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Season 4 [Premiere]

Aired On: Netflix
Release Date: 05/27/22
Drama. Fantasy. Horror.


"When a young boy disappears, his mother, a police chief and his friends must confront terrifying supernatural forces in order to get him back."


Stranger Things Season 4 was released this past week after a three-year hiatus from the show. Picking up after the events of season three that have forced Eleven and the Byers family out of Hawkins into Indiana, season four proves itself to be long worth the wait. Times have been changing, both for our central cast which has aged 7 years since the show began back in 2016, and for the show itself, which has staged itself to be about loss, trauma, and growing up.  


The first episode is a catch-up episode, showing us what has transpired with Joyce, Eleven, Mike, Dustin, Lucas, Will, Max and Nancy in the last 185 days in the show. High school proves to have a lot of challenges for each of these characters, who have all lost something in the season three finale that others don’t seem to understand or respect. Eleven’s difficulty communicating with others is exasperated tenfold when moving to a new town. The Byers are all stressed out about work and college prospects. Mike and Dustin are looking forward to the final session of their weekly Dungeons and Dragons campaign, but scheduling conflicts force Lucas to choose between his unpopular friends and the big championship basketball game. Max is more alone than ever, having to care for herself thanks to the events of season three. This season is darker and lonelier than ever before, and it’s absolutely captivating TV.


And for a cast that has aged 6 years since the first season, Stranger Things season 4 doesn’t feel too out of place. Characters have grown up, and with that comes new, darker challenges for the story to wrestle with. Much like everyone's favourite wizard, Harry Potter, Stranger Things is getting darker as it grows up. Millie Bobby Brown continues to be the standout performer of the bunch, portraying the lonelier, isolated and hopeless Eleven perfectly. Her facial performance is top-notch, emphasizing Elevens boiling emotions with her eyes. By extension, Sadie Sink continues to kill it as Max Mayfield, whose own coping mechanisms have forced her into isolation from everyone else. Her pained delivery of lines, and inability to hold eye contact through forced conversations are masterful. That isn’t to say that every character is given equal material. Mike, Dustin and Lucas are stuck in familiar high school tropes, and the writing for Dustin especially highlights the age of Gaten Matarazzo. Finn Wolfhard and Caleb McLaughlin still give compelling performances, but the writing hasn’t matured completely with these characters yet.


From a technical perspective, however, Stranger Things is looking sharper than ever. The cinematography and editing are both surprisingly competent compared to the majority of Netflix’s original content, pulling you emotionally into every scene. Basic editing techniques are employed skillfully to build emotion into every scene, whether it’s humour or horror. Intercutting, voiceover, and lighting all reveal new information to the audience that can clash with what has been presented in other sequences. Shots hold to enhance the emotions of these characters we have come to know and love. And while these elements are the barebone essentials of filmmaking and television, it is no less worthy of praise. Cinematographer Caleb Heymann gives certain scenes of the episode a dusty, nostalgic look that is both a reminder of where we have been with these characters and pulls it away when characters are having to deal with the present and reality.  


Stranger Things also is astonishing from a visual effect perspective. After being given a whopping 30 million dollar budget, it should come as no surprise that the show looks good. But in a market that repeatedly rushes VFX, Stranger Things season 4 feels exceptionally well done. There aren’t many effects throughout the pilot episode, but the few appearances are powerful enough to send shivers down your spine. Between the practical work being done on set, to the post-production CGI and the sound mixing, everything works for Stranger Things. Its horror is simply effective and captivating, teasing out the new big bad evil guy while keeping us on our toes.


All of this greatness has the potential to be really fantastic, but it comes at a large cost: each episode this season is over an hour long. The shortest sits at 64 minutes, but most of them are comfortably 75 minutes long in length. For a show that became hugely popular due to the Netflix binge model of television, Stranger Things season 4 requires a lot of time to binge. The individual episode pacing isn’t terrible, though the requirement to binge and “get in on the conversation” makes season 4 the most inaccessible of the show's three seasons. The individual episode pacing leans further into the HBO weekly style, with a lot of moving parts that are told in largely isolated chunks. Altogether, the Stranger Things pacing doesn’t gel together with Netflix’s content drop format, and that causes episodes to feel bloated despite some stellar episode pacing. 


The other small problem associated with the show is its portrayal of Dungeons and Dragons, though this isn’t a unique problem. While the sequences are shot with a clear micro-story in mind, the jargon can prove itself to be an in-joke that won’t land for many. It’s a small problem that seasoned Stranger Things fans won’t find out of the ordinary, but newcomers may have trouble with.


All this to say, Stranger Things season 4 has a lot of promise. I know that I will be watching this season one episode a week, just because I believe it’s told the best that way and because I don’t care too much about the discourse. And with the season finale dropping in July, it’s likely to still be relevant by the time I catch up.

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