Stranger Things returns with its second installment of season four, an epic, cinematic conclusion that requires more big swings than the show usually does.
By Valerie Ettenhofer Published on July 1, 2022
Welcome to Earlier aan, a column that gives you an overview of the latest TV. In this edition, Valerie Ettenhofer discusses season 4, volume 2 of Netflix’s Stranger Things.
Weird stuff know how to set up a final. The Netflix series, which released seven episodes of the fourth season a month ago and is releasing the last two today, is always at its best when it gets big. When the ’80s throwback series is able to bring emotional, character-centric beats and combine it with epic, cinematic moments, it manages to reach a point of top entertainment. Weird stuff doesn’t always succeed at this, and part of the ambitious fourth season is more shaky than ever, but the two-episode finale once again brings out the raw power of the show.
To describe what happens during the four hours of: Weird stuff season 4, part 2, would take up more page space than me: the movie-length episodes are chock full of mythological downloads, relationship swings, and failed plans that they might as well be a season unto themselves. Initially, I thought a hiatus this late in the season would break the tension of the show, giving fans time to properly speculate about every possible moment the final two episodes have to offer. But for once, the Duffer brothers zigzagged when fans expected them to saw, with an ending that undercuts some of the tried-and-true tropes the show likes to return to, while giving others a heavier, darker spin.
Part 2 picks up pretty much exactly where the last episodes left off, with Nancy (Natalia Dyer) subjected to Vecna’s grim vision and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) newly aware of the monster’s very human origin story. Meanwhile, the California crew tries to find out where El is, while Hawkins’ team arms for a standoff in the Upside Down. In Russia, Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce (Winona Ryder) are reunited, only to realize that there are still obstacles that keep them from their loved ones back home.
Despite an ever-expanding cast of characters that now includes more than a dozen core members, the new season continues to suffer from occasional slack editing that makes some scenes seem like wasted time. The show’s oversized running time should provide any character with plenty of development, but the camera still gets fixated on duds like smuggler Yuri (Nikola Djuricko), or dramatic reruns of old news from Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine). Meanwhile, beloved characters like high school basketball star-to-be Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and closeted arty Will (Noah Schnapp) are getting rushed resolutions for plots that seemed ready to deepen their identities, but never did. The show also suffers from a few notable examples of really corny writing, especially when indulging in cheap callbacks.
Still, a surprising number of these last two episodes work like a charm. The show does not succumb to the weight of the sky-high expectations it has aroused for itself. Instead, it meets them with the all-in attitude that a big run only gets when it enters its endgame. The Duffer brothers have dealt a few blows in the past few hours, but for the first time in the show’s history, there’s also a palpable and terrifying sense of risk to each main character. The show makes good use of the seemingly huge visual effects budget, creating memorable set pieces and propulsive action scenes.
Weird stuff has become so big and so familiar that, for better or for worse, it has its own unwritten rules: the greatest moments almost always include declarations of love, poignant sacrifices, and aesthetically striking heroic moments. This season continues that trend, but it also makes some completely unpredictable moves. Four seasons in, Weird stuff finally breaks out of its Spielbergian form, into uncharted territory. Even the music has matured: obvious radio hits are now replaced by songs with more personality, with the excellent needle drops of the new episode ranging from Metallica to James Taylor.
In its best and purest moments, it also reaches emotional heights that it has never reached before. Brown, McLaughlin and series newcomer Joseph Quinn all did a fantastic job in scenes that demand a lot from them, but Sadie Sink is the obvious star of the season as Max. The tough look of the tough tomboy once covered her hard life at home, but now, in the wake of her brother’s death, it also masks the open wound that is her heart. Earlier in the season, the episode “Dear Billy” hit the raw nerve of her grief and guilt with an indelible scene where she saw Vecna with Kate Bush’s strength on her face. The season continues to make her the center of attention, deepening the metaphorical associations between Vecna and mental illness in ways that are incredibly resonating.
More than anything, the final chapters of Weird stuff season four charts an unprecedented course for a series not always known for its originality. Despite some known weaknesses, these four hours are creative, exciting, emotional and downright entertaining.
Stranger Things Season 4, Volume 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.
Related Topics: Previously, Stranger Things
Valerie Ettenhofer is a freelance Los Angeles writer, TV enthusiast, and mac and cheese enthusiast. As a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects, she covers television through regular reviews and her recurring column, Episodes. She is also a voting member of the Critics Choice Association’s television and documentary divisions. Twitter: @aandeandval (she her)