The highly anticipated series 4 of Stranger Things crashed back onto our screens at the end of May, but with a ‘mid-season finale’ of sorts. There was a short break, as all of the eager binge-watchers waited in suspense for the next two episodes. They were released at the start of July. And with every episode now out of the gates of the upside down and into the world of Netflix – there is some debate about whether Stranger Things is even a TV series anymore. With each episode being over an hour – episodes 7 and 8 being around the hour and a half mark – and the finale being a whopping 2 and a half hours – hasn’t the show morphed more into a series of films? But – if that is the case – what a series of films to behold!
If you haven’t yet watched the newest instalment of Stranger Things – look away now. There are spoilers ahead. The series started off strong, bringing with it a (seemingly) brand new villain and a couple of new characters to boot. The most notable, of course, being Eddie Munson. Every fan of Stranger Things seems to be enamoured and in love with the 80s rocker, whether romantically or platonically. His introductory scene was charming and captivating in his quirky, comedic way – making fun of the bad press surrounding D&D, calling out the basketball jocks and making his friends laugh – while being sure to let ladies pass by him like the beautiful gentleman he’s revealed to be. Jason – the leader of said basketball jocks – is far less endearing from the off. With the exception of being the boyfriend of sweet cheerleader Chrissy, his antagonistic and aggressive demeanour jars and unsettles the watcher in the best way. Actor Mason Dye keeps this up throughout the whole season – irritating and unsettling the audience. He was possibly limited in the range he was able to explore, playing such a close-minded character, resistant to anything but his own interpretations – but the hostility he encapsulated was very striking – particularly towards our beloved Eddie.
Additionally, there’s of course a tragically wonderful new character in Chrissy. Actress Grace Van Dien, brought such likability and adorableness to the character, it was awful to see her killed off so quickly. Plus, her chemistry with co-star Joseph Quinn (Eddie) was immense.
And how can we not talk about Vecna/Henry/001? What an incredibly electric and captivating villain. The lacking element in the previous seasons of Stranger Things, was always a bad guy with depth or a fleshed-out backstory. The demogorgons and mindflayer, however terrifying, are simply two dimensional horrors (or so we thought). Vecna – originally
Henry Creel – has glimmers of humanity (being a human and all), a captivating origin, and, call me crazy(?) relatability. I’m not sure anyone would be sold on his methods but the speech he gave in episode 7 was engaging and somewhat relatable; revealing how he became tangled in a web (quite literally) of evil. Thus, the stand-out performance of series 4, for me, was Jamie Campbell-Bower. He brought a disarming blend of charm and creepiness to his portrayal of 001 – threading the dread of what was to come, with a hope that maybe he would help 011 after all. And when it came to light that he had tricked (or in his words ‘saved’) her, his monologue was one of the most enrapturing performances I have ever seen. Furthermore, his portrayal of Vecna – despite the hours of prosthetics he had to sit through before every bout of filming – was phenomenally terrifying.
I will say, however, one thing that was slightly jarring about the ‘The Massacre at Hawkins Lab’ episode was the CGI. When 011 shrank back into being the young age she was when the massacre originally unfolded, her young face didn’t quite fit right on the double they used.
Stand-out episodes other than episode 7 ‘The Massacre at Hawkins Lab’ and its insanely captivating reveal, were ‘Dear Billy’ and the finale: ‘The Piggyback’. Sadie Sink was predictably wonderful in series 4 and her performance in ‘Dear Billy’ was breath-taking. The tension built up and reached an amazing crescendo with her face-off with Vecna. And who doesn’t love it when Kate Bush saves the day? Also, it was brilliant to see a cameo from Dacre Montgomery. The finale ‘The Piggyback’ was a delicious concoction of tension, high stakes, emotion, amazing performances and an engrossing story. Circling back to Eddie Munson (because how can we not?) Joseph Quinn’s performance was spellbinding in the final episode. Eddie shredding ‘Master of Puppets’ on guitar was indeed the most metal concert in ‘the history of the world’. And his death scene broke all of our hearts – he’s the hero Hawkins didn’t deserve. Gaten Matarazzo was amazing as always, and his scenes with Eddie and his emotional conversation with Eddie’s Uncle had me howling with emotion.
The scenes between Joyce and Hopper (finally – the kiss!) were a pleasure to watch, as always. Also, I can’t not mention Steve, Robin and Nancy’s attack on Vecna – especially Nancy’s sawn off shotgun – is completely iconic.
While the showdown between 011 and 001 was less, in a lot of ways, than their original flashback showdown in episode 7, there were some amazing moments. The reveal that the villain has actually been Vecna/Henry/001 all along was mind-blowingly brilliant – especially with his spider obsession being the foreshadow, with the mindflayer’s spider-like presence.
In conclusion, this series – while not strictly a TV show anymore – was phenomenal; the best of the seasons so far. Winona Ryder’s Joyce continued to stick the show together, with her character’s loveable consistency and, let’s face it, badassery. And while the CGI/special effects weren’t always great, the show had me captivated from the start until the end, breaking my heart into pieces and mesmerising me in the villain’s mind along the way. I’m not necessarily a fan of the star system in reviews… but if I was, I’d give a lot of stars to this series. And I’ll probably have ‘Running up that hill’ playing around and around in my mind until the next season drops.