STRANGER THINGS Review – Season Four and The Rise of Vecna, Master of the Spider Throne
Brianna Geiger says that the fourth season of Stranger Things is the darkest, most violent, and gore-filled of the series.
Does anyone else hear the tolling of a grandfather clock? If that’s the case, you better have your favorite song playing on repeat before it’s too late. We’ve all been waiting for the return of Netflix’s award-winning original series, Stranger Things. After four long years, the Duffer Brothers (Matt and Ross Duffer), the series creators, writers, and directors, have delivered the first seven episodes of season four. The first set of episodes was released on May 27, 2022, and the second set of two episodes will be released on July 1, 2022. Unlike the previous seasons, the fourth season of Stranger Things is decidedly darker, violent, and gore-filled. It also dives deeper into its long-held ties to Dungeons and Dragons (1974) with the rise of the series' most menacing villain, Vecna.
One of Stranger Things biggest strengths throughout the last three seasons has been the way that it funnels all the characters together to ultimately save the day and this season is no exception. We return to Hawkins with Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Max (Sadie Sink), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Steve (Joe Keery), Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Robin (Maya Hawke), and Erica (Priah Ferguson). Several new characters join our beloved party of monster slayers, including Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn), leader of the Hellfire Club. The party has graduated from Hawkins AV Club and, in the age of satanic panic, joined a club of fellow D&D players. Eddie is the season’s patsy, designated by the Hawkins PD as the prime suspect in a series of serial slayings. After all, the first body is discovered in his trailer, but we know better. Based on how each victim has been killed, Dustin determines that Vecna, an evil godlike being from the Upside Down, is responsible for the murders. The party begins an investigation to save Max from a similar fate.
Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), Will (Noah Schnapp), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), and newcomer Argyle (Eduardo Franco), who solidifies that pineapple on pizza is a delicious right of passage, continue their journey in California. In an attempt to start a new life with the Byers, Eleven experiences a new form of torment, high school bullies. Mike visits Eleven and Will on spring break, but things don’t go as planned. Hawkins is in danger, and the group sets off to help Eleven regain her power. Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) and Dr. Sam Owens (Paul Riser) return this season as we learn about Eleven's connection to the Upside Down. Jamie Campbell Bower also appears this season as one of the previously unseen orderlies in Eleven's flashbacks at Hawkins Lab while she struggles to uncover what really happened in the Rainbow Room.
While the teens are working to stop Vecna, Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Murray (Brett Gelman) search for Hopper (David Harbour) following his presumed death at the end of season three. We discover that Hopper is alive and being held captive in a secret Russian prison where we find that the Russian's obsession with the Upside Down has not ended. Murray continues to serve up laughable moments while bantering with Joyce, providing much-needed comedic relief in a much darker season than we’ve seen before.
Brown’s performance has been outstanding, highlighting her emotional range with her portrayal of Eleven. In a particular scene, she relives her memories as a subject at Hawkins Lab, and it’s evident through her body language and demeanor that she is uncomfortable, vulnerable, and afraid of her abilities. Brown captures and demonstrates Eleven’s fears as a child effortlessly. This season brings several significant character developments and connects the dots for countless plot points throughout the entire series. It’s worth watching every episode again after the finale to find those easter eggs.
The season four finale was released five weeks after the first seven episodes of the season to so much anticipation from viewers that Netflix’s service crashed on release day. Stranger Things season finales are well known for leaving viewers on a cliffhanger, which I was expecting going into the finale. However, much like before, we were left with more questions than answers. In a series with such a big cast, it's hard to keep every character equally engaged without creating a mountain of plot points. The Duffer Brothers have an Everest-sized pile of interconnected plot threads, especially after this season.
There's a lot going on in Stranger Things at this point and some things don’t line up due to early series episodes, while others don’t line up because the breaks between seasons have been so long, I simply can’t remember what happened. The series is ramping up to something thrilling and over-the-top, and with its recent deep dive into the story behind the Upside Down it feels like season five will be worth the wait.
Stranger Things is streaming exclusively on Netflix.