Stranger Things (Season 4) Volume 2 Review: A Thrilling Battle To Beat Vecna That’s Offset By An Anti-Climactic Epilogue
Stranger Things (Season 4) Volume 2: There are several examples across pop-culture history of expectations ruining the viewing experience of your most anticipated movie or show. You make up a version of what you are going to watch. And when you don’t get to see that, you judge it based on your imagination instead of what you are witnessing. So, it’s important to draw a thick line between our expectations and the ones that are set-up by the film or show itself. Especially, when it’s something like Stranger Things Season 4; which released its first seven episodes as Volume 1 and the last two episodes as Volume 2 almost a month later in order to build the maximum amount of hype. It’s safe to say that the Duffer Brothers managed to create so much excitement that Netflix crashed when Volume 2 was about to drop. But did they conclude Season 4 in a satisfying manner? Well, that’s what we are here to talk about.
Checkout – Stranger Things (Season 4) Volume 1 Review: Bigger, Pulpier, And Campier With A Thematically Poignant Core
The fact that you’re reading this means that you’ve watched the first seven episodes of Stranger Things 4 and the last two is well. And since it’s kind of pointless to avoid spoilers for just two episodes, the gloves are coming off for this review. You’ve been warned. So, Volume 2 opens with Vecna/Henry/One (Jamie Campbell Bower) giving Nancy (Natalia Dyer) a taste of his plan for Hawkins. Steve (Joe Keery), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Max (Sadie Sink), Eddie (Joseph Quinn), Erica (Priah Ferguson) and Robin (Maya Hawke) try to wake her up. But they get her back, safe and sound only when Vecna relinquishes his control over her. Joyce (Winona Ryder), Jim (David Harbour), Murray (Brett Gelman), Dmitri (Tom Wlaschiha) and Yuri (Nikola Djuricko) make their way out of the Russian prison. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), with the help of Brenner (Matthew Modine) and Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser), unpacks her connection with Henry. Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Will (Noah Schnapp), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and Argyle (Eduardo Franco) locate the place where Eleven is based on Suzie’s (Gabriella Pizzolo) calculations.
There’s no doubt that Stranger Things 4 Volume 2 is simply a mad rush to do two things: kill Vecna and give those who are going into Vecna’s Lair all the help they can possibly get. Hence, the focus is (or should be) on the momentum and the do-or-die nature of the mission. In situations like this, you have to trust the character building you’ve done over the course of seven episodes to propel the plot forward, without any pauses. But, since Eleven is grappling with all this newfound information, Eleven is meeting with Mike and the rest of the gang, Will has unresolved (apparently queer) emotions, Hopper is meeting with Joyce, Steve is realizing the missed opportunity that’s Nancy, well, there are pauses. On paper, that’s logical. However, the stakes are yay high and you’ve a villain who is diabolical as hell. So, the conversational or romantic or emotional beats start to make the rush to kill said villain a little tedious and the viewing experience a bit of a chore. And you find yourself pushing the characters to move a little faster.
The three character-driven things that do feel necessary and aptly stretch the tension of the mission and keep it tight are Max and Lucas’s conversation, Vecna’s exposition dump to Eleven and Steve’s fantasy with Nancy. Here’s why. Vecna’s expository scene is excellent because in Volume 1, Dustin and the gang had assumed that he is the Mind Flayer’s general. But it turns out that he isn’t and is in fact the maker of the Mind Flayer and every heinous thing that has hit Hawkins. It’s a great twist because we’ve seen that in the past three seasons, the kids have used their knowledge of Dungeons and Dragons to make the correct assumptions and beat the enemy. That’s subverted here and proves that the heroes are way out of their depth this time. Max and Lucas’s heart-to-heart and Steve’s talking about his dreams are important because they add an air of finality to the mission. You start to feel the heat because the #1 rule of entertainment is that whenever a character either reminisces or thinks about the future too much, they are going to bite the dust. Sadly, the Duffer Brothers go for the lowest hanging fruit: Eddie Munson.
Credit where credit is due: Joseph Quinn is fantastic and he is written really well. It’s really difficult to make your mark so late in the game in a series that’s in its fourth season and he nails it. Him playing “Master of Puppets” by Metallica is one of the best sequences in TV history. Gaten’s performance absolutely sells the pain he feels seeing Eddie die in his arms (which is a first for him and hence understandably scarring). That said, the past three seasons (Barbara, Bob, and Alexei) have trained us to expect a one-season-wonder to die unceremoniously. So, you can see it coming from a mile away and doesn’t hit as hard as the death of Max or Steve would’ve. Now, you must be thinking that this is a case of false expectations not being met. However, the central focus of Season 4 is saving Max. Steve has a bite from a bat that appears to make him woozy and he talks about his future, which is the tell-tale sign of being killed off. And the whole point of the ending of Season 4 is failure. To be specific, Eleven’s failure. That’s why thickening the plot armor around all the main characters seems like a safe play. Understandable (because they’ve one more season to go), but a safe play.
Talking about playing it safe, and my biggest gripe with Season 4, what the hell is that “Two Days Later” epilogue? It is so anticlimactic. It strains the already bloated runtime. The Duffer Brothers should have just concluded with the rift opening in Hawkins. Now, that would’ve been a brilliant cliffhanger and a much better stinger than the whole gang standing atop a hill and, well, watching the rift. They should’ve reserved the meet-and-greet for Season 5. It clearly needed more time to breathe. Putting it at the end of Season 4 feels rushed. For a moment it even looks like they’re over Eddie’s death. The scene where they do mourn him isn’t enough, given the brutal nature of the death, because they’ve to go to the big reveal that the Upside Down is coming into Hawkins. Such a baffling decision, to be honest.
With all that said, what are the overall thoughts on Stranger Things Season 4 as a whole? Well, it’s undoubtedly the best season since Season 1. The first seven episodes are genuinely perfect. The craft on display is impeccable. Everything from the production design to the cinematography, the editing, the music, the costume designs, the makeup design (Yay for Vecna, nay for Will’s hair), the special effects and the VFX is truly magnificent. The Duffer Brothers have managed to strike a beautiful balance between large-scale storytelling and intimate character work. To see them have the audacity to throw in a sword (which actually looks like Conan the Barbarian’s) in front of Hopper and make it work is surprisingly satisfying. The performances they extract from every single one of the aforementioned actors is worthy of all the applause in the world. And the actors also deserve all the praise coming their way. Sadie Sink has been dubbed as the MVP of the season. But, to be honest, everyone in this ensemble cast is mind-blowing, hugely talented, and I truly cannot wait to see them go places that lie beyond Stranger Things.
Finally, comes the topic of the fifth and final season of Stranger Things. Going by the ending, all the secrets are now out. The veil between Hawkins and the Upside Down has been opened. Vecna is hurt and hence, very angry. So is Eleven because, despite her best efforts, she failed to save Hawkins and keep Max safe. As per Nancy’s vision, there’s no chance in hell that our favorite monster hunters are going to win because Vecna is that far-sighted and omni-present. Hell, he is even impervious to fire (which is capable of killing the Demodogs and Demogorgons) and bullets. But, everyone needs a well-earned happy ending, right? And if the previous seasons are any proof, that’s probably what’s going to happen. I don’t want to set any expectations regarding character deaths or twists or anything remotely related to the plot. I just want a fitting conclusion to this epic saga. One that will make me go, “Bitchin’”.