Last year (2021) I was 50 years old.
I know right? I’m oooooold!
I was born in 1971, which means by the time I was really watching meaningful TV and movies, it was firmly in the 80s. My teens were full of Ghostbusters, Aliens, Indiana Jones, The Goonies, Godzilla movies, the Transformers cartoon, and so many many more things that shaped and molded my nerdy preferences of today.
Stranger Things is tailor made for me. A bespoke collection of homages, references, and easter eggs honed to perfectly push all my nostalgia buttons.
I love this show.
Season 1 was epic.
Season 2 was not quite as good (but still awesome! Max rocks!).
Season 3…perhaps a little disappointing.
There were things I loved about it. The addition of Maya Hawke as Robin and her ‘relationship’ with Steve, whose rehabilitation since season one asshole I’m also digging. The Russian stuff…I get it. It was the ‘cold-war’ era so it makes sense to bring the Soviet Union in as the bad guys, but just like it didn’t feel right in the 4th Indy movie (which we don’t talk about!) it never really felt right to me here either. Still, I guess it did shake up the status quo, rather than having another contrived Hawkins Laboratory storyline.
Anyway, we’re now at the first part of Season 4 (the next part will arrive in July) and I have binged watched the hell out of the first seven episodes!
What did I think? Read on!
Okay, if you’ve not ensconced yourself under a duvet on your sofa and absorbed Season 4 so far through your amazed eyeballs, then be warned…
Let’s start with an objective metric. How was the season received and do I agree?
*The IMDB score is the average of the first 7 episodes.
8.8* / 10
There are two standout episodes in the season so far (I’ll talk about those later), and some utterly indelible images. For me, I’d definitly put this in the same range it’s getting on both sites. Maybe, as I’m a geek and this hits all my geek buttons, a shade higher.
Now let me tell you why.
Setting the Scene…
You’ve already heard how this is my bag, so it comes as not surprise that this is one of my four most anticipated releases of the year. (The other three – in case you were wondering – are The Umbrella Academy, The Boys, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. I’ll do reviews on all these as soon as I’ve seen them. Also, a couple of surprises this year so far which I’ll also review in time: Love, Death + Robots: season 3, and The Orville: New Horizons.)
So, to say I was psyched for this, is an understatement.
But with such anticipation comes the threat of epic let down. So although I was eager to devour it, I was nervous about whether the gap between seasons would be detrimental to the quality.
I needn’t had worried.
I’m going to dive into these episode by episode. I’ll be brief so don’t worry about me throwing essays at you. But I think it’ll be easier to tell you my thoughts like that.
I won’t go into huge plot details so as not to totally spoil things.
Episode 1 – The Hellfire Club
Not much to say about this one. It’s the opening salvo of the new season and as such it has to lay groundwork. Much of the episode is given over to establishing the new status quo of the characters and where they are now since we last saw them. It’s sole job is to bridge us from season 3 and sew the seeds for what’s to come. It does that just fine.
It’s an adjustment seeing the kids so grown up. Or should I say, some of them looking so grown up. Obviously the likes of Jonathan (cool name!), Nancy, Steve, and Robin look just as we left them. Max also looks kind of the same, as does Dustin and Eleven. In the case of Sadie Sink (Max) and Millie Bobbie Brown (Eleven), it’s kudos to the makeup and costume department. Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin) however…just looks like he always did. To me at least!
However Will, Mike, and Lucas all grew UP! Now Finn Wolfhard (Mike) wasn’t a shock as I’d just seen him in Ghostbusters: Resurrection. But Noah Schnapp (Will) and especially, Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas) surprised the heck outta me. At first I wondered if they’d changed actors they look so different. They all seem so much…taller.
I did love the introduction of the ‘Hellfire Club‘ (though the X-Men fan in me may have been a little disappointed). The splintering of the core group here also felt very natural. Lucas always did have a habit of going his own way at times, and seeing Max’s grief and guilt pull her away from the group made perfect sense.
ONE FUN THING: Loved Lucas and his hair style. Very Kid’n’Play.
Episode 2 – Vecna’s Curse
It’s another ‘scene-setting’ episode more or less, but we’re really getting into the nitty gritty now. Some details on Hopper’s fate, Billie being shown as the victim, Vecna being established as a very scary threat, and the struggles of Jayne (Eleven) as she tries to fit in to her new life. A life where she is relentlessly bullied and teased and is powerless to stop it. It gives a powerful counterpoint to the Vecna’s growing influence.
On the one hand we have a clearly de-powered and helpless Eleven, while on the other see an evil that preys of insecurity and guilt and seems to be getting stronger all the time.
I love how this season is a) giving us longe episodes to really get our teeth into the story, and b) how genuninely scary it is as it really leans into the 80s horror vibe.
ONE FUN THING: Vecna already giving me Nightmare on Elm Street Freddy vibes!
Episode 3 – The Monster and the Superhero
If I have one moan about Season 4 so far, it’s how sidelined Eleven becomes. This is the episode that starts that trend. While the rest of the gang are off doing their ‘Scooby-Doo’ bit, El is pretty much contained to the laboratory as she tries to get her powers back.
I get it. I understand the why of it. And it has it’s BIG pay off at the end of episode 7, so in hindsight I see where it was going. But when I watched it through, it really stood out to me how disconnected from the wider narrative her arc seemed.
ONE FUN THING: Oh my God! There’s this bit when the helicopter arrives at Dr. Owens place that is a direct homage to Close Encounters. It was soooooo cool!
Episode 4 – Dear Billy
This is the PEAK episode of the season. I think on IMDB the last episode ranks higer, but for me THIS episode is the standout. It’s simply brilliant. I won’t go into details as you should really see it yourself, but the last ten or fifteen minutes especially are iconic. You’ll have seen this one in the trailer…
Kate Bush…nuff said! Sadie Sink deserves an award for this episode.
As do the visual effects people. Vecna’s realm and Max’s trip into it is horrifically gorgeous.
ARGH! I want to talk about this episode so much, but I can’t. You NEED To see it for yourself. No Spoilers!
ONE FUN THING: I’ll give you two! First up, I mentioned Nightmare on Elm Street vibes earlier…well Victor Creel is played by none other than Robert Englund (Freddy himself!). AND the scene where Nancy and Robin go and visit him, is a direct homage to Silence of the Lambs!
Episode 5 – The Nina Project
Coming off the back of such an amazing episode, this one (for me at least) was a bit boring.
At this point the Hopper story and the Eleven in the lab story are dragging. I’m FAR more involved in the mystery of Vecna and what the others are up to. Also, while I LOVE the new stoner-delivery driver character Argyle, those with him (Jonathan, Will, Mike) just seem to be wasted.
This far the heavy lifting in the season is really being done by Sam, Nancy, and Robin.
ONE FUN THING: The only one I noticed in this episode, was a reference to War Games, which was accompanied by the music from the movie.
Episode 6 – The Dive
I’m still bored of the Eleven storyline, and I just wish they’d hurry up and get Hopper out of Russia and back into the main storyline.
Maybe it’s just me, but I hate it when they split the narrative like this. There’s an irony there somewhere for me as I write books with multiple character arcs… C’est la vie! LOL
The difference here is that they don’t feel like they’re truly working toward the same place. Hopper’s Russian holiday storyline simply seems aimed at giving the adults something to do. I am currently not seeing anyway in which this connects back to the Vecna storyline. Which for me is a problem. I feel they could have wrapped up Hopper’s return in a couple of episodes.
Eleven’s story also felt like it was simply aimed at getting her her powers back so she could be the Deus Ex Machina for defeating Vecna. Note the word FELT…
ONE FUN THING: When Steve resurfaces from finding WaterGate, he has a brief moment at the boat before he is pulled briefly underwater. Then recovers. Then is pulled down again. This seems like an homage to Jaws to me. Dun dun, dun dun, dun dun…
Episode 7 – The Massacre at Hawkins Lab
FELT. Remember that word from above? Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
So NOW the Eleven storyline makes sense. The lead up to this reveal may have been the Stranger Things equivalent of pulling teeth at times, but the payoff is spectacular. I, for one, did NOT see the twist coming. but it makes all kinds of perfect sense.
In fact the reveals come thick and fast in this episode, the tension builds and builds and the stakes get higher and higher. The conclusion leaves you BEGGING for the release of Episode 8.
This is another one of those episodes which is a special effects tour-de-force. There’s a wonderful ‘bike-riding’ moment, and then the bit where the gang finds and breaches the Gate in the trailer park is awesome.
Then there’s the return of this guy…
ONE FUN THING: Anyone else get Poltergeist vibes from Dustin making a line made of a bedsheet between the two realms? 😀
I love this show, and while this show perhaps doesn’t hit the highs of season 1, it’s a pretty strong return to form for me after the slight disappointment of season 3. It’s not perfect. Some of the storylines didn’t really work for me in the moment. BUT I was left buzzing after the last episode. Gutted that there wasn’t the next one waiting for me.
So, here’s the nitty gritty. The score. Out of 100, I’ll give it a VERY strong…
I can’t WAIT for the conclusion of the season.
I think I’ve heard rumor that Season 5 will be the last one. Now, I’m a firm believer in TV shows ending when they should end. I hate it when they get cancelled too early to complete their arc (see: Firefly) and I hate it even more when they ‘jump the shark‘ (see: The DC Arrowverse shows!).
Breaking Bad is one of my favourite shows of all time. Possibly THE favourite. It ended perfectly at the right time. That’s what I want from Stranger Things.
But DAMN I’ll miss it when it’s gone.
Till next time
Love & Books