on practical effects. Season four takes its time fleshing out his tragic backstory and layered motivations, heightening the tension when he finally does come face-to-face with the characters we care about.

Of all the characters, season four undoubtedly belongs to Max. She’s actively pushing her friends away, still overwrought with grief and guilt following her brother Billy’s death at the end of season three. This vulnerability makes her a prime target for Vecna.

Joseph Quinn’s Eddie Munson is another standout character, who brings a zaniness and era-appropriate metal-head aesthetic to the table. One moment involving him, his guitar, and Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” marks the absolute high point of the season finale.

However, for all the positives, the show’s decision to focus on Max and Eddie often pushes some of our old favourites into the background.

In particular, Mike and Jonathan, two mainstays from the earlier seasons, are frustratingly stuck in supporting roles. The writers tease some great developments for Will’s character, but even he doesn’t get enough screen time in season four.

Maybe Stranger Things has become a victim of its own success. The show’s abundance of great characters and plotlines means a few must inevitably take the back seat. Nonetheless, considering where the show’s story began, it’s weird to see them kicked to the curb.

Not balking at killing Hopper would have freed up substantial screen time. His trapped-in-Russia arc eventually provides fantastic payoff, but it’s hard not to think the showrunners had already drawn up the perfect ending for him in season three.

David Harbour is a great actor and a huge draw. Yet, with the kids maturing both in and outside of the show, it’s worth wondering whether it needs him anymore. 

With all that said, season four is an undeniably entertaining return to Hawkins that delivers on its potential. Stranger Things is back atop the TV hill thanks to a great villain, a memorable new character, tense scares, and plenty of ’80s nostalgia.


Arts, reviews, Stranger Things, TV

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content