Stranger Things S4: Volume 1

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Millie Bobby Brown in Stranger Things.
Millie Bobby Brown in Stranger Things.
Photo: Netflix

SHOW:

Stranger Things S4: Volume 1

WHERE TO WATCH:

Netflix

OUR RATING:

4/5 Stars

WHAT IT'S ABOUT:

It's been six months since the Battle of Starcourt, which brought terror and destruction to Hawkins. Struggling with the aftermath, our group of friends are separated for the first time – and navigating the complexities of high school hasn't made things any easier. In this most vulnerable time, a new and horrifying supernatural threat surfaces, presenting a gruesome mystery that, if solved, might finally put an end to the horrors of the Upside Down.

WHAT WE THOUGHT:

Who would have thought that an 80s nostalgia horror ride with tweens could have become one of the biggest streaming shows in the world? Well, it's a gamble that Netflix is probably very happy has paid off as Stranger Things still pulls in a massive global audience with its fourth season debut. According to The Wall Street Journal, the streaming giant reportedly spent $30 million per episode, evident in its hour-plus runtimes per episode. Some have equated it with the juggernaut that is Game of Thrones, but after so many years, with a cast that's almost matured out of their teenhood, does it still have that spark it had when it first charmed audiences back in 2016? The answer is undoubtedly yes - although it might just be getting a little too packed to the brim.

Set over Springbreak in 1986, the story has expanded beyond the borders of the cursed town of Hawkins. Joyce, her children and Eleven have relocated to a small Californian town, trying hard to move on from losing Hopper, who is currently trapped in a Russian prison. Back in Hawkins, the rest of the crew are continuing with life as high school nerds, partaking in extra-curricular activities like the DnD Hellfire Club and basketball - but not everyone is able to recover from the battle of Starcourt. The past seems to be behind them, but a string of gruesome murders pulls them all back into the fight against the Upside Down.

Outside of the return of season 3's characters like Max and Robin, we are also introduced to new characters - metalhead and dungeon master of the Hellfire Club Eddie (Joseph Quinn), the smack-talking Russian guard Dmitri (Tom Wlaschiha), our new douchebag jock fuelled by revenge Jason (Mason Dye) and Jamie Campbell Bower's character, which we'll leave alone due to spoilers.

As the cast has grown older and bolder, so has the show's tone. More gruesome, torturous and downright disturbing, our Hawkins crew has quite a lot to deal with. Unresolved trauma is a core theme of this season, from Max dealing with Billy's death and its aftermath, how it ties into the killings, and Eleven's deep dive into her repressed memories triggered by bullying. Even Hopper, trapped in hell-on-earth, reveals how deep the scars of his past really are. These traumas are physically manifested, and without confronting them, our heroes can't possibly hope to move forward and win the day. I applaud the Duffer Brothers for how it's incorporated into the plot.

But in order to make room for this and its ever-expanding cast, there were a lot of threads crammed into the series, and not all were as entertaining as the others. Weirdly enough, the most exciting storyline still took place in Hawkins as Dustin, Lucas, Max, Nancy, Robin, Steve, and the newly minted Eddie try to solve the riddle of the murders and their connection to the Upside Down. Eleven's story in California and Nevada and Hopper's story in Russia are not too bad, but you kept wanting it to switch back to Hawkins, the original spirit of Stranger Things. I get that they needed to try some new storytelling to keep the show fresh, but with almost everyone vying for attention for their story arc, it can get a bit overwhelming, and we only have two more episodes left (coming out in July) to tie everything up.

As for the cast, I think the shining stars this season were Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas, Sadie Sink as Max, Noah Schnapp as Will and Brett Gelman as Murray. Not to say that everyone else didn't deliver, but these four excelled in their story arcs this season, and helped cement their specific storylines. However, I did feel some of Millie Bobby Brown's vooma for Eleven from the previous shows has dimmed a little, delivering some lacklustre performances, not on a level with her skillset. She seems to be a bit stuck, and I hope she can get back to where she was in the last two episodes.

Despite that, Stranger Things' fourth season still delivered what it promised, or perhaps over-delivered, and a lot more mystery surrounding the Upside Down is unravelled, finally satisfying its audience with some massive twists. I remain excited for what's to come, but it's teetering on the edge of being overstuffed. Hopefully, the Duffer Brothers will learn from the mistakes of that other major TV show and avoid the pitfalls of flying too close to the sun.

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