We return to Hawkins for the second time this summer, but the results are very uneven. Warning: spoilers.
It seems like only yesterday when we were collectively weeping as Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) runs towards his friends, away from the villainous Vecna, to the beat of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill. It wasn’t yesterday, it was actually three weeks ago and Stranger Things now returns for Volume 2 of its fourth, penultimate, season.
Things pick up pretty much exactly where they left off at the end of Volume 1. Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Hopper (David Harbour) are still trying to escape Russia while Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and Will (Noah Schnapp) are trying to locate Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). And the rest of the crew are trying to beat Vecna in Hawkins.
There doesn’t really seem to be any particular reason to split the season into two volumes. While Volume 1, consisting of seven episodes, racked up the stakes and the narrative felt like a screw slowly tightening, Volume 2 somehow lacks that intensity. There’s no urgency this time around.
Volume 2 essentially puts a target on everyone’s back. Steve suddenly gets a lot of emotional monologues, Nancy reconsiders her feelings for Steve in the form of several longing gazes and Dustin and Eddie grow even closer, while Max still feels Vecna’s mark on her. Everyone is in danger and anyone of these beloved characters could die.
On paper, that sounds exciting, but in reality, it just leads you to question who’s it gonna be for the most of the two episodes, which have a combined running time of nearly 4 hours. Whether or not you get the answer right is irrelevant; you’re not engaged in the action or the narrative properly, if you’re only looking for clues to who might bite the dust.
But you can’t fault the Duffer Brothers, the creators of Stranger Things, for their immaculate visual flair. They move effortlessly between worlds and dimensions, each of them having a distinct visual look. There’s several “that’s so cool!” – moments in Volume 2 and while some moments feel like they were reverse-engineered and forced, it’s mostly fantastically entertaining fodder.
While the series has always been the home of some great performances, it’s only right to give a shout out to the MVPs of Volume 2; Sadie Sink and Caleb McLaughlin. Sink has been strong since her debut in season 2, but has really been afforded the depth of character to play with here finally. McLaughlin, however, has been slightly pushed to the sides since season 1 but is really allowed to come to his own here. His performance is complex, yet heartbreaking and it’s a little infuriating they’ve kept an actor this talented hidden away for so long.
Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 2 does still trip over the same issues as before. It’s predictable and repetitive; it all works out a little too easy and conveniently for the gang while following a formulaic narrative we’ve seen countless times before. This series, for the first time ever, keeps the characters apart from each other, which is an interesting deviation from normal, but it definitely eats away our enjoyment. We love the characters together, we love their dynamic and how they’ve evolved and when that’s stripped away, there’s frustratingly little left to enjoy.
But there is much to enjoy in Stranger Things still. For the most part, however, Volume 2 only works to set up the next, final season of the ultra-popular Netflix series. Not much is resolved, there’s very little emotional payoff at the end, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have to wipe some tears away or that I’m not still very excited for the final season. Season 4 started off strong, fizzling away towards the end. We can only hope the final season is an improvement and an epic ending to the nostalgia-filled series.
Stranger Things Season 4 is now streaming on Netflix.