Review: ‘Stranger Things’, Season 4 Vol. 1

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*This article contains spoilers*

When 27 May finally came after an agonising, Covid-fuelled three-year hiatus, we all sat waiting with bated breath to see if the newest season of Stranger Things would be worth the wait. 

Resoundingly, it was. 

A quick glance at the global charts is evidence enough. The new season has kickstarted a Kate Bush renaissance, with ‘Running Up (That Hill)’ topping the charts in multiple countries – including the UK – no less than 37 years after its initial release. 

The 80s ballad blasted in the background as the physically and emotionally harrowed Max (Sadie Sink) tore through the Upside Down in the epic stand-out scene of the series, thwarting the attempts of Vecna (the Duffer Brothers’ newest addition to their increasingly twisted portfolio of disturbing monsters) to ensnare her. 

What made Vecna even more disturbing than any previous antagonist was how eerily anthropomorphic he was, as opposed to his tentacled, octopus-like predecessors. Instead of doing CGI to death, Jamie Campbell-Bower spent hours in the make-up chair in order to bring him to life. 

Season four has acknowledged its maturing audience, who are now all six years older, and six years wiser. With a growling yet perfectly articulate voice, two sunken blue eyes and the ruins of a family home for his hellish lair, it quickly became clear that we had outgrown the Demogorgon and its unintelligible shrieks for a much more realistic figure of terror. 

Vecna sets himself apart as a monster

Realistic, that is, for his distinctly internal as well as external humanity. Vecna sets himself apart as a monsterwith his own psychology and turbulent history – a fully-fledged character in his own right – whose own trauma response was to capitalise on the unresolved trauma of his victims, preying on those similar to himself. 

And so for the first time we were confronted with a sympathetic villain. Beneath all the writhing fleshy skin and satanic bravado exists a deeply scarred individual desperate to prove to himself that he wasn’t alone, although admittedly he could have picked a better way to go about it. 

As always, season four introduced us to a plethora of other new characters, many of whom we barely got to know before they succumbed to Vecna’s sickening affinity for bone-crunching. Chrissy the pretty yet troubled cheerleader formed a particularly interesting dynamic with the punk-rock, self-professed high school reject Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn), only for this to be quashed in the next hour, something the Duffer Brothers themselves admitted they regret. 

Despite surviving the first volume and fascinating audiences with his delinquent charm, Eddie emerged overall as a somewhat tamer Billy Hargrove and suffered from a stingy amount of screen-time as the intricacies of the numerous sub-plots ultimately swallowed him up. 

Previous fan favourite, the sassy Erica Sinclair, yielded to a similar fate. Having been somewhat demoted from her much more substantial season three role, Priah Ferguson was left with little to say when they stuck her on the press tour. 

Eduardo Franco’s Argyle added a further few giggles to those we expected to receive from the likes of Steve and Dustin, and as before we were presented with a loveable Russian so the writers could avoid being accused of xenophobia (despite the invasion of Ukraine being something of an elephant in the room). 

The one pitfall of season four is that it just felt a bit overcrowded

In fact, the Russian prison sub-plot was one I could have done without. I found myself zoning out each time the show returned to it. Might it have been more interesting if Hopper had actually blown up? The one pitfall of season four is that it just felt a bit overcrowded. 

After all, Nancy’s life still hangs in the balance, and there are rumours of a main character death in the second volume. It pains me to say it, but it’s about time somebody died for real. The red herrings are getting a little old. 

All this being said, I didn’t feel a shred of disappointment as the first volume came to an end. The closing revelation was intensely satisfying, tying up all the mysteries of the past three seasons into one neat bow (without giving too much away). 

1 July can’t come quickly enough. 

Image: Alicia Quan via Unsplash

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