After nearly three years of waiting, fans of the Netflix original series, “Stranger Things,” finally returned to the cursed town of Hawkins, Ind. with the recently released and long-awaited fourth season of the sci-fi horror series. Earlier this year, it was announced by the creators of the show, the Duffer Brothers, that Season 4 was the largest season of “Stranger Things” yet. They wrote in a letter to fans of the show that, “Given the unprecedented length, and to get it to you as soon as possible, Season 4 will be released in two volumes.” The first volume of this new season was released on May 27, which has already gained high praise.
The first volume of “Stranger Things” 4 is meant to be enjoyed by all; whether you grew up in the 80s and caught all of the references to the time period (from the music to the movies) or tuned in again, excited for a new season of your favorite show. I found myself in the latter category and could not wait for a new adventure with some of my favorite characters. My review of this season will contain spoilers from this point on so I suggest that you watch this chilling new season of “Stranger Things” before continuing to read.
The season begins with the crew in three different locations. Dustin, Max, Lucas, Steve, Nancy and Robin are still in Hawkins while Will, El, Jonathan, Mike and Joyce are in California. We soon learn that Hopper is alive but held captive in a Russian prison camp. With the variety of locations in this season, there were also multiple plotlines. Each group took on a different, but important, role in battling the persistent presence of The Upside Down. I never found myself to be bored with the many plotlines and intertwining stories. With each passing scene and each different perspective, it was as if the pieces of a puzzle were slowly coming together and the mystery of Vecna’s curse was eventually solved.
As with all seasons of “Stranger Things,” season four introduces us to a new antagonist from the upside down: Vecna. While I enjoyed the plotlines of the demogorgon and the Mind Flayer from previous seasons, I found Vecna to be the most intriguing of all antagonists. Modeled off of Vecna’s curse from the popular game, Dungeons and Dragons, Vecna is not so much a physical being come to kill his victims, but rather a plague in one’s mind, torturing his victims with their deepest secrets.
Chrissy Cunningham, a varsity cheerleader for Hawkins High, a seemingly popular girl with a perfect life, is the first of Vecna’s victims. We soon learn that her life is not as it seems, as Vecna tortures her with memories of her abusive mother. She eventually comes face to face with Vecna as he claims it is time to end her suffering. His next victim is Fred Benson, an editor for the school newspaper who has been silently living with the guilt of killing his friend in a car accident. One by one, those who are plagued with guilt or trauma – those who do not confide in the ones who love them – are taken by Vecna.
The deaths of Vecna’s victims were truly horrifying as they were lifted into the air and broken limb by limb. The one defining quality of all his victims was the missing eyes. It was this clue that led Nancy and Robin to investigate the story of Victor Creel, a man who had experienced supernatural events after moving to Hawkins and was imprisoned after being accused of killing his family. It is through Nancy and Robin’s investigation of Creel that we learn it was music that helped him to survive Vecna’s curse.
This becomes crucial when Max becomes Vecna’s next target. In one of the most popular scenes of the whole season, we find Max trapped in the upside down with Vecna, tortured by the guilt she feels surrounding her brother Billy’s death. It is Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” that pulls her out of Vecna’s curse, returning her safely to her friends. It is after this that Max decides to let in the people who care for her and share how she is feeling. It has been a few weeks since I first watched this scene and the song is still stuck in my head. I can only assume that this powerful scene has stuck with other viewers as well.
While all of this is going on in Hawkins, Joyce and Murray are headed to Alaska in an attempt to rescue Hopper, Hopper is still trapped in Siberia, and the crew in California are trying to find their way to El who has agreed to work with Dr. Brenner again in an attempt to regain her powers.
While working with Dr. Brenner on what is called The Nina Project, El is re-exposed to repressed memories from her time at Hawkins lab. While she is fed her old memories, we see her younger self befriend a man who works in the lab, a man who seems to have her best interests in mind. However, in an attempt to reciprocate the kindness he has shown to her, El removes a tracking device from his neck only to find that he was infamous Number 001.
It was this big reveal of Vecna’s identity in the final scene of the series that came as the greatest shock. We learn that Number 001, the man in which El had befriended, is Vecna. Not only do we learn this, we also learn that Vecna is Victor Creel’s son. Like El, he had grown up with powers and never felt like he belonged in the human world, confined by time and routine. In the gripping dual perspective of the final scene, we hear Vecna’s story as El’s memory is restored alongside the visual of him torturing his own family as Nancy is trapped in The Upside Down.
I found this season to be the perfect blend of humor and horror. From the banter between Dustin and Steve to the creepy supernatural atmosphere to the subtle 80s references to the horrific scenes of Vecna and his victims, this season has something for everyone. Once again, I am blown away by the Duffer Brothers in their ability to create a show of such quality and length.
Though it took a long time to get here, I will say that Volume One of “Stranger Things” 4 was worth the wait. Fortunately, we do not have to wait much longer for Volume Two as it is set to be released on July 1, 2022. Now that the identity of Vecna has been revealed, myself, along with many other “Stranger Things” fans, cannot wait to see what happens next!