Upon launching on Netflix yesterday morning (July 1st, 2022), Stranger Things Season 4, Volume 2, broke the streaming service. Millions of people across the globe drove traffic to the platform in numbers that were likely unprecedented, eager to see just how the jaw-dropping fourth season would reach its conclusion.
Once Netflix had got its act together, I also decided to jump in and, whilst I expected one hell of a ride, there were still moments and twists in this tale that left me open-mouthed and shouting at the television.
We rejoined the group in Hawkins as Vecna had infiltrated Nancy’s mind, filling it with visions of the future he had planned for the small town and eventually, the world beyond it. Utterly devastated by the death and destruction that the former Number 1 was capable of, she resolved to act and bring his terror to an end, before he was given any more opportunity to bridge the divide between the regular world and that of the Upside Down. With Steve, Robin, Max, Lucas, Erica, Dustin and Eddie by her side, a smart but ultimately incredibly dangerous plan was put into place: Max would act as bait for Vecna so that the others could infiltrate his lair and do whatever it takes to end his life.
The level of acting in this group is truly on another level. Sadie Sink of course stands out, given perhaps the toughest narrative to tangle with but beautifully executing every word she utters and movement she makes. She is one of, if not THE ultimate star of this current generation of actors.
Meanwhile, over in Russia, Joyce and Hopper’s reunion is marred by the fact that they still need to make it out of the Soviet Union and back to America. Later making the discovery that those they love the most are at risk, they vow to put their lives on the line once again to make it back into Hopper’s former prison and rip a chunk out of the Upside Down’s Hive Mind, so that their kids get the upper hand.
Then there’s Eleven, still going through experiments at the secret underground lab with Brenner and Owens, not knowing that the military are on her tracks and willing to do whatever it takes to put a bullet in her head, convinced she is the person responsible for the grisly deaths in Hawkins.
Matthew Modine must be given major props for his performance as Brenner throughout the years. He has had audiences hating him at times, empathising at others and in this season in particular, almost convinced that he has Eleven’s best interests at heart; along with his will for saving the world. Sadly, the doctor couldn’t let go of the idea of remodelling all that came after that in his own image, putting his selfish desires ahead of the basic right of autonomy that Eleven is entitled to. It led to his demise, but not before he was given one last chance at redemption and simple humanity.
This moment stood side-by-side with Eleven’s group of friends - Will, Mike, Jonathan and newbie Argyle - making it to the secret facility just in time to see Eleven’s abilities back at full throttle. Seeing them all together again is another cherished memory from a pair of final episodes that was in need of a few happy spots, dotted around all of the tragedy.
Of course, what we will all remember most from this season finale, was the battle between Vecna and Eleven. Having successfully invaded Max’s mind and going to war against her former friend, it seemed she got the upper hand thanks to the element of surprise. Upon regaining his composure, however, Vecna proved more powerful. Rendering Eleven useless, he went to work on Max, as Lucas watched her lift into the air, limbs snapping and eyes going foggy. In what we all expected to be her final moments, Eleven mustered something from deep within her, thanks to the help of Mike, breaking free of the Upside Down’s tentacle-like chains and blasting Vecna before he could get the job done - or so we thought.
Back in the real world, the divide between Hawkins and the Upside Down was torn open thanks to Vecna successfully opening his fourth and final gate. Max’s life slipped away as Lucas watched helplessly on. Still in her mind, Eleven went to work in trying to breathe some life back into her friend. Over in the Upside Down, Eddie distracted the Demobats to the point where they inflicted deadly wounds, so that Nancy, Steve and Robin could light Vecna on fire. Dustin sobbed as Eddie said goodbye, emotional but peaceful in the fact that he had stayed and become a hero. Then, we got a two-day time-jump.
The destruction was blamed on an earthquake unlike any the world had ever seen. People were fleeing Hawkins in their droves, whilst members of the community got to work in supporting one another. Max lay in a coma in hospital and, when Eleven visited her, she tried to tap into her mind once more. All she saw there was darkness; Max’s future looks bleak.
Haunted by all that has happened, Eleven remains withdrawn back at home. Then, Hopper makes it home. Cue the tears, as the pair traded innocent barbs and held each other close, after months of thinking they wouldn’t see one another ever again. Of course, the happiness was short-lived. Will can feel Vecna’s presence still looming. He knows that he is simply recovering and biding his time before launching his all-out assault on Hawkins and beyond. For now, they can plan ahead. But the foundations have been laid for a deadly fifth and final season; and what a chaotic bunch of episodes that last outing is going to be.
I also can’t finish writing up this review without mentioning the incredible scenes in which Will - played by Noah Schnapp - inadvertently speaks about “being different”. His sexual identity is one that fans have been speculating over for a lot of this current season, but showrunners handled the matter with such delicacy and realism, treating it with the importance that it demands without resorting to turning it into a bit of salacious street gossip; a trap that many other shows have fallen into. Kudos to them for that; and of course the stunning way in which Robin’s sexuality has been handled. A perfect end to Pride Month 2022.
Stranger Things Seasons 1-4 are available to stream now in their entirety, exclusively on Netflix.