The Duffer Brothers left viewers hanging with the gigantic cliffhanger at the end of Season 4: Volume 1 that *spoilers ahead* One/Henry Creel (Jamie Campbell Bower), whom Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) had befriended years ago when she was at Dr. Brenner’s (Matthew Modine) facility is indeed the villainous Vecna, who has been controlling the monster from the Upside Down the whole time, and plans on using his psychic powers in order to kill more victims not only to strengthen himself, but to rip a larger portal between the Upside Down and Earth.
It was a seriously good twist that gave direction to a series that from season to season lacked it, and it makes the monsters of the Upside Down not only more interesting, but more threatening. The Mind Flayer and the Russians, for example, were decent villains, but they lacked both a concrete, overall goal outside of dominating the world and any sort of relationship to the series’ protagonists to serve as devastating opponents capable of serving as foils to our protagonists.
Vecna on the other hand, is driven partially by revenge to get back at Eleven for banishing him to the Upside Down during their confrontation at the Brenner’s facility years ago, as well as a singular hatred for the world for not understanding him and rejecting him. He seeks to destroy the world and remake it as he sees fit because as a character, he’s always struggled with control, whether that be his inability to control the circumstances of his own life, or how he has been received by others.
Season 4: Volume 2 consists of two mammoth-sized episodes that partially resolve Volume 1’s conflict, while setting up the final fight between Vecna and the residents of Hawkins in Season 5.
We start Volume 2 with everyone split up into a few groups. Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Will (Noah Schnapp) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) Byers and Argyle (Eduardo Franco) are scouring the desert for Eleven in Argyle’s pizza delivery van, haven previously been ambushed by the forces of Lt. Colonel Jack Sullivan (Sherman Augustus), who tried to kill them. Eleven remains at a secure location with Brenner and Sam Owens (Paul Reiser), the latter of whom convinces her to join them in order to unlock her powers. They don’t have long though, as Sullivan’s forces soon find Owens’ compound, leaving Mike and company as Eleven’s only ticket out.
Meanwhile, the group back in Hawkins hatches a plan to ambush Vecna, and hopefully put an end to his terror once and for all. After learning of his goal to create a huge rift in Hawkins between our world and the Upside Down, Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke) and Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) enter the Upside Down to find Vecna’s version of his childhood home there, where they expect to find his physical body which they plan to destroy using weapons the group bought at a local ammunitions store. Elsewhere in the Upside Down, Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) and Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) are tasked with distracting the bats that protect Vecna.
In the regular world, in Vecna’s original house, Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) plan to draw Vecna out, as Max reveals that she can still feel him when she is not listening to the Kate Bush cassette that helped her stave him off the first time he tried to take her life.
Across the border in Russia, thousands of miles away, Jim Hopper (David Harbour), Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman), Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) and Dmitri “Enzo” Antonov (Tom Wlaschiha) escape the Russian prison that was holding Hopper while demogorgons rip it apart, with the captured Yuri Ismaylov (Nikola Đuričko) in tow. They force Yuri to get an old mothballed helicopter up and running to take them back to America, but when they realize that the kids are in danger, dealing with another Upside Down incident, they remember that its monsters operated via a hive mind, and decide to go back to the prison to kill the demogorgons there, knowing that it will buy the kids some time.
All plot lines converge in a beautiful, emotionally-charged finale that pays off in major ways, while still leaving plenty left over for Season 5 to address. Mild spoilers, this season has been compared to “The Empire Strikes Back” mostly because of how certain events play out, as while the kids are succeed in many ways, they do ultimately fail to stop Vecna’s plan from coming to fruition.
Major standouts of this volume are Eddie, Max, Hopper, Eleven and Mike, who all have important moments that exemplify the skill of their actors. Eddie in particular is the all-around standout of this season, as Quinn did a great job of bringing him to life as a fiercely loyal and courageous individual who has been greatly misunderstood especially by the town of Hawkins, who have unfairly judged him and blamed him for the killings that have been happening in the town. Despite all this, he tries his best to save the town that hates him, and that is precisely what makes him great as a character.
With four seasons of “Stranger Things” officially put to bed, the end nears for Season 5. It’s been a real treat watching these characters grow up on screen, which also mirrors the journeys of their actors coming into their own, finding their voices and mastering their craft. I have no doubt that great things will await much of this cast after this show — The Duffer Brothers found a very gifted group of child actors that have proven that they’re more than capable of tackling a wide range of challenging material.
Season 4 is a high note that the show will be hard-pressed to replicate, but I think all involved in the show’s production have what it takes to give this show the ending it deserves.
“Stranger Things” Season 4: Volume 2 gets a 9/10