Stranger Things is the best its ever been in season 4. The stakes have never felt higher, the character development is phenomenal, for both old and new characters, along with how important and pivotal each of them feel to different parts of the story, the acting is fantastic, and it includes the best villain the series has ever had. From top to bottom, it’s hard to find a flaw, and I’m legitimately bummed it’s all coming to an end soon.
I’m going to be honest about my overall thoughts concerning Stranger Things, even though they’re mostly positive. When season 1 first came out, I wasn’t part of the majority who immediately jumped on the hype train, but eventually, I decided to watch it after hearing the overwhelmingly positive buzz surrounding it. Sure enough, I loved it. I thought it was the perfect combination of original and creative storytelling, while also and obviously being heavily inspired by the same pop culture films, stories, and references that have been the inspirations for a variety of the entertainment from different mediums we see today. My anticipation for season 2 was through the roof. When it finally released, I can say I enjoyed it, but I don’t think it was nearly as good as what came before it. I can say the same about season 3. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean these seasons were terrible by any means. In fact, both are actually pretty great, and certain moments, scenes, and character beats are some of my favorite moments in the entire series (Hopper’s monologue/letter to Eleven still triggers all the feels).
Needless to say, I was looking forward to Stranger Things 4, like most people, but there are numerous factors as to why I wasn’t extremely excited for it to arrive. Some of those factors include a few I’ve already mentioned above, including how the follow-up seasons didn’t really live up to the greatness the first one established. Another big factor is how long it took for it to finally release on Netflix. I mean, Stranger Things 3 released on July 3, 2019, which was almost exactly three years ago. I love the show, don’t get me wrong, but I believe most people tend to forget about certain things, especially films and TV shows, when there’s a substantial absence of it. Plus, it isn’t like there weren’t other activities I wasn’t preoccupied doing, including watching many other films and series which released during that 3-year gap. At long last though, Stranger Things 4 is here, and with full confidence, I can say it’s the best season yet. As a matter of fact, I may even say it’s one of the best seasons of any series I’ve ever seen, ever. This doesn’t mean there aren’t specific details I didn’t enjoy and that it’s perfect, but it’s pretty damn close, and I don’t go throwing around that term fairly often. Before I dig into the nitty gritty, this’ll mostly be a spoiler-free review. Then again, I feel it’s necessary to discuss certain plot points from past seasons. You’ve had almost 3 years to catch up, so give me a break.
In the season 3 finale, we see Hopper seemingly disintegrate after Joyce is forced to cause an explosion, which closes the gate to the Upside Down, and we’re all led to believe Hopper is gone. More plot developments happen, of course, but the main thing is Eleven is adopted by Joyce and them, along with Will and Jonathan, are forced to move away from Hawkins. Season 4 kicks off with Eleven coping with her new life without Hopper, being away from her boyfriend Mike, trying to fit in with everyone at school and in her new life, and no longer being able to utilize her powers and abilities. We see Hopper is still alive after being captured by Russian soldiers and is placed in a prison in Russia. Everyone else is going about their lives, including Steve, Max, Dustin, Lucas, Nancy, Robin, Joyce, and Murray, to name a few. There are some new characters, but the main ones who stand above the rest include Joseph Quinn’s Eddie Munson, Eduardo Franco as Argyle, Tom Wlaschiha as Enzo, Nikola Duricko’s Yuri. Then, of course, there’s the main antagonist (who’s absolutely phenomenal) is Vecna, who I’ll be speaking plenty about throughout this interview while keeping the nature of who he is under wraps.
As mentioned earlier, my anticipation for this was fairly high, but at the same time, not entirely too crazy where my expectations weren’t kept in check. After seeing it in its entirety, I’m convinced this is the best the series has ever been and I find it hard to believe the next part can improve on what this one established, although I’m hopeful since season 4 is better than I could’ve ever imagined. From the get-go, I think this season does an incredible job giving all the characters an interesting story arc that makes sense based on what has already happened in prior seasons. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I state every single character feels very important to what’s going on and every single one is an improved version of themselves in terms of character development. This isn’t saying these characters aren’t the best versions of who they are, of course, but this season highlights each and every person’s personal trauma, how they’re coping with specific situations, how they interact with each other, and how relationships can change so quickly when life throws strenuous and unforeseen circumstances at you. It’s a beautiful message about personal growth and even though some may stray away due to distance or every day life, you come together when it matters most, and it makes all the difference.
The stakes have never felt higher in this series. From the very first episode, you know things are about to go down and it rarely lets up. But, don’t get it twisted. It never feels messy or convoluted, despite everything it’s throwing at you, including plot developments, characters revelations, and all the twists and turns along the way, you never (at least myself) get lost in all the madness. The story is pretty easy to follow and keep up with, you believe the characters in everything they do and what they’re going through, and everything feels like a constant build-up to the climax. Most importantly, I truly believe the main villain really holds it all together since you’re spending most of the time trying to unravel who he is and what his motivations are. Other than the Mind Flayer, the series has never had a villain quite as menacing as Vecna. Sure, the Mind Flayer was, at times, chilling and there are some moments that’ll raise the hairs on your body, but it mostly manifests itself in characters we already know. The perfect example is Billy, who Dacre Montgomery portrays, and does a fantastic job doing so. However, you only get brief glimpses of its true nature in the series. Vecna is the complete opposite. You see exactly what he looks like the moment he reveals himself and the design/make-up is stellar. It’s great to be able to put an actual face and appearance to a specific character most of us can actually relate to. I mean, sure, he doesn’t necessarily look human, but he stands on two feet, like us, has two arms, and actually speaks a language we can understand. We can’t say the same for the rest of the villains we’ve season in prior seasons, including the Mind Flayer, the Demogorgon, and so on.
Vecna might be one of the best villains of the year, and one of my favorite on-screen antagonists in quite some time. From his introduction, you know he’s a being not to be trifled with. He makes his presence immediately known and the way he goes about his mission and how he deals with his targets will make your stomach turn. I can’t remember any previous season being this graphic. The Duffer Brothers really turned it up a notch. No season prior to this one has felt this gory or gut-wrenching to watch. This isn’t to say seasons 1-3 don’t showcases similar moments, but season 4 really ups the ante. I would say more about this character, but it would be digging into spoiler territory, so maybe another time.
There are so many characters I enjoyed watching this season. I’ll only delve a bit deeper into my absolute favorite ones, but some other standouts include Eleven, Dustin, Joyce, Lucas, and Murray. I feel each and everyone of these characters had awesome arcs and each took a leap forward in their development. It’s crazy to see how far most of these characters have come, especially those who started out so young and have matured into the young, extremely talented actors they’ve become. Joyce demonstrates her loyalty and determination this season, which was never in question, but now, as a viewer, you absolutely have no doubts about the lengths she’s willing to go for the people she cares about. The three characters I really enjoyed watching the most, however, were Hopper, Eddie, Max, and Steve.
I think I speak for every fan when I say we all sighed with relief when it was revealed Hopper was still very much alive. Then again, at the same time, there’s a sense of pity, considering he’s in Russia as a prisoner, and in those conditions, at least sometimes, he might’ve been better off dead. It’s a harsh statement, sure, but at least he would be at peace instead of suffering and being alone. What I loved the most about Hopper this season is his determination and perseverance. He had his moments of hopelessness, and rightfully so, but he kept fighting on and had some wonderful character moments, which only made me root for him even more so.
I wasn’t sure what to think of Eddie at the start of the season. Honestly, he gave off some bully vibes and I figured he would be a character I didn’t care about as the season progressed. I couldn’t be more wrong, though. As a viewer, you quickly find out how awesome he really is and, deep down, how good of a person he is. His friendship with Dustin is one of my favorite things to see this season, and he arguably has one of the best moments when he starts guitar shredding. Max has probably been dealt the toughest hand out of everyone. Sure, they’re all going through stuff and they each have to deal with the threat of Vecna, but season 4 really makes it feel personal towards Max in terms of the danger she’s in and how she’s a constant target. ”Dear Billy” is one of the best episodes in the entire series and Sadie Sink is simply fantastic in it.
Finally, there’s the notorious Steve Harrington. This is another character I absolutely couldn’t stand in season 1. However, as the series has gone on, I’m not sure there’s another character who has had a better character redemption than Steve. He’s put through the ringer this season, that’s for sure, but he also establishes himself as a leader and a role model for many.
I don’t think, in terms of special effects, there’s been a season that has ever been this visually stunning. There are so many memorable set pieces, especially the sequences in the Upside Down and Vecna’s lair. Then again, it’s expected, given the major success and pop culture phenomenon Stranger Things has grown into. It shows how the special effects and editing becomes increasingly more impressive, and it’s obvious Netflix is fully on-board, possibly by beefing up the budget more and more each season. The writers continue to be more creative and innovative in the writing department as well. We all know Stranger Things is heavily inspired by popular media that came before it, but the Duffer Brothers have managed to keep it fresh and original by blending in some new stories with familiar themes. Season 4 is the perfect example of this, giving off plenty of “The Nightmare on Elm Street” and ”Hellraiser” vibes.
Stranger Things has never felt this emotionally engaging, has never looked this visually stunning, and has never had an antagonist as menacing and chilling as Vecna. It’s crazy to see how far these characters have come and grown, and how each of them become more and more interesting with each passing season. I still absolutely love season 1, but Stranger Things 4 is a crowning achievement with little flaws and the final season can’t come soon enough.