High risk, high reward

June 5, 2022

Season 4 of Stranger Things has finally released on Netflix, and it is bigger and better than ever

High risk, high reward


tranger Things is one of Netflix’s most beloved and high budget shows. With the first three seasons releasing to critical acclaim for the atmosphere, characterisation and story, Season 4 follows the same formula. The series wastes no time jumping back into the thick of things as the main crew are shown doing their own things all across the world.

Prior to the series’ release, it was already established that Hopper somehow survived the massive explosion at the underground lab, and was shown working in a ruthless Russian gulag. Jonathan, El, Will and Joyce moved to California after Hopper’s disappearance and Will’s psychological debacle with the mind flayer. Max, Lucas, Dustin, Mike, Steve, Robin and Nancy are trying their best to get on with their lives in Hawkins, and things appear to be normal-ish for a very short while.

The official press release for Stranger Things bragged about being “Over five hours longer than any previous season!” While this can be cause for concern with other series where characters fall into a predictable pattern and the storyline becomes stale, the Duffer brothers spectacularly avoid this pitfall through their direction. It would have been all too easy for this season to become a financial sinkhole for Netflix, being a major heavy hitter amongst its roster of pointless shows. The story could have been wrapped up in prior seasons, which is why making an even longer season with an obviously bigger budget was a pretty big gamble. However, this gamble paid off massively as the latest season of Stranger Things is largely critically acclaimed.

From the get-go, this season has a darker, menacing tone, even though things appear to be going well on the surface. The vast budget is obviously well-spent as the series has better CGI and set design than some blockbuster movies out there. The creature-infested “upside-down” alternate universe that Hawkins exists upon is as eerie as ever. The impeccable, quintessentially ’80s storefront sets evoke nostalgia and longing for a time that a lot of younger viewers were not even around to experience. Shots of everyday life such as kids going to school, the video store or the roller rink, are embellished with the right cars, texture and nuance.

The kids are all grown up. They have gone from breaking up with their boyfriends over petty issues and going shopping to alienation, near-death experiences and shared trauma. Themes such as depression, teen suicide, abandonment and even addiction are touched upon throughout the series. 

While the main gang of characters in Stranger Things has been through horrors that they were far too young for in previous seasons, the fourth one gives ‘coming of age’ a whole new meaning. There is violence galore. Characters such as El and Max are dealing with internal turmoil that is far too adult for them to shoulder on their own. Both characters have suffered tremendous loss (El loses her powers and her only parental figure, Max loses her step-brother) and developed some form of PTSD. For El, this means being bullied mercilessly, unable to fight back. For Max, life has taken a steep nosedive after the death of her brother, as her step-father abandons her while her mother falls into a dissociative stupor. She copes by shutting everyone out and becoming a shell of who she was, which puts her at risk.

And then there’s Vecna, the new big bad preying on teenagers in Hawkins. While the demo-gorgons and the mind flayer were intimidating in their own right, Vecna seems a lot more sentient and malicious. The way this otherworldly monster stalks its marks and eventually disposes of them is one of the more unnerving aspects of the show. It clearly does not shy away from the horror anymore, as the victims’ limbs are twisted and distended in unnatural forms while their jaw snaps far too wide. Their misery finally ends as their eyes liquefy and they die. The worst part is that Vecna preys on those suffering from guilt and mental health issues, which puts members of the main gang in his crosshairs.

While having too many settings in one season can cause the story to become fragmented and harder to follow, the cuts between Russia, Hawkins, Nevada and California somehow manage to keep things fresh.

The soundtrack is on-point for the ’80s setting, featuring beloved songs such as Pass The Dutchie, Running Up That Hill and even California Dreamin’.

The relationships between the characters and their development keep viewers wanting more. The kids are all grown up. They have gone from breaking up with their boyfriends over petty issues and going shopping to alienation, near-death experiences and shared trauma. Themes such as depression, teen suicide, abandonment and addiction are touched upon throughout the series.

Netflix has taken a big swing this season, both creatively and financially, and it was a home-run. Almost every episode clocks in at over an hour at least, but the story does not drag at any point. Frequent switches in perspective and the viewers’ emotional investment in the characters’ development keeps the pace going with nary a dull moment. Stranger Things is an atmospheric amalgamation of the actors’ prowess, unique storyline, emotive soundtrack and stunning visuals. Highly recommended and extremely binge-worthy.

The author is a staff member.

High risk, high reward