Stranger Things season 4 part 2 feels like the stakes have never been higher. Netflix has given Ross and Matt Duffer creative license and proper budget to deliver an amazingly well crafted piece of horror. The Duffer brothers also have given the fans respect in terms of not just giving them what they want to see but what they need to experience.
What follows is an attempt to give an overview without revealing any major spoilers, but there will be a few mild ones along the way.
The Higher Stakes
If you’ve been around for the ride since 2016, you know that in the beginning the drama and conflict centered on the tiny fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. Antagonists came into the town, and the action took place there.
This season split the narrative, finding some of our protagonists in different states and even on a different continent. It expands the ST world in a variety of ways, but also makes us understand that what happens in, around, and under Hawkins is not an isolated threat – it will affect the entire world.
Who is the Real Monster: Vecna or Papa?
(Mild spoiler number one) Papa/Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) survived season one somehow (hey, it makes more sense than Palpatine in ROS, but that’s another story) and is back to zap and test and push Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown) to find her full potential. Along with Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser), they understand the threat of Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower) and that El is probably the only one able to stop him.
The question that El asks is who is actually the real monster (reminiscent of the Quasimodo/Frollo dynamic in Disney’s animated classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame). In the cartoon the answer was very clear who the monster was, but here the lines are blurred. Papa claims to love El and all his young charges, but also pushes them far beyond acceptable limits and punishes them physically when they fail him).
Vecna (mild spoiler number two) is a monster created in the lab where Papa does his work. Do you blame the monster for its crimes or its creator? Especially in Mary Shelley’s masterpiece Frankenstein, it seems pretty understood what the answer is, but there are more complications here including El’s part in Vecna’s rise.
The Plot Indeed Thickens
The battle against evil that resides in the Upsidedown – an exact replica of Hawkins in a world below it – becomes one that is far flung. On the west coast Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Will (Noah Schnapp), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), and Jonathan’s bud Argyle (the hilarious Eduardo Franco) are trying to find El, who has been taken by government agents.
In Hawkins our core group of Steve (Joe Keery), Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Max (Sadie Sink), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and his sister Erica (Priha Ferguson) are taking the battle against Vecna in Hawkins.
At first it seems odd not to have the whole gang working together as always, but when you get to the end of the series all the pieces come into place and make sense.
Across the ocean in the snowy landscape of a brutal Russian prison, (mild spoiler number three) Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is about to come face to face with a Demogorgon (the monster from season one) and realizes that the threat is not just contained to Hawkins.
Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Murray (Brett Gelman) are coming to try to rescue Hopp from the prison, but they are sidetracked by a double crossing contact named Yuri (Nikola Djuriko), so their plans to save Hopp must first involve saving themselves.
Millie Bobby Brown has always been convincing as El, but this season she has blossomed into a powerhouse presence. Her range of emotions and ability to inhabit her character are most impressive. The series revolves around El, and Brown just hits a homer in every scene.
Sadie Sink’s Max Mayfield has had a rough season, and Sink’s seemingly innate intuition on how to play Max’s as hardened to the cruelties of the world yet at the same time being completely vulnerable is astounding. Sink is able to be convincing when confronting Vecna’s evil face-to face, pulling off scenes where she is enveloped in fear but reverts to her inner strength to somehow fight back.
Other Notable Performances
Ryder’s Joyce, Harbour’s Hopper, and McLaughlin’s Lucas all stood out this season in pivotal moments. Each rose to the occasion to embolden their characters with believable resonance as they had to fight back like never before. While their work has been strong in previous seasons, it seems like this was their time to shine, and they certainly gave megawatt performances.
Besides the aforementioned Argyle, we get a break from the tension from Murray and Erica. Anytime either of these characters are in a scene, you know there is an unmistakable threat of stealing it. Murray’s comedy is broad and almost slapstick, like saying he knows karate and then amusingly proving it to a character the hard way.
Erica’s comic strength is she is like 13 going on 30, a humorous bulldozer that seems unstoppable. Her sassy way is disarming even for adults, and she holds her own in a fight as well. If there ever is a spin-off (as there are rumors of it), my vote goes to Erica as being along for the ride.
Pathos and Logos
The Duffer brothers clearly know their audience and wisely chose to write and direct episodes eight and nine. They packed these four hours with emotional moments, having enough time luckily for these already developed characters time to grow. The opportunities to explore the dynamics of the relationships between Joyce/Hopp, Nancy/Steve, Nancy/Jonathan, Lucas/Max, Will/Mike, Will/Jonathan, El/Papa, and El/Mike are welcome. Even minor characters get a chance in the spotlight for however briefly they are around.
We logically know the series has to end in season five, but it’s how we get to that ending that is the key. The Duffers raise the stakes and allow the important players to take their shot in matching the challenge. There are so many ways season five can go, but based on this season it seems the last will be the biggest and most eventful of them all.
That Guitar Solo
(Mild spoiler number four) When Eddie Munson (newcomer Joseph Quinn) climbs on top of his trailer in the Upsidedown and plays Metallica’s “Master of Puppets,” it is like one of the most badass moments of the series. With his long hair and a slight resemblance to guitar god Eddie Van Halen, Eddie is shredding away in an attempt to save Dustin’s and the rest of the gang’s lives. Members of the band say that they were honored by Eddie’s (Quinn’s) performance.
Season 4 part 2 of Stranger Things reveals the journey of our heroes and the villains they take up arms against. This storytelling triptych was a thing of beauty and wonder, of despair and even (mild spoiler number five) death. We are left with a big question mark and a tantalizing final scene that will let you know that season five is going to be a roller coaster ride, but one that will be an awesome ending for this series.