7/10 After a three year hiatus due to the China Virus and a longer filming schedule due to this being the longest season yet, “Stranger Things” finally returns to Netflix with mostly positive results, improving upon season three. There is a lot to unpack here and while I genuinely enjoyed this season, I will get the negatives out of the way first.
Vol. 1
The biggest problem with this season (that has also plagued other seasons) is the Duffer Brothers (the creators/showrunners) inability to kill characters off. We saw this with Dr. Brenner/Papa getting attacked by a demodog and then magically surviving. In my season 3 review, I remarked how the character who clearly would have died in the season finale would somehow come back and the beginning of this season retcons how that character survived, despite the fact that they clearly would have died. This season gives us the absolute worst case of this problem yet with a character who literally dies, only for Eleven to bring them back to life. First off, Eleven has never had those powers so where did that even come from? Second, I hate when any movie or show can bring characters back from the dead because now I am not worried about anyone dying in the fifth and final season. If they do, Eleven can just bring them back. It kills any and all stakes once you establish that dead characters can come back at any time. Even Eleven actress Millie Bobby Brown stated that Matt and Ross Duffer are “sensitive Sallies who don’t want to kill anybody off.” She is absolutely right and when it comes to killing characters off, the Duffer Brothers have no balls between the two of them. Quentin Tarantino and/or George R. R. Martin might need to call them up with some advice. There are also some inconsistencies that are exposed. In earlier seasons, you needed a full hazmat suit to enter The Upside Down for fear of breathing in the floating spores. Now, anyone and everyone can run through The Upside Down, huffing and puffing lungs full of air with seemingly zero consequences. Similarly, when past characters were bitten by creatures from The Upside Down, they became infected or had to have a creature exercised from their body, like Eleven did in season three. However, a male character gets both of his sides munched on by bats in The Upside Down with no ramifications to follow. Eleven also didn’t really know how to speak back in the debut season but in flashbacks she is seen having full on conversations with a character named Henry. These inconsistencies are pretty glaring and contradictory. The beginning of the season is the weakest aspect with Eleven’s subplot. Evil government forces are still trying to hunt down Eleven yet Joyce decides it would be a great idea to stick her in a public school where anyone and everyone can see her. Add this to the fact that she is not at the same intellectual level as her peers due to never having gone to an actual school in her life and it makes no sense that she would be there in the first place. But the Duffer Brothers want her to be bullied at school to create some conflict, which I also didn’t buy. Eleven is a total badass who has saved the world on multiple occasions and overcome tons of past trauma. Yet now we are expected to believe that some kids saying mean words to her results in her having a complete mental breakdown and I never bought any of it for a second. Speaking of characters, Will has never had much to do for the entire series since he has generally just been the victim who is in constant danger. This season, he still doesn’t have much to do but is apparently gay now, with his sexuality having no bearing on anything happening. Making a character gay isn’t character development but don’t tell that to the folks at Netflix. We are also given a new character in Argyle who not only isn’t funny but is just a stoner stereotype who says, “My dudes” so many times that I thought I was watching Crush in “Finding Nemo” for a minute. His character gets old fast, despite his limited screen time. There is also a ridiculous moment with a prison escape and while it overall works, the fact that Russians have a shed full of dynamite and the ability to light it, right next to a bunch of prisoners was incredibly stupid and convenient. Finally, while I’ve praised past seasons for not jamming too many 1980s songs into the show but instead using music sparingly to make each individual song more impactful, this season uses Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)” about as many times as Eleven has had a nose bleed in the series. While the song is solid and works extremely well in certain moments (the climax of “Dear Billy”/episode four), they beat this dead horse repeatedly by playing the song so much that you’ll have every word of it memorized by the time the season ends. Just because it works once or twice doesn’t mean it will work by the 30th time. While I just listed a ton of valid complaints but am still giving this season a 7/10 (lower than the first two seasons but higher than the third), you might be confused as to why the score isn’t lower due to all of these problems. Well that is because of all the positives that I am about to list off are done so damn well. What works really works and there have been some improvements in certain areas of the show.
Vol. 2
With each passing season the visual effects have only gotten stronger. The season finale alone has more VFX shots than all of season three combined. This looks better than recent Marvel movies, if that’s any indication of how high the quality is here. The villain, despite being a little too similar to Voldemort, is an exciting and memorable villain. While past villains in earlier seasons were creatures who couldn’t talk and had no personality, we are actually given a villain with some fascinating background and a personality. He looks intimidating and menacing and is the best villain “Stranger Things” has given us yet. The direction is strong across the board with “Stranger Things” veteran Shawn Levy crushing the two episodes he was given and despite some of the poor writing choices in terms of what I mentioned earlier, the Duffer Brothers do direct the Hell out of their episodes and upon re-watching the first three seasons, their direction has really grown stronger over the years. They are able to give a balanced amount of time to each group of characters as our main characters are split into three or four groups this season. Splitting characters up was smart so we don’t feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of characters and it gives characters like Lucas, who previously felt like a 4th wheel, room to develop and grow. Having what each group is going through simultaneously escalate is quite the balancing act and the Duffer Brothers really pulled that off. The action is well done, the darker, more violent and gory tone that we get this season is refreshing since there is less forced humor (minus Argyle of course). The show has really embraced the sci-fi horror aspects, making for the most mature season yet. The longer run times didn’t bother me at all as each episode was well paced, highly entertaining and sucks you in from start to finish. Despite how long the season was, I didn’t feel like there was any wasted time or fat to trim. Most of the characters are given something to do and get highly emotional moments that may very well bring you to tears. The acting is phenomenal across the board and while acting is rarely given proper recognition in any film or show set in the science fiction, fantasy or horror genres, it can’t be stated enough how fantastic these performances are. While Argyle left much to be desired, not all new characters fell short. One of the highlights of the season was Joseph Quinn as Eddie Munson, who was a richly layered character who was a joy to spend time with. Flashbacks are well utilized and despite the overuse of “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)”, the season’s score is fantastic and other songs are used to great affect (Moby’s “When It’s Cold I’d Like to Die” comes to mind), even though they are all overshadowed by Kate Bush. While there are many flaws with this season, they are never drastic enough to make you hate the show or make you want to turn it off. Yes, the flaws are valid and shouldn’t be downplayed but I still loved watching this season unfold and if the Duffer Brothers can grow some balls and kill off some characters in the fifth and final season (I have a feeling Nancy will end up with whichever one of her love interests lives), I have a feeling we will be in for quite a treat. “Stranger Things”, despite some mild ups and downs has remained consistently good overall for a modern show but we all know how great shows can be brought down by horrible endings (“Game of Thrones”, “Dexter”, etc.) so here’s to hoping the Duffer Brothers stick their landing.

#ByersRemorse / #RunningUpThatHenryHill / #BleedingRainbow / #RockinsAndRollin / #SadMax / #TheHellfireBreakfastClub

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