- Young Critic
Stranger Things (Season 4, Part 2)
Part 2 features the climactic, but safe finale
It seems as if the last couple of weeks have been scheduled precisely to overwhelm fantasy and sci-fi nerds, with the rolling out of episodes from The Boys (2019-), Westworld (2016-), Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022), and now the second part of season four of Stranger Things (2016-).
Part 2 of Season 4 of Stranger Things is really the season finale crammed into two movie-length episodes. The set-up of the evil Upside-Down villain Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower) in Part 1 is exploited for an action-packed finale that can instead focus on the climactic and emotional beats. We continue to follow Eleven (Millie Bobbi Brown) as she tries to regain her powers in Dr. Brenner’s (Matthew Modine) facility, the group back in Hawkins is making ready to enter the Upside-Down and face Vecna, while the Russian troupe trying to save Hopper (David Harbour) attempt to help their allies from afar.
Matt and Ross Duffer helm these last two important episodes and as always, their directing capabilities continue to impress. From the staging of dramatic moments without falling into tacky territory, to the framing of menacing and horror-like aspects to up the ante. However, their sloppy composition of season four’s narrative still weighs down these last two episodes. One gets the feeling that the Duffer brothers are not so much interested in bringing a singular story to a close with this season, as they are in trying to justify its importance and set up the next season. As such, Part 2 of Season 4 relies much on flashbacks and connections to previous seasons, which try to illustrate, rather desperately, how this season’s villain is truly the “big bad.” However, given that Stranger Things has become one of the biggest IPs for Netflix, this has constrained it creatively. The dangers and stakes are continually lowered as character deaths play it safe, and narrative arcs never stray too far from the original formula. The popularity of Stranger Things simply doesn’t let it take risks anymore, for fear of upsetting the legions of fans, as such a stale and predictable rhythm begins to take hold.
That’s not to say that Stranger Things season 4 is not enjoyable, in a blockbuster-y sort of way, it is only the superb cast and directing talent that add a shiny veneer on the otherwise by-the-numbers narrative. The standouts of Bobbi Brown, Sadie Sink, and Joe Keery continue to impress. However, the large and talented cast is too unwieldy once again, so that many supporting characters such a Will, Mike, and Jonathan are given laughable subplots to entertain themselves with. This dilutes the power of the stronger arcs in season 4, by contrasting it with lazy writing that feels more like the race to fill a quota than a true creative inspiration.
Stranger Things Season 4 Part 2 is the stronger half of the season, albeit because it has the benefit of going straight to the point and climax and forgoes any necessary set-up. The climax and finale are exciting enough, if safe and predictable. Part 2 is really another showcase for the incredible young talent both in front and behind the camera. There is supposedly only one more season left from the Duffer Brothers at the helm of Stranger Things. It doesn’t seem, however, that they would be learning from the mistakes of this season, and try to narrow the scope of their story and characters down. Instead we seem to be entering the big blockbuster territory, where populism and crowd-pleasing take precedent over creative fluency. And of course, who is going to believe that Netflix will simply let one of their most lucrative assets ride off into the sunset? We’re sure to have much more Stranger Things for many years to come, whether it comes from the same talented cast and directors, that’s the real question.