Warning: This review contains Spoilers for Strangers Things 4.
The 1980s in the United States was one of the craziest times ever. Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush led a conservative time when progress was pushing its way. The synth was alive and well, the music was terrific, and heavy metal rose. Satanic Panic was a real thing where entertainment in all forms was seen as cult-like or Satanism. The Duffer Brothers take Stranger Things 4 and fully encapsulate this time in American history. Taking a small town like Hawkins, Indiana, and showing just how Satanic Panic ruled the US.
Satanic Panic was mainly focused on Dungeons and Dragons, the game that Stranger Things is loosely based on. Several false arrests and accusations were made during this era from the 80s to the 90s. Some children were even thrown into mental institutions behind it. Some saw Metallica and Black Sabbath as Satanists; AC/DC was accused of being an abbreviation for Anti-Christ/Devil-Child. This would even spill over into the 90s. It was a very hectic time.
Stranger Things has always focused on a specific period, the 80s. With each season taking place from 1983-1986 so far. This season starts with all of our young protagonists, Mike, Will, Lucas, Dustin, Eleven, and Max, entering their first year in high school. Nancy, Johnathan, and Robin are Seniors, and Steve is out of school. Everybody is separated after the events of the third season that ended with the Mind Flayer killing Billy.
In Hawkins, Lucas is on the basketball team and looking to become popular. Dustin and Mike are still nerds, but they are a part of a Dungeons and Dragons club called Hellfire. Nancy is trying to get into her dream college, hoping Johnathan will join her. Lucas is also a member of Hellfire but tries to mask it by using the basketball team. Max is on her own, Robin is still in the band and trying to pursue a girl she likes, and Steve is still working at the video store with her.
In California, Eleven is having a hard time adjusting. Joyce has a job as a telemarketer. Johnathan has become a stoner that hangs with Argyle, and Will is still adjusting after so many chaotic episodes in his life. Eleven is writing to Mike, and she’s lying about her adjustment. She has no powers and is still seeking to find herself under all her trauma.
Hopper is still alive in Russia but is being held, prisoner. He’s looking for a way out, but an American prisoner in Russia during the Cold War is a sitting duck. He was also being held prisoner and about to be fed to a Demogorgon at the hands of an open gate inside the prison. He’s being helped by a guard named Antov to escape the prison.
These three locations are our central locations for this season, with our characters in place. Of course, we have the Upside Down as well. An area that includes Demogorgons, Demodogs, and The Mind Flayer. We are introduced to a new villain this season, though, Vecna. A creature that’s essentially if Spawn accepted the Devil’s deal and had the powers of Freddie Krueger. We are also introduced to several new characters, including Jason Carver, Vickie, Yuri, Antov, and Argyle.
The plot of this season, while simple, has very intricate points to it. Vecna was a boy named Henry. He murdered his family as a child, and his father, Victor Creel, was arrested for the murders. Henry had the psychic powers Eleven had. Dr. Brenner or Papa took him into his psychiatric hospital, where they planned to use the children’s abilities to fight the Soviets. Henry had a chip implanted in his neck that he tricked Eleven into taking out. In the opening sequence of this season, we saw a massacre happen in the Hawkins lab that we thought Eleven caused. In reality, Henry murdered those children, and Eleven sent him the Upside down.
Henry thought he was in hell or purgatory, but when he realized he wasn’t, he began to explore. He found The Mind Flayer and became his general. They created The Upside Down together, and he sought out Eleven to use her powers as a way to merge the two dimensions. After three failed attempts, he found another way. He could commit four murders and create new gates for him and his foot soldiers to enter Earth. He murders three students, Chrissy, Fred, and Patrick; his last victim is supposed to be Max. Max and the group figure out how to stop him and his music—using Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill to ground Max in our reality. Even after a battle with Eleven that contains the fourth murder, Vecna and The Mind Flayer still, find a way to merge the two dimensions.
Essentially that’s the main plot of this season. What about the other prominent sub-plot? Eddie Munson is accused as the murderer, and Hellfire is labeled a cult. As I stated, Satanic Panic was a big deal in the 1980s. Chrissy was with Eddie when she was murdered, and she was buying drugs. She was murdered right before Eddie at his home, and then he fled the scene. Her boyfriend Jason accuses Eddie and goes on a hunt for him with the basketball team. The Satanic cult label gets put on Hellfire, and Dustin, Lucas, Erica, Nancy, Steve, Robin, Max, and Eddie try to clear Eddie’s name while thinking of a way to defeat Vecna.
For the most part, the rest of this season is a big adventure for our other main characters, not in Hawkins. Eleven discovers the truth about the Brenner. Mike and Will mended their friendship while looking for Eleven and trying to help their Hawkins pals. Joyce, Hopper, and Murphy trying to help the children from Russia also played a significant part in this season. Everybody was separated, but you can genuinely work together when you truly have a connection with people, even apart. Even with all of that teamwork, Vecna and The Mind Flayer caused an Earthquake that rattled Hawkins and will lead us into season 5.
This season was by far the best. The plot was engrossing, the acting was incredible, the themes of the 80s were well woven in, and the score was phenomenal. The Duffer Brothers genuinely have a plan and are executing it well. The writers’ room (Duffer Bros, Paul Dichter, Kate Trefry, Caitlin Schneiderhan, and Curtis Gwen) did an excellent job writing this season. Each plot twist, each piece of information building on one another, and the dialogue created a superb viewing. The cinematography was indeed the cherry on top. Caleb Heymann, Lachlan Milne, and Brett Jutkiewicz all contributed to some amazing shots, including Eddie Munson’s Metal concert on top of his trailer in the Upside down.
The score undoubtedly was a very intricate part of this season. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein created an eerie aura for the viewer. They elevated the season with this score and soundtrack. Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill led the charge for the soundtrack and the TikTok numbers. Metallica’s Master of the Puppets, Dream a Little of Me by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong also contributed among songs from The Beach Boys, Kiss, and Journey. The mix of the score and soundtrack were things that hooked you in and kept you rocking and rolling this season.
There was some great acting as well this season. Sadie Sink and Millie Bobby Brown were AMAZING. As children and teens, they carried the weight of this season. Every time they graced the screen, they had your attention. They’ve begun to show why they continue to get scripts outside of Stranger Things. Caleb McLaughlin also continues to shine through and through. Joseph Quinn was my all-time favorite Stranger Things addition, and I hope that he makes a reappearance in season five. Eddie Munson will forever live on in Stranger Things lore. He was excellent, and I enjoyed every second he was onscreen. The whole cast was always amazing, but these were the standouts for me.
If I had to rank this season of Stranger Things among the other three, this is by far the best one. The villain wasn’t just some beast or ominous being. He was a walking, talking, vicious maniac that doesn’t take prisoners. Vecna was by far one of the best TV villains and possibly greatest villains ever. So many things integrated into this episode made it great, and it all culminated together. I’ve been a big fan of the show since the beginning and after the digression of the second season. They’ve spent the last two seasons figuring out how to keep their viewers and creating great stories for each season. This was by far the most ambitious and fantastic season, and I’m sure 2024 will give us one of the best endings ever. – Rascal F. Kennedy