“Stranger Things” is back, with the first part of a huge season. While this season only takes place six months after the third season, much more time has passed for the actors involved (they look so much more grown up!), and we find them now grappling with fitting into high school.
The season starts with the central friend group broken up. Joyce (Winona Ryder), Will (Noah Schnapp) and Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton), as well as Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) have moved to California, where Eleven is struggling with both the loss of her powers and fitting in, as she’s bullied. We also get a new addition to the group — Argyle (Eduardo Franco), who’s a pothead who works at a local pizza place, and serves mostly as the group’s transportation.
Back in Hawkins, Ind., Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) and Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) have joined their school’s local Dungeons & Dragons club, which is called the Hellfire Club, led by Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn), who is a super senior also known for his rock music and connections to drugs. Eddie serves as the catalyst for Season 4’s main plot, as it takes off when cheerleader Chrissy Cunningham (Grace Van Dien) is murdered by a supernatural entity that possesses her body before twisting and contorting it while trying to buy drugs off of Eddie, which makes him the prime murder suspect. The kids eventually reunite as a group as more people are killed in the same way by an intelligent entity the kids name as Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower), who first invades the consciousnesses of his victims by forcing them into twisted daydreams, drawing comparison to Freddy Krueger.
Eleven eventually gets separated from the group, as she gets brutally bullied when Mike visits her, which prompts her to assault her bullies. The supernatural activity in Hawkins also prompts unwanted attention, as some government agencies thinks that she can help stop the recent string of killings, which were prompted by new openings to the Upside Down, while others think that she is the source of the issue. As such, she spends a lot of time in a secure location with “Papa”/Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) trying to get her powers back, with the hopes that they will be more powerful than ever.
Meanwhile, Joyce has her hands full, as she receives a cryptic message suggesting that her sort-of romantic partner and former Hawkins Police Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is still alive. She enlists the help of Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman) from last season, who cab speak Russian, and proves to be good in a fight. Meanwhile, Hopper is held captive in a Russian prison where he goes through hell trying to survive, which only gets worse when it’s revealed that the prison has a Demogorgon captive.
Concurrently, we also get side plots involving the older teenaged characters. Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan’s relationship is on shaky grounds, and she’s focusing most of her attention working for a small local newspaper where she hopes to uncover the truth about the murders. Meanwhile, Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) and Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke), who are having issues with their love life, get thrown into the fight against Vecna, and find themselves teamed up with Nancy.
We also get a minor plot with Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin), who finds himself at a crossroads between his old friend group at the Hellfire Club, and the Hawkins High School basketball team, as he ends up making the winning basket at a championship game after sitting on the bench all season. Jason Carver (Mason Dye), the team’s captain, was Chrissy’s boyfriend, and as such, has a perceived vendetta against Eddie and his club, believing that they are performing ritualistic sacrifices, and he uses his platform to try to persuade the town to join his cause by personally hunting Eddie down.
So far, Season 4 is a very good entry in the series. Everything that has worked in previous seasons works here — this cast has chemistry, and the Duffer Brothers (the show’s writer/directors) know how to use them. It does, however, feel like the stakes have been raised, as Vecna is a serial killer whose goals are alluded to be the same as the Mind Flayer’s (destroy the world), which is why part of the government wants to use Eleven to stop him.
Without spoiling anything, I will also say that Vecna is easily the best villain the show has had because he is intelligent and has clear goals — you’ll just have to wait until the end of Season 4: Volume 1 to find out what they are. It’s a nice departure from previous seasons, where most of the threat comes from unhinged monstrosities from the Upside Down that can’t be reasoned with or bargained with.
If you’ve made it this far into the show, you’ll enjoy Volume 1 of Season 4 immensely, though I will admit its best parts come towards the end when everything starts to gel together, and the show starts to reveal its hand.
“Stranger Things” Season 4: Volume 1 gets an 8.5/10