Strangers Things S4: Volume 2
WHERE TO WATCH:
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:
(Warning: This review contains spoilers)
Stranger Things' latest season has been one heck of a ride, as longer episodes have turned this darling streaming show into a multi-movie juggernaut. With the final two episodes - Papa and The Piggyback - totalling almost four hours together, one might think that its creators, The Duffer Brothers, have gone a little mad with power. However, those hours are barely felt as you follow these beloved characters fighting a force so much mightier than them, eternally petrified that that next scene will mean the end of your favourites. Afterwards, you might feel like you've run a marathon, with very few quiet beats to give its audience a rest from the mayhem, but the payoff is well worth it in the end - or in this case, the beginning of the end.
We dive straight back into where we were in Part One of the season - Joyce and Murray are busy escaping a Russian prison with Hopper, Eleven has regained her powers after a stint in the NINA project with her unbeloved Papa, her brothers and boyfriend are on the run from the military while searching for her, and the Hawkins crew has just escaped from the Upside Down - except Nancy has been caught in Vecna's curse. Finally, we figure out the villain's whole devilish plan, and only our heroes know how to stop it.
These threads merge into three, and while it felt a little overwhelming in Part One, the writers had a very clear vision for how it all links up in the final two episodes, especially the Russia storyline. The writers played the long game with that one, but it suddenly became as gripping as the rest of the storylines, with an incredibly satisfying arc for Joyce, whose character has become so much more than just a worrying mother. Winona Ryder really made that role her own and, in a few, short yet impactful scenes, knocked her performance right out the gate. David Harbour's Hopper has also gone through a hectic metamorphosis - physically, mentally, and emotionally - and future Hopper is going to have so much complexity that I hope the writers are fully equipped to navigate in the next season.
Another strong contender in this race for the finish is Vecna, revealed to be Victor Creel's son and One from Eleven's past - played brilliantly by Jamie Campbell Bower. Creating a compelling and terrifying villain is not easy; beyond the fantastic practical effects, Vecna hits a home run in all aspects, especially thanks to Bower. Even his backstory makes him unsympathetic towards the audience (killing children does that), and I am glad that we have a more substantial face behind all the terror inflicted on Hawkins. Primal destructive forces can only get you so far before it becomes stale, and the reveal from Part One will be one of the streaming era's best TV moments.
As for the kids, everyone kicked ass and took names the whole way through, fighting against their own internal fears as much as they're fighting against Vecna's forces and the grieving madness of this season's jock villain. Joseph Quinn's Eddie remains a great addition to the cast, giving him a fantastic Metallica moment that fits in seamlessly with the story. However, the strongest focus was on Max and Lucas, breaking your heart every step of the way. Both Sadie Sink and Caleb McLaughlin presented this heartfelt soft maturity in their performances, especially poignant for such young actors. The buildup to their final moments in this season - which already started when Max first joined the Hawkins crew - is a blend of superior writing, great acting and mindful directing from the Duffer Brothers. When this is what they come up with for a season finale that isn't even the final season, who knows what they have in store for our poor hearts when season five eventually rolls around.
Part Two has really changed some of my opinions of Part One, especially the Russia scenes. While I love all the extra story we get with the insanely long episodes, seeing the conclusion almost a month later has a somewhat watered-down effect on the audience experience. Some might love the buildup of anticipation and speculation on Twitter, but it does border on being too much, and that maybe, it's slowly turning into a 'too big to fail' juggernaut for Netflix that is close to being too overproduced and overstuffed with stories. But let's hope I am wrong.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: