Josh Reviews Stranger Things Season Four (Part 2)
Netflix released the fourth season of Stranger Things in an unusual manner. The first seven episodes dropped in May (click here for my review), but we had to wait until July to get the final two episodes. But those final two episodes were jam-packed. Episode eight was an hour and twenty minutes long, while episode nine clocked in at a staggering two hours and thirty minutes. Wow! It was like getting two Stranger Things movies to wrap up the season!
There’s been a lot of complaining online about this weird release pattern, and also about people thinking that many of the extended episodes this season were too long. While I agree that the way this season was released was bizarre, I had no problem with the longer-than-usual run-time of the episodes. I’m happy to spend more time in this world and with these characters. And with the episodes dropping in two batches, the distinction between individual episodes was mostly irrelevant to me. I’d watch for as long as I was interested, then pause and resume later. Sometimes I’d stop at the end of an episode, but often I stopped in the middle of an episode. Because this season was just one long story, the breaking point between episodes felt unimportant to me. I am happy the Duffer Brothers were able to get from Netflix as much time as they felt their story needed, as opposed to editing these episodes all down to a more standard hour in length.
These final two episodes of Stranger Things season four were a lot of fun and I quite enjoyed watching them.
I will admit that I don’t feel these episodes quite packed the same punch that the finales of earlier seasons did. I think that’s because at this point I’m accustomed to Stranger Things blowing out all the stops in a season finale, so nothing here was quite as surprising as in earlier season finales. Also, while there were some fun twists and turns, most of the big revelations (especially with regards to Vecna’s origins) had been made pretty clear already in the first part of the season, so there weren’t many big shocks to me.
But what these final two episodes might have lost a bit in those areas, they made up with for how much fun all the character stuff was. I love all these characters at this point in the show, and I was delighted by all the great character moments that everyone got. Here’s where the super-sized length of the episodes was helpful. I can imagine a shorter, more plot-focused version of these episode that lost many of those great character beats. That would have been significantly less satisfying.
It was nice to, at long last, get clarification on the timeline of Eleven’s past and what exactly Dr. Brenner had been up to with his experiments. It was satisfying to see their complicated relationship finally come to a head. (Though I wish Paul Reiser’s Dr. Owens didn’t get pushed to the side in these final episodes. I love Paul Reiser on this show!! I want to see more of him… and I’d have liked greater clarity on what happened to him at the end!)
I liked seeing Hopper and Joyce finally seem to get together, and it was fun and exciting to watch them (along with Murray, Yuri, and Antonov) break back into the Russian prison and kick Demogorgan ass. Slightly implausible? Well, yes. But enjoyably exciting! (Frankly, all of Hopper’s escapades this season in Russia have stretched my credulity. It seems like he would have been dead many times over at this point. Also, the show grossed me out earlier in the season by showing Hopper’s mangled foot (after he got out of the chains on his ankles), so I kept questioning how he could walk, let alone run and fight.) But it was emotionally satisfying to see Hopper and Joyce reunited and getting some wins.
I liked seeing Max, Lucas and Erica go into the Creel house. This was a classic haunted house situation that reminded me so much of the Stephen King stories that inspired this whole show. I’m not sure the show quite understood or mined the implications of a white kid (the bully Jason) pulling a gun on African-American Lucas. Still, it was nice to see Lucas step up as a hero and make the choices to stand by his friends. This was a nice conclusion to Lucas’ story-arc this season. (Were we supposed to cheer Jason’s brutal death at the hands of Vecna? I guess he had it coming… but he was still a kid, after all.) (This reminds me: I have asked before how things could ever return to “normal” in Hawkins after previous season finales, but I’m really asking that question now. So many people were killed this season!!! And with the Upside Down apparently crossing over into the “real” world at the end, I can’t imagine how the rest of the civilians in Hawkins can remain ignorant of what’s been going on. I’m curious to see how this is dealt with in season five.)
Putting Max in jeopardy again in the season finale felt like a weird choice, coming so soon after her emotionally powerful near-death experience in episode four, “Dear Billy”. It made that sequence a little less effective for me.
Is Max dead in the end? I don’t believe it, any more than I believed that Hopper was dead at the end of season four. I think the show has hurt itself somewhat by doing so many fake-outs before now. I don’t think this show is going to kill off any of its main characters. Which is fine! I love these characters! I don’t want any of them to be killed off! But that being the case, I think the writers need to find other ways to build suspense/drama than these death fake-outs.
It seems the only characters the show will kill off is new characters: Vecna’s victims such as the unfortunate Chrissy and Fred (and also the villainous Jason). And then there’s Eddie, a phenomenal new character introduced this season who I am very bummed they killed off. It was satisfying to see him step up and be a brave hero, but I felt Eddie was such a great addition to the group, I wish they’d kept him around for the final season. Still, bravo to the Duffer Brothers and actor Joseph Quinn for creating such a memorable new character this deep into the show!
(I’m glad stoner pizza-delivery-dude Argyle survived! I look forward to seeing him back in the mix for season five!)
It feels like an important moment in the show for Mike to profess his love for Eleven, though I found that scene a little too schmaltzy for my tastes. Plus, it was clear to me as a viewer since the very first episode that Mike loves Eleven, so this scene didn’t pack the punch for me that I think the Duffer Brothers intended.
I was happy to see the show finally allow Will Byers to come out as gay. Sort of. Will is clearly confirmed as being gay in the great scene with his brother Jonathan. Though I’m not sure why the writers felt they had to beat around the bush and not actually have Will or Jonathan say the word gay. (Also, here too, some of these weepy scenes were just a little too schmaltzy for my tastes.)
I really enjoyed all the Steve, Nancy, and Robin stuff. I’m glad that Nancy has stuck around as a major character!! It’s nice to see a lesbian character in the mix, and I love her dynamic with both Steve and Nancy. Speaking of those two, I was surprised to see this season pivot away from the Nancy-Jonathan romance that had been built up over the first three seasons, and move back to the idea of a Steve and Nancy pairing. Is this just a tease, and season five will bring Nancy and Jonathan back together? I’m curious to see where this all goes. It’s amazing how the show has turned Steve from the jerk he was in season one into someone who is one of my favorite characters on the show. They successfully got me to root for a Steve and Nancy pairing this season, which I never would have expected!
Dustin continues to be the show’s secret weapon. He just steals every scene he’s in. I’m glad we got lots more great Steve-Dustin stuff this season, and I also enjoyed the development of Eddie & Dustin’s friendship. It was also nice to see a little of Dustin’s girlfriend Suzie again (though she wasn’t in the show as much as I’d expected, following her important role in the season three finale).
It was weird to me that all the stuff in the early episodes of Eleven’s getting bullied by the popular girls in California (led by Angela) didn’t really go anywhere. It was all dropped immediately mid-season, when Eleven gets whisked away by Dr. Owens and Dr. Brenner. I thought we’d see Angela get some comeuppance!
I liked the time spent in the final minutes of the finale to give us some good character beats. (As I wrote above, the character stuff is what I like best about this show.) I smiled at what looked like Robin’s making a connection with the girl at school she’s been crushing on, and Hopper and Eleven’s emotional reunion was great. (Joyce still seems surprisingly out of touch with everything that’s been going on with her two boys this season, though…!) I wish we knew what was up with the evil general guy. I’m assuming he’ll continue to be an antagonist in season five? I’d like to see him get more developed than the one-dimensional villain he was this season.
I enjoyed these super-sized final two episodes of Stranger Things season four. I hope we don’t have to wait too many years to get the fifth and final season…!!
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