‘Stranger Things’ roars back to life with macabre fourth installment

This season has a lot to offer besides Kate Bush’s revived 80s love song taking over the music charts.



By Megan Camacho, Sports Editor

This review contains spoilers for the fourth season of Stranger Things.

As the iconic Stranger Things logo filled the screen to the synthy beats of its intro music, the first eight minutes lingered and continued to make my heart race. In light of a recent shooting at a Texas middle school, the show warns its viewers of incoming graphic violence against children – and the series isn’t afraid to do just that, unraveling eight minutes of descending chaos and dark secrets inside Hawkins Lab. Stranger Things 4, I came to realize, would be really different.

After a 2-year drought following Stranger Things 3, the Duffer Brothers have conjured up a new monster of a season. Unique from its three predecessors, Stranger Things 4 is made up of two volumes (released May 27 and July 1, respectively). And if that wasn’t shocking enough, the season’s finale is confirmed to be movie-length at 2 hours and thirty minutes. Although there is still a fifth (and final) season after this one, it seems the Duffers have gone all out with the fourth season – setting the stage for quite the grand finale.

The fourth season marks a large tonal shift. Stranger Things prides itself on being a love letter to the horror classics of the 80s – so with season one, viewers were immediately hooked onto what makes the show so likable. Whether it was the elements the iconic childhood basement game Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) lent to the show, like strange Demogorgons or even just the awe and wit seeing Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) communicate to her son Will (Noah Schnapp) through Christmas lights, season one was truly a marvel of an introduction. Season four is so wildly different yet still familiar, building off established dynamics that we all know and love – and dearly miss. Taking those beloved characters and putting them in conditions where we don’t know if we’ll lose them or not definitely scares audiences. The Duffers took dangerous leaps this season to really expand the story, and they did a great job.

The story is split into four different subplots, exploring the characters’ changed lives six months after the Soviets’ busted agenda and “the mall fire.” Of course, there’s ground zero: Hawkins, Indiana. Here, the kids are now high school freshmen at Hawkins High, and we see them coming of age and dealing with change. 

Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) tries to blend into the popular crowd, but he has a hard time soaking up the spotlight when he’s only a benchwarmer on the basketball team. He wants his friends to support him at a championship game, but they’ve grown apart in favor of another interest – Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) and Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) have joined the Hellfire Club to play D&D. Then there’s Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink), who’s now broken up with Lucas for unmentioned reasons. Finding more time with herself in the first couple episodes, we see that she’s going to therapy for trauma and PTSD over the death of Billy. Sink does an incredible job portraying her character this season and I think she’s made Max the star of season four. The immense emotions Max is going through bleed through the screen and onto the viewer so well. The way that the writers elevated her character and involved her trauma as plot progression genuinely surprised me. 

Speaking of trauma, new characters Chrissy Cunningham (Grace Van Dien) and Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) are immediately so lovable. Chrissy is the popular girl who ends up being sweet, but in typical Stranger Things fashion she’s ridden by inner demons (literally). She finds a trusting bond in Eddie, who is labeled a freak by the school. The opposites-attract chemistry works so well here and I was really bummed out to see Chrissy go after just one episode. It mirrors the tragedy of Barb in season one but nevertheless I would’ve loved to see this duo take on the villain. Framed for Chrissy’s murder, Eddie’s story is gripping as he tries to run and hide. His attempt to hide away feels claustrophobic as Hawkins is a pretty small town, so it was super interesting to see how Eddie dealt with this. This made him more likable to audiences so used to the main cast.

We also see the change between the older characters. Star journalist Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) is now working with a bigger publication while Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) is across the country in California. They haven’t split, but the distance between them has definitely done its damage, and I liked seeing how both of them deal with getting through it – whether it was picking up a pen or weed. Across town, Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke) tempers Steve Harrington (Joe Keery)’s ever fiery personality as they work together in a Family Video – an off-brand Blockbuster. Their chemistry shines like always, but it competes with Robin and Nancy’s duo later in the season – which I hope we get to see more of.

The Byers’ move from Hawkins to California further aroused my curiosity as to why more people from Hawkins didn’t move out of the town given the “cursed town” and Satanic rhetoric floating around. I was really excited to see the other half of the cast in a totally different setting. Will Byers and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) live out their lives in the most 80s high school I’ve ever seen, complete with every cliche possible, from ruthless bullies to nostalgic roller rinks. The relentless bullying El faces was hard to watch, even more so when Will and Mike (who eventually comes and visits) are powerless. But it made me root for her later in the season, and implanted some trust in Dr. Brenner to succeed – no matter how grim his plans are for her.

And as always, I really loved Joyce and Murray (Brett Gelman) this season. With a show so centered around its young stars, seeing the maturity the adults bring to the show is a breath of fresh air. This especially resonates with a very-much-alive Jim Hopper (David Harbour) and his struggle to survive in a Russian prison camp. New characters like Antonov and the ever annoying Yuri really made the Russian subplot a little bit more fun for me despite all the gore.

This season’s villain is well done, changing the show’s status from thriller to straight up The Conjuring with D&D-inspired Vecna. Vecna is horrifying to say the least, and really dialed up the fear factor more than season one’s lanky and long-limbed Demogorgan. But there’s more to him than his ghastly appearance. His plot slowly unravels in a breathtaking way all the way until the end into a great plot twist, and it’s a lot for the viewer to take in all at once. How to defeat him is also pretty creative and nothing like I’ve ever seen before – insert Max’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ sequence. He’s really different from the Mind Flayer and I’m curious to see how they all connect.

All in all, Stranger Things 4 is a lot to take in. From grandfather clocks to haunted houses, it’s pretty different so far. But like its predecessors, we get to go on that familiar journey with the main cast we all know and love. I hope the second volume will continue to impress.