We're not in Hawkins anymore.
Stranger Things 4 Vol. 1 is the first part of the fourth season of the science fiction horror drama series, Stranger Things. It is directed by The Duffer Brothers, Shawn Levy, and Nimród Antal, created by the Duffer Brothers, produced by 21 Laps Entertainment and Monkey Massacre, and distributed by Netflix Streaming Services. It stars Millie Bobby Brown and Winona Ryder. It was preceded by Stranger Things 3 and will be followed by Stranger Things 4 Vol. 2.
"What have you done?" - Dr. Martin Brenner
SPOILERS AHEAD FOR STRANGER THINGS SEASON 4 VOLUME 1!!!!
Six months after the battle of Starcourt, the gang faces their newest test...high school. As Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Max navigate school popularity, Eleven and Will try their best to fit in at their new school in California. When the arrival of a new supernatural foe threatens the safety of everyone in Hawkins, the gang, now split up, most do everything in their power to stop this new threat, uncovering some horrifying secrets in the process.
Finale / Episode Four / Tension and Dark Tone / 80s References and Vecna / Max / Most Expansive Season / Epic Scale / Eddie, Argyle, and Dmitri / Too Many Plotlines / Pace / Jason and the Basketball Team
This first part of Stranger Things was shaping up to be one of the lesser seasons of this show...and then I watched episode seven.
Episode seven, titled The Massacre at Hawkins Lab, is tied with Ozymandias from Breaking Bad for my favorite episode of TV ever. I am honestly in awe at how well they cut this first part of season four off. First of all, the episode is like a mini-movie. It's an hour and forty minutes long. The episode flies by in a second. You don't feel the length at all. Because you are on the edge of your seat throughout the entire thing as you just get massive reveal after massive reveal after massive, intense moment after massive, intense moment. Your jaw will be on the floor. It left me itching for those last two episodes, and I cannot believe how long I have to wait to see the payoff to this cliffhanger.
While episode seven is now easily my favorite episode show, I think episode four may be my second favorite episode of the show. For most of the episode, it's a slightly above average Stranger Things episode. And then the last twenty minutes hits. We get an insanely intense and emotional finale that had me hyperventilating. It's directed and acted so well with a powerful piece of music behind it. The end of this episode shows how great Stranger Things can be because of how much you care about the characters and how well great acting, directing, and music can come together.
As I said before, the tension at the end of episode four (as well as in episode seven) is sky high. I think this is the most intense season of Stranger Things. It really doesn't feel like any of the characters are safe. Part of that is because of the significantly darker tone that this season has. Vecna is a scary villain that murders people in a grisly way. The gore and violence in this season feels like a straight-out horror show. I'd say this season of Stranger Things is the most overt horror feel than any of the other seasons, which I loved.
Stranger Things has always been a show about the 80s and nostalgia and pop culture references. Season one drew from classic 80s and horror movies like E.T. and Halloween. Season two felt more like Alien and The Goonies. Season three had elements of The Terminator. Season four is overtly A Nightmare on Elm Street. Vecna, the main villain, is very much a mix between Freddy Krueger, Pennywise, and Pinhead. That is one terrifying mixture, and it makes for the best Stranger Things villain to date. He's extremely powerful and poses more of a threat to our heroes because he is a physical presence with human-like qualities. He's scarier and honestly more evil than the Mind Flayer. I am super excited to see what happens with him in volume 2.
The standout character of this season is easily Max Mayfield. Sadie Sink deserves an Emmy for what she does in this season. They give her an arc that is not easy to swallow. She's going through a rough time, and we see the fallout of this. She is the emotional core of this season. Her trauma from watching Billy die in season three makes for a devastating character transformation. I loved how they executed her character. She is definitely a wild improvement over the Max we saw in seasons two and three.
Season four also feels like the beginning of the end, and I say that entirely as a good thing. We expand the world of Stranger Things here. We learn more about the history of Hawkins Lab and the Upside Down. There's more of a mythology established here. We explore more of the horrifying secrets that lie within the Upside Down. I can only imagine that the last two episodes will build out this world even more and set the stage for the fifth and final season.
Piggybacking off of that, this season feels like the Infinity War of Stranger Things. You can tell that we are nearing something huge. Episode seven pulls a bunch of plot threads together and gives you a big picture of what we are building towards, and it feels massive. The production design of each episode is also flawless, and it makes Stranger Things feel all the more immersive. The seasons keep getting bigger as we go along, and this season definitely felt like it was the biggest of the seasons so far and is setting up for a huge, slambang final season that will end the show in (hopefully) an awesome way.
Finally, the new characters are (for the most part) pretty great. The standout here is Eddie Munson, who is the newest character to truly join the gang. Joseph Quinn gives a great performance that fits in with the rest of the crew. He was probably my favorite new character. We've also got Argyle, played by Eduardo Franco. He's entirely comic relief, and he's absolutely hilarious. He feels like the typical 80s stoner, and it absolutely worked for me. And, finally, we have Dmitri "Enzo" Antonov. I really liked this character. I thought that his relationship with Hopper is what kind of drove the Russia plot. He definitely made me enjoy cutting back to that plot. Also, the actor who plays Peter the orderly in Eleven's flashbacks is amazing. He gives a fabulous performance in the final episode.
My main issue with this season was definitely the amount of plotlines that we have. Let me list them really quickly:
Dustin, Max, Steve, Nancy, Lucas, Robin - Vecna
Eddie - Can't say because it's a spoiler
Eleven, Mike, Will - Bullies
Eleven - Flashbacks
Jason and the Basketball Team - Can't say because it's a spoiler
Hopper - Russia
Joyce, Murray - Different Russia plotline
Mike, Will, Jonathan, Argyle - Locating Eleven
The U.S. Government - Can't say because it's a spoiler
That is eight plotlines. Eight! That is a ton of stuff to cover. No wonder the episodes are all over an hour long. Because of the nature of the show, we have to cut back and between to all the different plotlines each episode. It makes parts of the show way more interesting than the others. The reason episodes four and seven are so good is because they only focus on two or three plotlines. The show feels unfocused because of how many plotlines and characters it's juggling.
Because of the ridiculous amount of plotlines, the pace of the season is a little bit messy. Like I said, the finale, which is the longest episode, feels really fast. However, there are certain episodes that feel really, really long, because they check in with the least interesting plots. It's frustrating that we have this many plotlines. I do think it will be satisfying when they all eventually converge and payoff, but it makes certain parts of certain episodes feel like a slog.
Even though there are plotlines that aren't as interesting as others, I enjoy most of them...except for one. Jason Carver is a new character. He's the captain of the basketball team. He's kind of a bully character, kind of not. However, they take his plotline in a totally ridiculous direction that I was not a fan of. There's a scene involving him in episode six that is so corny and over-the-top. And that's what I hated. It was so cartoonish. In a series that usually finds the sweet spot between too much and too little, Jason's plotline went a little too far.
Final Thoughts and Score
Stranger Things is going just as strong on its fourth outing, with lovable and compelling characters, a terrifying new villain, and an epic story that sets the stage for its fifth and final season.
I will give this volume/season a Sweet. Age range is 14+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad)
Fun Factor: 9/10
Created by the Duffer Brothers
Rated TV-14 for strong bloody violence, frightening themes and images, language, suggestive material, thematic elements
Released on May 27, 2022
Episode runtime: 75 minutes
Millie Bobby Brown as Jane Hopper / Eleven
Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers
David Harbour as Jim Hopper
Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler
Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson
Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair
Noah Schnapp as Will Byers
Sadie Sink as Max Mayfield
Joe Keery as Steve Harrington
Maya Hawke as Robin Buckley
Natalia Dyer as Nancy Wheeler
Joseph Quinn as Eddie Munson
Paul Reiser as Dr. Sam Owens
Matthew Modine as Dr. Martin Brenner
Brett Gelman as Murray Bauman
Jamie Campbell Bower as Peter
Eduardo Franco as Argyle
Priah Ferguson as Erica Sinclair
Tom Wlaschiha as Dmitri "Enzo" Antonov
Nikola Đuričko as Yuri
Cara Buono as Karen Wheeler
Mason Dye as Jason Carver
Sherman Augustus as Lt. Colonel Sullivan
Gabriella Pizzolo as Suzie
Grace Van Dien as Chrissy Cunningham
Logan Riley Bruner as Fred Benson
Robert Englund as Victor Creel