Stranger Things season 4

Stranger Things season 4
Stranger Things season 4
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Stranger Things season 4 was more significant than any other season. It was obviously much more expensive to make, with a bigger cast and clearer sense of what everything is doing there – all the monsters, heroes and hangers-on. The double-bill finale, held back by Netflix for a month to build hype around the world, is even bigger. It’s madly, indulgently sprawling: four hours long, almost; it does everything fans could have hoped for plus a few more helpings on top. But if it hasn’t quite gone too far yet then you do wonder where Stranger Things can go from here.

Where were we? In Hawkins, Indiana, in 1986: waiting for a gang of plucky teens to launch one last raid on Vecna, the demon who haunts the dank dimension beneath their town. Psychic superheroine Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) has unlocked memories from her time at a secure facility for kids with strange powers; she reveals that she opened up the interdimensional portal while fighting One – another inmate who turned out to be murderous, and vengeful as Vecna – among other things. A group of friendly adults are stuck in a grimy Soviet Union jail cell with a monster left over from another season.

The stage is set – but hey, we’ve got four hours; take your time. So Season 4’s final two episodes are surprisingly talky – not least because they give pretty much every character on screen an achingly tender watershed two-hander with their significant other: lost love lamented; halting young love brought maybe just past expressing properly; moments when Will (Noah Schnapp), whose barely-detectable-but-definitely-there hints about being gay have become less detectable recently even though some fans who watch every frame are saying they’re still definitely there … well anyway there’s a moment when he stops just short of coming right out with it, and instead just talks movingly about learning to live with being “different”.

Stranger Things is a lavish Eighties homage to horror, Cold War thrillers, hacker movies, fantasy and those films such as The Goonies or Stand By Me where a bunch of unsupervised kids try to save the day – but its creators, Matt and Ross Duffer (the Duffer brothers) aren’t just shallow pasticheurs. They understand what their reference points were getting at, and in particular they get how the “neighbourhood apocalypse” genre works. These stories say that it’s OK to be different – shy and angry; a Dungeons and Dragons nerd; secretly gay; a heavy metal freak – because your small town might just be the most important place in the world, and maybe you’re not different but special.

The Duffers realise that all this is code for coming of age: so they sprinkle their finale with universal life lessons about growing up and killing your personal monsters. Eventually you’ve got to take off your headphones, stop listening to Kate Bush on your Walkman and engage with the outside world. Sooner or later you’re going to have to stop being the class clown and admit there are things you believe in and people you love. One day you’re going look your father in the eye and say: ‘Dad … my values don’t align with yours!’

After setting up this emotional framework, the fireworks start and it’s everything you’d expect: none of the characters who look like they’re about to lose a fight to the death and then suddenly regain their strength at the last minute because of visions of what really matters to them end up losing those fights; but every other judgement is perfect. The decisions about which character should intervene in another character’s confrontation with a third character, and when, are all spot-on — as are the ones about who dies, and why. Splitting the action between Indiana, Nevada and Kamchatka has turned out not to be a problem at all; quite smoothly handled, actually. Metallica and Journey can expect huge bumps on Spotify — their back catalogues have seldom been wheeled out with such panache or precision. Once the fireballs have fizzed out and the vampire bats have stopped flapping against each other’s wings, we know who we are again.

It could almost be an ending for ever: once this is done (you think it’s done), you tap the progress bar at the bottom of the screen … and there is still half an hour to run.

But no matter. Netflix have commissioned a fifth season – apparently it will be the last one – that promises global disaster rather than local conspiracy; for which some ageing-up among its core cast may now be necessary. Stranger Things works best small-scale, innocent, homespun; it feels as if we’ve told that story now. We’ve left home.

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