Warning: This post contains spoilers
At first glance whenen it premiered on Netflix in 2016, Stranger Things looked a lot like Super 8, that awful overrated Steven Spielbergian fan fiction movie from J.J. Abrams that should’ve been easily called Close Encounters of the Goonies Kind. I’m not saying that the movie was one of the worst movies ever made, but I was expecting something more than this. Maybe it was the product of bad marketing, but I found myself very bored in that flick from the start.
Stranger Things, created by the Duffer Brothers (Matt and Ross), seemed to follow the same premise. There were a group of tween boys we were following who discover some type of paranormal/supernatural behavior is happening in their idyllic town. There’s the law enforcement figure who at first seems to be antagonistic but becomes more sympathetic. There’s the single parent trying to recover from a personal issue.
Immediately from the front used in the title, I remember the same used in titles of those 1980s Stephen King novels I had started reading myself when I was the boys’ same ages. The premise was far better than Super 8 because it followed a more coherent plot. (Can we just agree we didn’t give a damn about that stupid movies the boys in Super 8 were making?) In Stranger, the characters seemed more geniune.
Set in the fictional Midwestern town of Hawkins, Ind. (which I must admit is mostly the Jackson, Ga. where my dad and stepmother live so I’m biased), you got the feel that they were trying to set up a slice of America of uncertainty in the early 1980s. Reaganomics was in full force and Americans were blindly trying to put the turmoil of the 1970s behind them at whatever costs. While most of the youth just wanted to have fun.
Over the previous three seasons, the circle of friends, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin Henderson (Gatan Matarazzo who incorporated his own cleidocranal dysplasia into the role) and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) seemed like a typical group of kids who would have their friendships tested by they’re associations with the mysterious Eleven/Jane (Millie Bobbie Brown), a young girl who was the product of testing at the nearby Hawkins Institute. Eleven, who has telekinetic powers that can be very dangerous would catch the eye of Mike. In the second season, we were introduced to Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) a tomboyish new student who becomes the object of attraction between Lucas and Dustin.
The first season dealt with Dustin, Mike and Lucas dealing with the disappearnance of Will and how it affects their family. Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) is the mother of Will and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton). Jonathan has a crush and a later relationship with Mike’s sister, Nancy (Natalia Dyer), who became more popular after dating Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) who seemed the typical preppie jock. But in later seasons, Stever would become more friendly to Dustin and his friends.
There’s also Jim Hopper (David Harbour), the chief of police for Hawkins who is struggling from the death of his own child and a failed marriage. Hopper became more sympathetic toward the events that happened and eventually took in Eleven to raise as her surrogate father in season two, while initially trying to shield her from the public. He would eventually let her go out and interact with other people her own age.
The fourth season set in 1986 less than a year after the events of previous season finds the circle of friends going through some problems. Hopper is believed to have sacrificied himself to save the town, but actually was transported through a portal to the Soviet Union where he is being held prisoner. Since he’s believed to have died, Joyce has taken in Eleven now mostly going by Jane as they have moved to California. Sadly, Jane is dealing with bullying and being considered an outsider.
In Hawkins, Lucas has gone out for the basketball team and has a brand new set of friends who want him to spend their weekend nights getting drunk. Mike and Dustin are still playing Dungeons and Dragons with the older high schoolers in a group, Hellfire Club, led by Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn), an outcast and drug dealer at the high school.
It’s also revealed that Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) the scientist who oversaw the Hawkins Institute that closed at the end of the second season is still alive. Along with his associate, Sam Owens (Paul Reiser), they are searching for Eleven/Jane. Owens, who worked for the Department of Energy has helped Joyce take Eleven/Jane away to start anew, but now is being hunted by the U.S. military.
Joyce receives a package from the Soviet Union that indicates that Hopper is alive and works as a way to get him back with help from Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman), Hopper’s friend who’s also a conspiracy theorist. This involves them going to Alaska at the start of Spring Break when Mike has arrived to spend time with Will and Eleven/Jane who has been lying about how bad things are for her in the fictional town of Lenora, Calif. This results in her assaulting a bully for which she is later arrested.
But when she is being transported, Eleven/Jane is taken by government officials to meet Owens who takes her to an underground lab where she finds out Brenner is alive. And Eleven/Jane will discover the origins of the experiments and what really happened. A prologue implies that Eleven, when she was younger, went mad and murdered the other child test subjects which led to the tense relationship she had with Brenner. But there’s also a mysterious orderly played by Jamie Campbrell Bower that has more to him.
Joyce and Murray soon find out that their plan to find Hopper isn’t going to be as easy. Hopper, along with a prison guard, Dmitri “Enzo” Antonov (Tom Wiaschicha) who is caught helping him, are being prepared to battle a Demogorgon for the Soviet’s amusement.
Back in Lenora, Will, Mike and Jonathan find themselves running when military officials come up guns firing seeking Eleven/Jane’s location, so they find themselves on the run with the help of Jonathan’s stoner friend and co-worker, Argyle (Eduardo Franco). I’ll admit this subplot is the least interesting so far. And in the seventh episode, none of these characters appear nor are they missed. Yet I know it’s all leading to something.
Back in Hawkins, Lucas, Dustin and Max along with Nancy, Steve and his friend and co-worker, Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke) are dealing with a community in the perils of the Satanic Panic. Eddie has been accused of murdering a local cheerleader, Chrissy Cunningham (Grace Van Dien), who was actually killed by a supernatureal being, Vecna, from the Upside Down. Since her body is found with limbs contorted and her body mangled, law enforcement feel it was the part of a satanic ritual. This is fueled by Chrissy’s boyfriend, Jason Carver (Mason Dye), the star player on the basketball team.
However, Eddie’s uncle, Wayne Munson (Joel Stoffer), tells Nancy, who goes investigating the murder for the student newspaper, that Chrissy’s death is similar to murders committed in the past by Victor Creel (played with a great cameo by Robert Englund). Also Max believes there’s more to Chrissy’s murder as she lives in a trailer near Eddie’s trailer and witnessed the two together the night of Chrissy’s death. Max, herself, is grieving the loss of her stepbrother, Billy Hargrove (Darce Montgomery), who died at the end of season three, and feels she may suffer the same fate as Chrissy.
If you’ve been totally avoiding social media in the past two weeks, you probably haven’t heard how the season focuses more on Max during certain episodes. And the young Sink really gives and Emmy contender performance as a youth who feels isolated and misunderstood. At the heart of the season so far is that filling of growing up and trying to remain closer to your friends as things change. After what these young people have been through it’s hard for them to remain the same.
Lucas says his reason for being on the basketball team is to make him as well as his friends more popular. But maybe he’s outgrowing D&D and his relationship with Max is over at the beginning of the season, but he obviously still has feelings for her. Steve, himself, is still reeling over his relationship with Nancy as she is more interested in Jonathan. But they are in a strained relationship as well. The friendship between Will and Mike is strained as Will thinks Mike is more interested in Eleven/Jane than him. And this is all part of just growing up. In the second season, Mike, Dustin, Will and Lucas were shocked to find themselves the only ones in their middle school grade to dress up for Halloween. They were dressed as the Ghostbusters.
This is what keeps Stranger Things from being the “Nostaglia Porn” that other TV shows and movies set in the 1980s and 1990s have fallen victim to. While there might be a mention of New Coke or the Ewoks cartoon, it doesn’t dwell on it. Maybe intentionally or unintentionally, the episodes are all longer than an hour in length with an average of 70 minutes. This is a throwback to the 1970s TV movies that used to be about 70-75 minutes long without commercials.
The seventh episode which spotlights the events that happened at the Hawkins Institute is as long as a feature movie at about 100 minutes with credits. The Duffer Brothers, along with directors Nimrod Antal and Shawn Levy, have crafted a season that is thrilling and spotlights the actors’ talents. I’ll admit the character of Will is the least interesting and he wasn’t in the first season as much. I think the Duffers never did really intend the series to be as successfull and popular and he still remains the most extraneous character on the series.
But what has helped the series is how the additional characters each season have helped propel the plots. Since the characters are getting older, we’re seeing less of Dustin’s mother, Lucas’ parents as well as Mike and Nancy’s parents. I think this is the right move. This is still an era in which a lot of teenagers could leave the house at seven in the morning during the summer or on Spring Break and just be home by sunset without a second thought. The Satanic Panic and fears over role-playing games was starting to taper off by 1986, but that still doesn’t mean a community like Hawkins, with its history, would be naive enough to believe some “outcasts” would be Satan cultist. It’s still an era in which smoking pot was considered worse than a bunch of jocks getting drunk every weekend.
There’s no way the Duffers were expecting Covid-19 to hit and affect the entertainment industry so hard as it did the rest of the world. Grief and recovery is at the center of this season as in the previous season had many residents of Hawkins becoming possessed and dying as it was covered up in a mall fire. The grief that Max, Joyce and Eleven/Jane are dealing with can be felt by many viewers who have lost someone over the past two years. My girlfriend, herself a big fan of the show, died earlier this year, not from Covid, but from an illness. A college friend also died shortly after that. So certain scenes especially the use of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” hit much harder for viewers.
The Duffers have said this will be the penultimate season as the fifth is expected to be the last. And since three years have passed unfortunately due to Covid, it’s hard to keep these young actors more believable as teenagers. While Brown just turned 18, Keery just turned 30. While the season dropped on May 27, two final episodes are expected to drop on July 1 to wrap up the season. And while that date is rapidly approaching each day, let’s hope it continues the momentum so far.
What do you think? Please comment.