The Duffer Brothers are back with a new season of Netflix’s most awaited show, “Stranger Things.” The addition of new characters, the revival of a few old ones, and the creation of a villain that is more deliberate in its approach and less alien as compared to the earlier ones, makes sure that “Stranger Things” Season 4 modifies and expands its formula-driven narrative and dives into a somber reality that is garnished with dark and grim developments. The biggest challenge in front of Matt and Ross Duffer was the tactical decisions they were going to make to further the narrative and the ways and means they were going to resort to, in order to elevate the proceedings a notch higher as compared to where they left off in Season 3. Whether it pays off or not is a matter of debate, but one thing that cannot be denied is the fact that the Duffer brothers are ready to stand by their decisions, even if it’s as outlandish as having episodes with an average run time of more than 60 minutes. Season 4 clears the strains of adolescence and gets rid of the crude visceral drives, and dives into a dark abyss. Though Stranger Things might have its share of cliches and stereotypes, it often abstains from indulging in the baseless reveries of the make-believe world and drives the motives of its characters with a hint of pragmatism and also substantiates it fully.
Jim Hopper had met his fateful end in “Stranger Things” Season 3, but there was a hope and a general perception that he might still be alive. So the creators take a calculated call and do not waste any time in telling the audience that their beloved Hawkins’ chief of police is going to fight the odds and make his way back. For the very first time, we are taken out of the cozy setting that the town of Hawkins provided us for the last 3 seasons and face the harsh realities of a mean and unforgiving world. Eleven was finding it hard to adjust. Every passing day she was realizing that she didn’t belong to this world, and that she was a misfit whose purpose was only to become an object of scorn. She had moved with the Byers to Lenora Hills, California, but was not able to adapt to her new reality. She was constantly being subjected to a lot of bullying in school by Angela, her colleague, and her group. She chooses to hide these facts from Mike, to whom she writes quite often. She gives him an image that she has the most happening life and tons of friends with whom she is having a gala time. Back in Hawkins, Lucas desperately wants to revamp his image of a nerd, and he earnestly urges Mike and Dustin to do the same. Max was still dealing with the devastating events that took place in the Starcourt Mall. She was laden with grief as her stepbrother, Billy, was taken by the Mind Flayer, and she stood there helplessly. She stays aloof from the group, mostly, in spite of several invitations from Lucas to attend his basketball tournament and also from Dustin and Mike, who wanted her to be a part of their Dungeons and Dragons group. Nancy had learned valuable lessons at her internship at The Hawkins Post, realizing the kind of journalism she was rooting for, and she was trying to bring out interesting stories with her apprentice of sorts, Fred. Joyce had credible information that Hopper was still alive and was stuck in some camp in Russia. She calls for help from the best conspiracy theorist she knows, Murray Bauman, who instantly comes to meet her, and together they embark on a mission to bring Jim Hopper back. Once again, the characters find themselves in familiar territory when a girl named Chrissy dies in suspicious circumstances, and it once again kickstarts the bloodshed that the town thought it was way past. At the helm of affairs is Vecna, a monstrosity that preyed upon the grief and guilt of people, casting a spell on them so that they started dreading their own existence. The motivations and philosophies of Vecna are far more conspicuous as compared to the Mind Flayer and other monsters of the prior seasons, and moreover, they find their foundation in the transient afflictions of the mortal realm.
The Hellfire group was led by Eddie Munson, who gave identity to people like Dustin and Mike, who were not only shrugged off as nerds by their sought-after colleagues, but were often subjected to a lot of bullying and mockery. That was the reason why Dustin knew that Eddie was not capable of killing somebody, quite contrary to what the authorities and general public were holding him accountable for. Max had come to Dustin and informed him about the killing, as it happened in her neighborhood, and Dustin instantly knew that the onus was on them to prove the people wrong, who just wanted to hold somebody accountable for the atrocity. But devoid of their superhero, who was stuck in California, battling her own past, Dustin and others had to figure out a way to put an end to the barbarity being inflicted by Vecna.
It is an undeniable fact that “Stranger Things” has always delved into a realm that is swarming with stereotypical depictions. The groups are divided into nerds and the cool gang, where the brash and haughty always have a change of heart and follow a character arc that could be very well predicted at the inception itself. A kind of poetic justice is a staple endeavor of creators when dealing with this genre. But somehow, “Stranger Things” has always managed to stand apart, and absorb the viewer into this make-believe world, and make him root and cheer for the palpable and obvious end result. The main reason behind it is the exceptional performances put forth by the cast. Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson, Brett Gelman as Murray Bauman, and Sadie Sink as Max Mayfield, do the heavy lifting, while others ably support them and portray exactly what was required of their characters. Eduardo Franco as Argyle and Joseph Quin as Eddie Munson bring a fresh breath of air, especially the latter, displaying a convoluted state of mind with artistry and flair. Joe Keery as Steve Harrington is as charming and likable as ever, and his hilarious conversations with Dustin, serves as a much needed comic relief throughout the series.
In a series that depends heavily on execution rather than an authentic narrative, the likeability and the involvement of the audience only comes through the performances, where you always know that the phantasmal world is merely a figment of your imagination, but still, yearn to be a part of the journey and wish that it existed in reality. “Stranger Things,” much like what the Harry Potter franchise did in the early 2000s, is able to create that impact where you want to abandon the dysphoria of your real-life and embrace the eccentricities of Hawkins and be privy to all those exciting revelations.
Most importantly, the characters bounce off energies from each other and structure a scene through their improvisations and nuances, which not only feel organic but also highly entertaining. Special credit has to be given to the production design and art direction teams. When dealing with the sci-fi genre, the challenge is not to become too quixotic in one’s approach. In pursuit of extravagance, the production design often becomes naively preposterous. But “Stranger Things” season 4 is able to maintain the precise balance and also present a visual treat that you cannot help but marvel at. The narrative greatly benefits from the cinematography, which makes it a point to abstain from any kind of contrivance.
“Stranger Things” Season 4 is a visual delight and, moreover, takes you on an exhilarating ride, taking sharp tactical turns to hide its impairments and often putting a lid on the dearth of the screenplay with exceptional performances that will leave you not only entertained but also hooked despite having an unusually long running time.