Title: Stranger Things – Season 4 (2022)
Creators: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer
Stars: Mille Bobbie Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Joe Keery, Noah Schnapp, Joe Keery, Matthew Modine
Spoiler Warning: This review may contain spoilers from the first three seasons of Stranger Things.
“I say you’re asking me to follow you into Mordor. Which, and to be totally straight with you, I think is a really bad idea. But the Shire… the Shire is burning, so Mordor it is.”-Eddie “The Banished” Munson (Joseph Quinn), Stranger Things season 4, part 1
Whenever I watch an episode of Stranger Things, the nostalgia hits me hard. I passed from childhood to the early teenage years in the late 80s. As a Norwegian fantasy nerd obsessed with running games of Dungeons & Dragons, watching Star Wars, playing arcade games and trying to get a hold of the latest American horror flick, I had no trouble relating to the kids from Hawkins.
Of course, we didn’t have any fantastical monsters terrorizing Nordstrand, the suburb of Oslo where I grew up, but there were a couple of human variants. There were friendships, drama, bullying, and a family tragedy or two, and we all had our BMXs. In short, I was the archetypical nerdy 80s kid on a bike, and my imagination ran wild.
There was nothing unique about my teenage years at Nordstrand. The “80s kids on bikes” trope is almost a movie genre in itself, one full of references to this strange and wonderful decade of nostalgia. And Stranger Things feels very much like a sort of greatest hits of this nostalgia.
Returning to Hawkins, we find the group of friends gradually growing apart. Mike (played by Finn Wolfhard) and Dustin (played by Gaten Matarazzo) have joined the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop roleplaying group called the Hellfire Club, which is run by the older rocker and drug dealer Eddie Munson (played by Joseph Quinn). Lucas (played by Caleb McLaughlin) has joined the school’s basketball team, while Max (played by Sadie Sink) is still traumatized but the loss of her brother in the Battle of Starcourt Mall at the end of season three.
The Battle of Starcourt Mall shook the Byers family, making them move west to California, where they faced new challenges. Eleven (played by Millie Bobby Brown), having lost her powers, is mercilessly bullied by classmates, something Will (played by Noah Schnapp) cannot protect her from. Meanwhile, Jonathan (played by Charlie Heaton) hangs out with stoner friend Argyle (played by Eduardo Franco), while Joyce (played by Winona Ryder) works overtime to care for her family.
And if you have kept up with the teasers and hints since season three, you know that Hopper is alive – imprisoned in Russia, with plans to escape!
Season four of Stranger Things takes its time getting the wheels running. The first two episodes, each well over 70 minutes long, are used for reintroducing the teens and establishing the central mystery. This works well when we spend time with the old gang (especially Max) or some of the new main characters (like Eddie Munson). But when the show veers into 80s parody and caricature, with characters lacking any semblance of depth, the increased runtime doesn’t do the show any favors.
Like the previous three seasons, the tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons continues to be a major source of inspiration for the Duffer Brothers. And yet again, the main supernatural villain is inspired directly by old-school D&D. This time, the undead lich Vecna takes center stage, operating from the mysterious Upside Down to terrorize the residents of Hawkins. This tentacled humanoid monstrosity is subtler than the villains that came before it, as it reaches through the Upside Down with dreams and visions to kill its victims. Vecna is a welcome change in tone and personality compared to the previous villains while still staying true to the established Stranger Things universe.
While this season of Stranger Things continues to build stories on interesting themes from the 80s, like the Cold War and the Dungeons & Dragons-inspired “Satanic Panic,” the show suffers from somewhat disjointed storytelling caused by its characters being spread over a much wider area than before. I realize and appreciate this season’s theme of growing up and growing apart, but I think the story would have been even better if the gang stayed together, at least for a little bit longer.
Still, the fourth season of Stranger Things works well, with a larger cast growing into adulthood and a central mystery that is both chilling and satisfying.
This review was based on the first seven episodes.