‘Stranger Things’ Season 4 Delivers Horror, Excitement, and Compelling Story Lines

Forrest Hartman


When Stranger Things wrapped its third season in 2019, fans were left with a cliffhanger about the fate of lawman Jim Hopper, uncertainty about the superpowers of the heroine named Eleven and a host of questions about everyone’s favorite 1980s adventure kids. Nearly three years later, we’ve got some answers. 


Stranger Things Season 4 is now streaming on Netflix, and the first seven episodes are a largely satisfying blend of excitement, horror, humor and nostalgia. In short, it’s tough not to binge once you get started. But you can only go so far because Netflix won’t release Part 2 until July 1.


In Season 4, we see a new side to our favorite characters. Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown), for instance, is now living in California with the Byers family, Will (Noah Schnapp), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and Joyce (Winona Ryder). Through the first three seasons, Eleven was largely depicted as a mysterious and powerful figure key to protecting her friends. In Season 4, she and Will struggle to adapt to their new school and are seen as social misfits.


In the meantime, their friends in Hawkins, Indiana, are transitioning to high school and the upheaval that accompanies such a shift. Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) has to decide whether to hang out with the popular athletes or his old, nerdy friends. Max (Sadie Sink) is struggling to process a personal loss. Meanwhile, Mike (Finn Wolfhard) misses his budding relationship with Eleven. We also get ample screen time and new developments for Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin (Maya Hawke), as well as some interesting new characters.



Although Season 3 ended with the possibility that the portal to the frightening alternate dimension known as the Upside Down had been closed, viewers learn that this isn’t the case. Because this is Stranger Things, odd occurrences return with Episode 1, and they are consistently developed throughout the first seven episodes. We even get a satisfying cliffhanger at the end of Episode 7 … and nobody should be too angry since the final two episodes will be here in less than a month. 


The danger with any ongoing show is that writers and producers will run out of ideas and a once-great concept will slide into cliché. This is particularly true when a cast is initially so young that it undergoes serious life changes during the course of the program. Fortunately, Stranger Things avoids the pitfalls. Rather than seeming like producers are clamoring to adjust to the life changes of the cast, viewers get a sense that the youngsters at the heart of the story are growing up in front of us, and it’s a lot of fun.  


It’s interesting to dissect a show like this because much of the appeal resides in the 1980s setting. As a 54-year-old man, I couldn’t help but get sucked in by creators Matt and Ross Duffer’s representation of what it was like to grow up in this era when the show debuted. Although the Duffers did most of their growing up in the 1990s, they largely get the vibe right. It was an era when technology was blooming but hadn’t taken over, when shady movements by Soviet leaders seemed more concerning than climate change, and when bicycles were the most treasured possession of many youngsters.


Stranger Things also makes it seem that kids of this era were far braver and more adventurous than the youth of today. My generation may want to believe that but it is, of course, false. That said, the representation reinforces stereotypes delivered in countless 1980s movies, including The Goonies, E.T., Back to the Future and The Lost Boys. This ushers in fond memories of media from the era … at least for those of us who grew up with it. It also seems to argue that my generation had it better. My 18-year-old son noted, after watching the first seven episodes of Stranger Things Season 4, that growing up in the ’80s looked like a blast. Although my childhood was fine, this is likely a side effect of the rose-colored portrayals present in any nostalgic program. After all, when I was a kid, Happy Days made the 1950s and 1960s look like the greatest era ever. Still, Stranger Things is a treat for anyone who loves 1980s movies, as the references to other pictures – most notably A Nightmare on Elm Street in Season 4 – are everywhere.



Because so much of the Stranger Things appeal is nostalgic, it’s also worth commenting on how different media consumption is today when compared to the era represented on screen. As a 1980s youth, there was no such thing as binging a television show because we had to wait for every episode. When you got sucked into a program, tuning in each week became an event worth noting on the calendar. This waiting game, while often frustrating, stretched out the excitement -- so each season of a favorite show was a long-running thrill ride rather than a weekend binge-fest. I couldn’t help but reflect on this while cruising through all the new Stranger Things episodes in a matter of days. Pro tip to any youngster who really wants the 1980s Stranger Things experience: Limit yourself to one episode per week.


Stranger Things is also different from 1980s media in that each episode varies in length. Of course, 1980s television – supported entirely by advertising – was strictly formatted, with each episode of a show coming in at the same length, which was considerably shorter than the time required to watch.


The new season of Stranger Things is really like a series of short movies, each running just long enough to get the story told. The shortest episode checks in at 64 minutes, the longest at 98. This trend of editing programming to the “right” length rather than a prescribed advertising outline, may be the greatest benefit of streaming, as it simply allows content creators to tell their stories. With Stranger Things Season 4, those stories are well told.


Author Bio:

Forrest Hartman is Highbrow Magazine’s chief film critic.


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