REVIEW: Stranger Things – Season 4 Part 1

In the three years since Stranger Things season 3 aired, interest in this Netflix series has waned in parallel to the waning quality of the series since season 1. Continuing that trend, the recent release of Stranger Things season 4 part 1 has been met with an altogether underwhelming response from fans. Few people are talking about this new season, and they’re not overly eager to ingest this next chapter in the Stranger Things mythos.

This lack of notoriety may be partially due to the season airing on the same day as Disney’s Kenobi released its first two episodes. However, it is more likely that this show has merely slipped closer to obscurity as general interest has faltered. Very few people were talking about Stranger Things season 4 far before the release date for Kenobi was announced. That would indicate that few fans can muster the effort to care about these characters continuing their stories.


Stranger Things season 4 once again sees the crew breaking up into smaller groups, each with their own mission that will come together for the finale, each providing a piece of the puzzle to solve the mystery of the season. Murry and Joyce receive a mysterious package from Russia claiming that Hopper is alive before setting out to rescue him from a Russian work camp. They must combat the might of the Soviet Union and a traitor to infiltrate a fortress and rescue Hopper before it’s too late.

El is taken to a secret government facility to regain her powers under the tutelage of her still living Papa, Dr. Brenner. Together, El and Brenner sift through El’s memories to reawaken her powers and discover the truth about Number 1. Mike, Jonathan, Will, and newcomer Argyle are on their own mission to recover El from the secret facility and return her to Hawkins before the new evil threat has a chance to strike. While this is happening, the rest of the kids are investigating several gruesome murders in Hawkins that seem to be the work of an Upside Down demon called Vecna. This demon targets teenagers who are carrying great pain, and Max is his next mark. Together, these kids attempt to defeat Vecna, save Max before her death, and protect the life of their new friend Eddie, who is the police’s primary suspect in the murders.

This may seem like a lot of content to cram into just a few episodes, and that presumption would be correct, as they are chock full of exposition, filling their long runtime and bringing the pace to a near grinding halt. Season 4 part 1 is attempting to set up a grand finale of Stranger Things in Season 5 and must, therefore, provide the audience with all the necessary information to get them to the big finish. The drawback is that there is very little story within this season. It primarily consists of setup and exposition rather than character development, action, or meaningful interactions. This cannot really be called a flaw, as it is necessary to make season 5 everything it can be, but fans would not be remiss in feeling let down with this addition to the series.

Stranger Things

The new villain, Vecna, is still relatively undeveloped due to his limited screen time, but he is still an intimidating force to be reckoned with. Additionally, the big twist about his true identity near the end of this part is interesting, if not surprising. The most interesting route forward for this character is as a reflection of El. He is everything that she fears to become and what she can become. If this idea is explored further, it could go great lengths toward developing El further. However, there are still a multitude of holes in Vecna’s identity, especially with how it affects the origins of the Upside Down and the mechanics for that dimension that are set up further in the Nancy storyline this season. The writers are likely saving these explanations for later, as they are acknowledged within the story. Until then, fans must only hope that these writers have thoroughly thought through the consequences of their choices and have an intriguing resolution for them in the future.

Prior to this season, Max was one of the most insufferable characters Stranger Things had to offer. She was dismissive, abrasive, and downright rude the majority of the time, and none of these attributes were ever acknowledged as flaws but celebrated as strengths. This season decides to develop her and give her the screen time necessary to finally begin her journey toward becoming a good character. She still has a long way to go, but she has begun. Her imminent death requires her to show some vulnerability and connect with Lucas, for the first time in the series showing good chemistry between the two. Before this season, few cared about Max or what happened to her. However, after the development that she has undergone, fans may begin to warm up to her.

Now, this is not necessarily a flaw, but the show has been increasingly inconsistent with the size of Hawkins throughout the seasons. In season 1, Hawkins is portrayed as an extremely small town with only three police officers to protect it. However, in subsequent seasons there is a population warranting a massive mall, as well as a police force hundreds deep in season 4. Is Hawkins a small town with just a Main Street and some houses in the woods around it, or is it a sprawling metropolis? Again, this is not necessarily an issue, but it can give certain fans whiplash in its extreme inconsistency with Hawkins’ portrayal.

Stranger Things

Robin was an interesting and fun addition to season 3, and she maintains that level of interest going into season 4. She is the perfect example of how Netflix and other studios should approach gay characters. Her sexuality is only a minute aspect of an otherwise deep and fulfilling character. There is a rumor that Will Buyers will be coming out as gay in this season, which has been telegraphed in the past by his personality and acting choices. If the writers choose to approach Will’s sexuality in the same manner in which they have done Robin’s, it will not be a drawback to the show, as Will is already a deep character whom the fans know and love. However, if his sexuality overcomes his entire personality, this will be a great detriment to the series and his character. So far, this has not occurred, but the groundwork is being laid for Will’s coming out.

The Hopper and Joyce storyline comes across as slightly schizophrenic. Primarily, the explanation for how Hopper survived season 3 is altogether underwhelming, as it merely features him moving a little out of the way to an area where several Russians in hazmat suits were disintegrated at the same time. This explanation neither inspires awe nor catharsis, and it does not provide a satisfactory resolution. Additionally, it also contradicts the logic presented in season 3. If Russians in hazmat suits on the same level as Hopper were disintegrated, why was Hopper unaffected without a hazmat suit?

Other than that, their storyline is generally good. Hopper has undergone extreme development after surviving a year in a Siberian work camp. His cynicism has deepened, but his strength of will has only grown. Joyce’s journey to free him and Hopper’s own attempts to stay alive and stay human within the camp are written well and are some of the best parts of the season.

Stranger Things

The kids’ storyline is also interesting, if not bursting at the seams with exposition. Their journey through the Upside Down while discovering Vecna’s violent history is a nice little investigation subplot that still occasionally takes the time to develop the characters. The biggest part of this storyline to be praised is the hinting at Steven and Nancy’s rekindling relationship. Keeping them together at the end of season 1 was an unorthodox decision that benefited the characters and the story. However, season 2 quickly went back on this decision, placing Nancy with Jonathan, a partner with whom she has far less chemistry. Jonathan and Nancy are not broken up yet, and Steven is not with Nancy, but the way has been paved for that outcome.

By far the slowest and most bloated-with-exposition part of season 4 is El’s side story. She spends the majority of her time reliving past memories in a newly designed sensory deprivation tank while feeding the audience scraps towards an inevitable resolution. The stuff revealed in this side plot is interesting and develops the story. However, this subplot takes far too long to develop and is always an unwelcome divergence from the other characters’ stories. The de-aging to make El look six years old again is competently done but isn’t enough to maintain the audiences’ investment in the storyline. Hopefully, with all the answers gleaned from this trip into the past, El will leave the secret military base in Season 4, part 2, to rejoin her friends in Hawkins and leave the sensory deprivation tank behind for a while.

Stranger Things

Overall, season 4 is a slight improvement over season 3 but is not altogether a good story. It is all setup without much character development, story progression, or an acceptable pace. Fans can only hope that the setup is in service to a greater story that will blow them away in season 5. Also, hopefully, season 5 is not another three years away, as it is unlikely that fan interest can carry them through so many more empty years without Stranger Things content to tide them over.

Stranger Things – Season 4 Part 1

Plot - 5
Acting - 7.5
Progression - 4.5
Production Design - 6
Aesthetic - 7



Overall, season 4 is a slight improvement over season 3 but is not altogether a good story in and of itself. It is all set up without much character development, story progression, or an acceptable pace.

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