Let’s Talk About: Stranger Things 4: Volume 1

There aren’t too many series that routinely get me hyped up quite like Stranger Things does. It easily ranks in my personal top 10 series that I’ve watched, and I was extremely hyped for this next season of the Netflix phenomenon.


I eagerly awaited trailers, teasers, anything that would show me what our lovable ensemble cast would be tasked with at the mercy of the Upside-Down, and when it dropped on Netflix, I tuned in for a full day of nostalgic sci-fi shenanigans.


I’m going to be covering this on a character-by-character basis, as we have some great new additions to the character roster of Stranger Things Be warned: Spoilers ahead

The Old Characters

Hopper



At the end of Season 3, Hopper’s fate was left unclear. Sure we saw an explosion which would have killed him, but we never saw a body. So the rules of television apply that he survived (this was also confirmed in a teaser), and is now a prisoner in Russia.


His storyline in Stranger Things 4 is mostly separate from what’s going on, however, it is still pretty good. He manages to strike a deal with a corrupt guard called Dmitri (or Enzo), to contact Joyce and arrange for a “prison break” style scenario while he builds a railroad.


Hopper’s character has evolved from a grumpy old man to an actual hardened survivor, and it is a nice development. His grouchy personality often provided humour in earlier Seasons, but honestly felt a little tedious and malicious in the third season, so it’s nice to see here. Also, it was great to see our favourite tulip-faced abomination show up to fight him again at the end.



Joyce and Murray


I’m grouping these 2 together as they are pretty much the same characters as before, and they’re paired together through the majority of the series.


I honestly feel that these 2 characters were pushed aside. Don’t mistake me, Murray is still funny and snarky, even if he is noticeably goofier than in previous outings, but Joyce felt largely unnecessary this time around. I think without Will being in danger, her purpose in the show isn’t as solid.

Eleven


The character at the centre of the series’ primary conflicts finishes season 3 de-powered and moving to California. This change to her character was a more interesting one, as it served to alienate Eleven akin to her situation at the very beginning. Granted, this time she has more social skills and experience under her belt, but it’s still a big change from Indiana.


She runs the route of Carrie in Stranger Things 4, and though we don’t get the bloody prom at the end, the bully who causes a lot of her grief gets smacked in the face with a roller skate, which is very satisfying to see. Though she ends up getting sent to juvenile hall, she is rescued on the way by Dr. Owens, who wants to help her get her powers back in order to defeat Vecna, this season’s villain. We see a lot of flashbacks to her time in Hawkins Lab, seeing many of the other kids there (except Eight), and ultimately finding out how all of them died. Her arc carries the most exposition, as there are big reveals (which I’ll discuss later), and it does show some strains of her long-distance relationship with Mike.

Mike




Despite being one of the standout characters in the series overall, Mike seems fairly underutilised in this season so far. He’s travelled out to California to see Eleven on spring break, and he gets to hang out with her and Will until the roller skate incident, then his story switches up to tracking down where Eleven was taken with the Byers brothers and a new character called Argyle.


Mike has wavered from “heart of the show”, to “standard nerdy teen”, to “asshole” across the series lifespan, and though Finn Wolfhard’s performance is as strong as ever, he seems to fall into the “standard nerdy teen” character so far.

Will



Will has always kinda been done dirty in this series. If he wasn’t taken hostage by whatever beastie leaves the Upside-Down, he was a glorified monoxide alarm. However, he seems to have some more character added to him this time around. When he’s hanging out with Mike and Eleven, you can see the jealousy on his face. Noah Schnapp plays this so damn well, and I don’t think there’s anyone who hasn’t felt like a third wheel at some point in their life.


Moreover, there was a hint dropped about Will’s sexuality in Season 3, and there are more here. It seems to be pseudo implied that he has some romantic attraction to Mike, which does create an interesting dynamic with the trio. They receive some cool character moments together this time around, but Will still doesn’t have much purpose when he’s not the dude in distress.

Dustin



The one character that has been entirely consistent in the show is Dustin. He’s a dorky kid who wants to have fun and help his friends. He was always the comic relief character, which is still present here, but since season 2 where he developed a strong friendship with Steve, he has really been a standout star.


This time around is no different, he’s still dorky, impulsive, and funny. He doesn’t have too many character moments directly with Steve this time around, but the snarky bond is still definitely there.

Lucas


Out of the kids, Lucas is the one who seems to have changed the most, as he is now on the school basketball team, and even manages to score the winning basket that makes the team win the tournament, landing him some well-earned high school cred. However, this popularity he is striving for ends up having a detriment on his hobbies, as he is often scared to discuss his love for Dungeons & Dragons with his teammates, especially given the fact that this series is set during the Satanic Panic-era USA.


Lucas’ story is very well done, especially as the series progresses and he seems to rekindle the flame with Max that had died after Billy’s death. His internal conflict is one that is shown a lot in high school comedies, the choice between popularity and adoration from peers, or integrity to the friends who have been there the whole time, and while it is a cliche, it’s done fairly well here.

Max



When Max debuted in season 2, there were some mixed responses, but over time, people have grown to like her as a character. Season 4 blows everything out of the park. She has had the most development that is honestly heartbreaking to watch. She’s still suffering from the trauma of watching her brother die, and when she is targeted by Vecna, assuming that she’ll die herself, she writes letters to everyone, including Billy. As she is reading the letter out to his grave, Vecna attacks, and she receives the most INCREDIBLE FUCKING SCENE in the whole series so far, soundtracked by Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill, she runs from Vecna’s grasp and returns to consciousness, surrounded by Lucas, Steve, and Dustin who all embrace her. I teared up at this part, not going to lie.


Sadie Sink is absolutely fantastic, and while she’s never given a bad performance in the series, she’s really outdone herself here. I hope Max’s character only grows throughout Volume 2 because at the moment, she is my favourite from this season.

Jonathan



Jonathan wasn’t given much to do this time around. He turned into a stoner and spends most of his time getting high. His conflict so far is the strained relationship between him and Nancy, where they both seem to fall out of favour with each other. Maybe he’ll get a better stab at things in Volume 2? There’s really not a lot to say about him here honestly.


Nancy and Robin



In a similar case to Joyce and Murray, Nancy and Robin were partnered up together most of the time, so I’m going to cover them both together.


Nancy’s given a lot more to do here, as she’s not only dealing with the strained relationship with Jonathan. She’s also directly involved in the eldritch aspects of the series this time around. While her character is pretty much identical to the last season, she gets some good dramatic moments. Part of her problems seems to also stem from jealousy towards Robin, which is an interesting development, as though this part of Season 4, you see her begin to eye up Steve again, though she is constantly reassured that Robin and Steve are purely platonic.


Robin’s character seems a little more “wacky” than last time, where she served as a foil to Steve. Her sexuality is still a secret to most anyone, and this does lead to some really good moments where she is close to accidentally outing herself to her crush. She’s not as good as last season, but Robin is still a welcome addition to the cast.


Steve



The fan-favourite character is just as fun as ever in this season, getting some great character moments with Dustin, and some really good dialogue with the new character Eddie. He has seemed to have regained some of his luck with romance, as it’s revealed he’s been on a lot of dates, albeit all of them are unsuccessful.


I think what’s a great thing to point out about Steve’s character, is that he is the only one who knows about Robin’s sexuality, and although questioned about their relationship by both Nancy and Dustin, he never outs her. I think this is such a testament to how good of a person Steve is.

Erica



The younger sister of Lucas with a sharp mind and a sharper tongue, Erica was a really fun addition to the mainstay cast. In Season 4, she joins the Hellfire Club as Lucas’ replacement when he’s playing basketball, and instantly wins over the other members. Then she’s mostly absent until the back end of this Volume, where she helps Dustin and Lucas communicate with the gang stuck in the Upside-Down.


Her character is no different since her first-ever appearance, as she always has a quick response for Lucas, and is routinely sassy with everyone.

Dr. Brenner



It was a surprise to see one of the big bads from season 1 return, but it is an interesting dynamic. Brenner led the experiments on the children in Hawkins Lab, but now he’s returned to help Eleven regain her powers. Much about him is still a mystery, though it is somewhat implied that he does genuinely care, at least partially, about Eleven. It’ll be interesting to see what he does going forward.


New Characters


Every season of Stranger Things brings us some new cannon fodder characters, and this one is no exception. I’m only going to mention the significant additions who feature prominently throughout.

Argyle



If you take Ed from Good Burger, and add a lot more weed, you’d get Argyle.


Jonathan’s stoner best friend, Argyle is the ferryman for most of the season, driving the cast to and from locations. He also serves as fantastic comic relief, a great wall for Jonathan to bounce off, and honestly gives some pretty solid advice. Argyle is a great addition to the cast, and with the likelihood of him being in Season 5 being quite low, enjoy his antics while he’s here.

Eddie


Taking a look at the leader of the Hellfire Club, you’d largely think he’s a villain, or a bully, or somewhere in between. While he may be egocentric and a bit of a dick from time to time, he’s just a kid who is an outcast for his zany personality, his love for D&D, and his music taste, though he doesn’t shy away from taunting other high school cliques and isn’t phased when they insult him.


His story is central to the plot, as he is accused by the police of being the murderer of Vecna’s victims, as the first (Chrissy) died in his trailer. Though the gruesome state all of the bodies were left in could not have been made by a normal person (this season doesn’t fuck around when it comes to body horror). The gang do their best to clear Eddie’s name, and I personally hope he doesn’t bite the dust by the end of the season, as his character is a lot of fun, and very entertaining.

Dmitri


Dmitri, also known as Enzo, is the one who makes the deal with Hopper to get him out of the prison and back to the US, at a price. Though his character development is definitely minimal, you do find out that he has a family, and he and Hopper grow to respect each other quite a lot. Both of them are the only survivors of the fight with the Demogorgon, and he does seem to enjoy seeing Hopper and Joyce reunite.


Jason



The charismatic captain of the basketball team and a minor antagonist of the series, Jason is a really good addition to the cast. He was Chrissy’s boyfriend, and after he finds out she has died, he goes on a crusade with his team against Eddie, who he believed killed her. While the audience knows Eddie to be innocent, Jason’s reaction is perfectly understandable and warranted, that is, until he enacts the full Satanic Panic and accuses him publicly of being a vessel for the Devil.


He’ll probably be a one-season character, but he’s definitely a great set-up for conflict.

Vecna


This season’s big bad takes his name from an undead lich king of D&D and is also the antagonist of the Hellfire campaign in the show. Vecna’s methodology is to psychologically connect with his victims, and then kill them, absorbing their energy and creating gates to the Upside-Down.


The way Vecna delivers his kills is downright horrifying. He contorts their bodies into painful shapes, breaking and dislocating their bones in the process, elongating their jaw, and ripping out their eyes. He’s arguably a bigger threat than the Mind Flayer, despite the implication that he serves him.


There is a huge twist about Vecna that took me by surprise, and that fact is that he is One, the first child Dr. Brenner tested on. It’s also revealed through his backstory that the kids with telekinetic abilities (Eleven, Eight, etc.) were all born with them, and they weren’t given to them.


Vecna is a new kind of villain, and the big battle with him at the end of the season will likely have a body count that viewers aren’t comfortable with.

Summary


The writing this time around seems to have a lot of dualities. This may be remedied in Volume 2, however, I feel that some of the characters, particularly the Byers family, were wasted here. I understand that they’re a huge part of the Stranger Things lore, but they weren’t utilised well. However, looking at Max, Eddie, and Vecna’s stories and writing, it’s absolutely phenomenal.


This season ramped up the body horror to new levels. We’ve seen blood and gore in every season, but the complete disfigurement of bodies is a lot more uncomfortable to watch.


One thing I must state that Stranger Things 4 has done well, is the focus on trauma. Vecna targets his victims based on if they’ve had traumatic experiences. It’s implied Chrissy was abused by her mother, Fred accidentally killed a child in a car accident, it’s implied that Patrick was abused at home, Max saw her brother die, and at the very end, Vecna targets Nancy, who was traumatised by Barb’s death. Vecna seems to be a vector to show how trauma does affect a person, and outside interventions or interference don’t always help. But what does “block” Vecna out is music. Playing a person’s favourite song can bring them around, as shown in that amazing scene in Max’s trance. Music does have healing properties, and anyone would agree. Songs can soothe the soul, and retention of music is unaffected by conditions like Alzheimer’s and Dementia. It’s powerful stuff, and as a person who listened to a lot of My Chemical Romance when they were in the doldrums, it’s definitely needed.


Well done, Duffer Bros., you’ve killed it again. Bravo.


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