It’s hard enough growing up in 1980’s small town Indiana, especially when your childhood is a startling procession of interdimensional monsters, superpowers, experiments, and of course the usual concerns around school, friends, and romance. But mostly the monsters thing. And when you have to clandestinely travel across the country because you’re on the run and you’ve lost your powers, what’s young Eleven to do?
That’s right, we have another visit to Hawkins, only this time our team is split—Eleven, Will, and Joyce have gone to California while the rest of the crew find threats of a very different kind plaguing our favorite Indiana town. While the former struggle with the loss of Hopper and their alienation from the people they love back home, the latter face increasing local paranoia alongside with a new Big Bad, Vecna. O, Strange new world that has such Things in’t!
First, it’s worth pointing out that all our favorite characters are returning in one way or another. We also get a host of new faces, with Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn), Dmitri (Tom Wlaschiha), and Robert Englund’s Victor Creel as clear standouts. The major players all unsurprisingly excel in their roles, but some have more interesting things to do than others as the series struggles to balance a small army of new characters (and struggles with the story burden that comes with splitting them between two locations).
David Harbour gives his finest performance yet at Hopper. Maya Hawke is a scene stealer (as is Gaten Matarazzo), and Millie Bobby Brown does some incredible emotional work with the scenes she’s given. The need to balance so many characters, including new ones, while sidelining the de-powered Eleven does have the negative side effect of shortchanging the material many players are given. It also takes major players out of the game, a tried-and-true dramatic technique that has its uses but here stretches a little longer than it needs to.
It’s an engaging season nonetheless, albeit one with an excess of severity alongside a dearth of levity. That aside, it’s one of the most successful horror seasons since the first with some genuine scares, and the third really cuts a new cloth with villain Vecna (as contrasted against Season 3’s new use of the Mind Flayer, which brought some twists but that didn’t evolve the world as much as needed to set itself apart from Season 2). Vecna’s evolved set of capacities (which will remain a surprise here) add a lot of distinct and interesting riffs on the series potential.
We finally also start to dig further into the mysteries of both the Upside Down and Eleven’s tragic past as an experimental subject. New beasts are revealed, new Hawkins history opens up—Season 4 may be a little dour and a little too wide, but it’s frightening with some top notch worldbuilding. For those (like myself) that have waited some time for a little more information about… anything, really, that’s a truly pleasant development.
Altogether, the episodes in this first batch (the first volume premiering May 27, with the second volume premiering July 1st) are a strong start. It may struggle with the breadth of its additions and the spread of its story world, but the series is as its best when it goes deep into its lore. There’s a lot to wrap up… but it’s a very strong, consistently frightening round that’s more than worth our time. If only July 1st came sooner.
Stranger Things Season 4 drops May 27th on Netflix.