Full of heart and darker than receding seasons, STRANGER THINGS’ fourth season did not fail to please, expanding the runtime on many episodes and frequently injecting incredible cinematic moments.
In this season, the kids are growing up, and a new dynamic strains the group of Hawkins friends as they are now split on opposite sides of the country. When the Upside Down returns personified in a singular antagonist, this sets up the cast to go on separate but related missions. The mission is the same as always–fight the malevolent intelligence in the Upside Down–but this time we know who that intelligence is, and the stakes are even higher as the end game is revealed, which includes the fate of the entire world.
This season has a strong tonal change. Not only must the characters act in separate groups, but it’s way darker, with a lot less comedy and fewer scenes of the heartfelt feel good variety. We have a new major character, Eddie, perfectly played by Joseph Quinn. The runtime is longer on many episodes, fully fleshing out the storylines, which are frequently punctuated by incredible cinematic set pieces, such as a cop defending several of the kids from a surprise enemy. The villain is great, a psychopathic monster with a back story and relation to El. The climax had me saying, wow, they went there! The long denouement is satisfying and sets up the final confrontation in Season 5.
This season took some criticism, but I don’t agree with pretty much any of them. Yeah, it’s formulaic, but it’s been formulaic all along, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem isn’t formula but execution, and the Duffer brothers shred the execution. They provide characters I care about, put them in an underdog role against an overwhelming antagonist with supreme stakes, and they cross most of the Ts and dot the Is. Sure, the villain takes time to have conversations with heroes instead of just killing them, but at least he has something to say rather than the usual floating, telling them their flaws so as to weaken and psychologically destroy them before attempting to physically do so. The show communicates that eighties feel without trading on it. I appreciated all the wow moments and new lore. This is good TV, period.
If I had a criticism, it would be the ongoing reliance on the eighties trope of a psychopathic bully. The bullying in these shows and movies makes me wonder how anybody survived high school without dying, and a lot of times, they seem to be there to check a box on the Eighties Bingo Card rather than add anything. Last season, Billy did add something, though in this season, the bully didn’t do much more than get in the good guys’ way and be annoying, though he had plenty of potential for more.
Overall, I loved this season of STRANGER THINGS and look forward to the big finale.