Stranger Things was a game changer for Netflix. It was a breath of fresh air, bringing a classic concept back with a twist. Now, four seasons later, and the series is finally coming to an end. Now it is tying up many threads that have been dangling since early on in the show. With a fantastic cast, new mysteries to uncover, and the darkest tone yet, Stranger Things season four ups the ante and delivers one of the most exciting segments of the show to date.
Taking place six months after the events at Starcourt mall, the group of friends are more fragmented than ever. With Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder), Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) and Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) now living across the country from Hawkins, the rest of their group is finding themselves in the wilds of high school. Now part of a D&D group known as the Hellfire Club, Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) are trying to find themselves as things around them keep changing.
All this is going on as Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is still missing, and the secrets about what is going on in the town of Hawkins and the Upside Down are still very much in flux. Even with the victory against the Mind Flayer in season three, there is no rest when evil is lurking. It is not long until a new gruesome mystery presents itself, leading to one of the hardest battles the group of friends has ever faced.
“…Stranger Things feels much more horror-inspired than any of the past seasons.”
First and foremost, season four of Stranger Things feels much more horror-inspired than any of the past seasons. Where the show started as a homage to classic films like The Goonies, this latest series calls back concepts shown in Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, amping up the scares to push the series to an older audience, just as the cast is also aging.
The Duffer Brothers have done a great job pushing the series forward, giving a consistent tone throughout, even as the concept and direction change from season to season. The new antagonist for this final stretch feels like a more mature concept, and touches on many mature themes I did not expect from this series. Concepts like depression, self-harm and guilt are touched on heavily, giving more impact to the actions of the characters even as this season of Stranger Things manages to keep the trademark pacing and sense of fun and wonder that made the show so exciting when it first premiered.
While the new tone and story works well to raise the stakes, the separation of the main cast also helps raise the tension. As a group, the friends were unstoppable, able to overcome anything the Upside Down could throw at them. Now, as they get older and drift apart, that bond is tested. This is made even more clear with part of the group now living hundreds of miles away, making it harder to communicate and find that connection that made the impossible seem possible.
The older group of friends Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), and Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke) have also seen a major increase in airtime. While before they often felt like side characters to the main cast, they now feel integral to the main plot. Working together, and helping each other overcome new challenges, these characters feel as important to the story as the kids did in earlier seasons.
“You may notice, there is a lot going on with Stranger Things season four…”
You may notice, there is a lot going on with Stranger Things season four, perhaps too much. With so many loose ends to tie up, and the need to constantly push what is possible in the series, it can feel a bit overwhelming at times. There are entire storylines that feel very disconnected from the main plot, including some that go away beyond the boundaries of Hawkins, and, while they work, can feel a bit scattershot at times.
But with so many balls in the air, this is where things stop clicking the way they should. There are a lot of amazing characters, great concepts, and world-ending stakes, but with so many characters now fighting for screen time, some have to be sidelined, making for a few episodes that feel a bit meandering as the cast finds their footing in this final act of the story. It is all building to a grand final, but it does make some episodes feel overly bloated at times to make room for all the threads currently on the go.
Netflix is a great medium for storytelling, and the Duffer Brothers use the medium to its fullest. This season of Stranger Things is very much a culmination of all the ideas up to this point, cranked up to eleven, and for the most part, it works. It delivers the moments of excitement, scares, sadness, and friendship the series is known for, all while delivering some of the most mature looks at this nightmare world we have seen to date.
While the pacing may suffer at times, the core of the show remains intact. Stranger Things is coming to an end, but it is not going out without a fight. We have been following these kids for years now, through good times and spooky, so it is good to see they are going out with a bang. If you loved Stranger Things, hang on to your seat, things are about to get a little weird in the best way possible.