July 1, 2022

“Stranger Things” Season 4 Vol. 2 Raises the Stakes and Brings the Emotion (Spoiler-Free Review)

Though I always find myself falling for the gimmick, I am generally not a huge fan of binge-watching television. Of course, when Netflix split the fourth season of Stranger Things in half, I knew that both premieres would feel like special events. I would wake up early, and (reasonably) watch every episode as soon as humanly possible. And while some long-form entertainment wears on me after a while, Stranger Things has never had that effect. That’s the benefit of being an incredible show with three seasons of already-fabulous television under its belt.

Image courtesy of Netflix

Not to mention that the second half of
Stranger Things 4, which runs just under four hours, is essentially a non-stop ride to the finish line. There are natural pauses (perfect for taking breaks), but I never wanted to turn it off. It amazes me that four seasons in, Stranger Things is still one of the most addictive series I’ve ever seen. Part of it is the characters, whose chemistry and arcs are as electric as ever, and part of it is the fact that anything could happen next. The season doesn’t take as many risks as it could have — perhaps they’re saving the biggest whammies for Season 5, which will be its last — but my astronomical interest level means that the ending is eternally satisfying no matter which way the cookie crumbles. In the Duffer Brothers we trust.

I want this review to be accessible to both those who have seen the show and those who haven’t. In terms of a plot summary, all that I’ll say is that an endgame is in sight, with our heroes scattered around the globe and Vecna, the season’s big bad, getting closer to his sinister goal. Perhaps the unreasonable lengths of these episodes is justified, given the amount of storylines happening simultaneously, but the fact that they flew by only further proves my point that it’s not the length that matters; it’s what you do with it.

And Stranger Things sure knows how to tell an incredibly memorable story. The expanded runtimes and set pieces mean that the series is the most cinematic it’s ever been, with film-quality sequences that transcend the screen in ways that a network series never could. It even works in conjunction with the setting of the mid-1980s, placing a fantasy/horror sheen over one of the most recognizable decades in human history. That’s been one of the series’ strengths since day one, and it sticks to its guns here.

Image courtesy of Netflix

Game of Thrones
might have been the last time I saw a show where any character could die in the climactic heat of the moment, and it would make sense in the grand scheme of the overall story. Stranger Things preys on your feelings and your love of these characters, setting up payoffs and sacrifices you desperately hope won’t come to pass. And when they do, it’s done with such genuine emotion that you buy it completely.

Another strength of Stranger Things is its serialization, which comes at an all-time high in the second half of its fourth season. It connects to its predecessors in an unexpected, but completely sensible manner. I like to imagine that the Duffer Brothers had, as they claimed, mapped out all five seasons before even starting on the first, but I have a feeling there’s a bit of retconning going on here as well. Either way, my logic was more than happy to be surpassed by satisfaction, as is typically the case with fantasy-oriented stories. Not everything is going to add up, and that’s okay. A little suspension of disbelief never hurt anybody.

Image courtesy of Netflix

Who can say what’s to come in
Stranger Things 5, and even when we’ll get the final season. It’s been three years since Season 3, and with Netflix’s unsustainable business model, it’s hard to predict what will happen next. But being one of their most popular shows — and one with such power over the music charts — I think we’ll be seeing the conclusion of this series sooner rather than later. And after that ending, it can’t come soon enough…

Stranger Things 4 is streaming on Netflix.

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