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STRANGER THINGS – SEASON 4 VOL. 1 ๐Ÿ˜Š

There’s a reason the official poster has all the key characters of the show on different walls, which is that it’s essentially symbolic for how fragmented this entire season has been. I’ve never been disappointed with any of the work the Duffers have done the past 6 years this show has been on, but there’s a first time for everything. Whether it was the challenge of shooting with a full cast during the pandemic, or perhaps just a lack of a game plan for what to do with certain characters, Season 4 (Volume 1) of STRANGER THINGS essentially boils down to an overstuffed mixed bag of some really good ideas and some not-so-good ideas. When it hits, the show hits hard, as it’s known to do. When it doesn’t, boy does it drag. So because of how fragmented it is, I’m going to have to review this season in 4 parts, because 4 completely different stories are being told:

HAWKINS (Max, Dustin, Lucas, Robyn, Steve, Nancy, Eddie)

This was probably the most compelling of the storylines this season. First off, Dustin is always hilarious. And Steve is always going to be the best. However, the entire storyline about them finding out more about this season’s primary antagonist, the Vecna, was scary, thrilling, and hilarious, given the different relationship dynamics they play with here. Newcomer Joseph Quinn, who plays Eddie, gives a terrific performance, and it’s fun to see him interact with Joe Keery and Gaten Matarazzo.

However, the MVP of this entire storyline has to be Sadie Sink as Max. There’s so much going on with her character and her performance, and it’s touching, heartbreaking, and thrilling all at once. It’s amazing to think how Sink started out as just “the new kid” and how far we’ve come in terms of caring about her. And it’s because of how strong the character of Max has been. Her complexities also help Lucas become a stronger character too, and Caleb McLaughlin is certainly helping to carry this character forward.

The overall mystery regarding who the Vecna is, and how it all ties back to a house in Hawkins is vintage STRANGER THINGS awesomeness, and the Vecna’s attacks are absolutely terrifying. Any time the story shifted from Hawkins to anywhere else, I felt bored and annoyed.

CALIFORNIA (Will, Jonathan, Argyle, Mike)

There are moments in the California segment that pop well – particularly a scene that comes midway through Mike’s visit to California that is insanely tense and well directed. However, this is where I think the Duffer’s struggle with character overload. You have way too many characters and they’re all doing their own thing, that sometimes they don’t really know what to do others. For the most part, Will, Jonathan, Mike, and Argyle are simply on the road. Not much comes out of their subplot other than them searching deserts for people, or running from people. There’s no real point or payoff to any of it, and not a lot of character growth to any of the characters in this segment of the season. However Argyle is pretty funny. So at least there’s that?

RUSSIA (Joyce, Murray, Hopper)

Hands down the worst, and least integrated of the storylines, Hopper’s alive. Duh. We knew this from trailers and it’s fairly obvious he was from the 3rd Season Finale. So Joyce and Murray go on an implausible mission to try to rescue him. Apart from a really lovely and sobering monologue from David Harbour, I have to admit this is the silliest and most cartoony portion of the season. It felt very pointless, and very disconnected to the Vecna storyline, and the show falters anytime it breaks from that narrative. Which is what the time suck of the Russia subplot does. More than that, we started this series with Joyce being the best character ever on the show. And this storyline absolutely wastes her. They need to just end this portion and get the adults back to Hawkins ASAP.

UNKNOWN LOCATION (Eleven)

I will admit I was a bit mixed on Eleven’s storyline this season. We’ve never seen her so helpless. And you do feel for her, particularly any scenes where she’s being bullied. STRANGER THINGS knows how crappy people can really be, and seeing that happen to a character we love is devastating. Now granted, none of that really gets resolved before she’s whisked off to an undisclosed location (that may or may not be Nevada) to begin a bit of training. The entire subplit resembles the Dagobah narrative from EMPIRE STRIKES BACK only horrible and traumatizing. because this has been happening to poor Eleven her entire life. There are some twists in this subplot that are a bit predictable, but still shocking and narratively satisfying, which was the saving grace of this portion of the season. However, a large amount of what’s going on in this storyline is very bland and draggy as well. It’s still, perhaps, the second most compelling of the storylines this season though.

Unfortunately, as enjoyable and fun as STRANGER THINGS SEASON 4 (VOLUME 1) is (it’s still binge-worthy and addictive), the parts don’t equal the sum in this case. We need to get these characters back together and in the same location ASAP because the storyline is suffering from too many directions, and very little payoff. I’m not going to say it’s bad, because it’s not. Again, it’s still fun and creepy a lot of the time. But it’s definitely a step down (or upside-down?) from what I generally consider to be one of my favorite series of the past decade.

STRANGER THINGS SEASON 4 (VOLUME 1) is now streaming on NETFLIX.

Mike Manalo

Born a Slytherin. Baptized into Marvel. Bitten by a Radioactive DC fan. And raised a Jedi, Mike Manalo is a silent guardian, a watchful protectorโ€ฆ a Dark Nerd!

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