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Stranger Things season 4 volume 1 review: A return to form as the series reinvents itself

The first volume of the highly anticipated fourth season of the Duffer Brothers’ horror-thriller series is more significant in scope and execution

  • Ryan Gomez

Last Updated: 11.18 AM, May 26, 2022

Stranger Things season 4 volume 1 review: A return to form as the series reinvents itself

Set a year after the events of the third season, a new threat emerges in Hawkins. Teenagers in Hawkins, Indiana are murdered and mutilated by an evil being from the ‘upsidedown world’. Steve (Joe Keery), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Max (Sadie Sink), Nancy (Natalia Dyer), and Robin (Maya Hawke) are caught in the midst of the chaos in Hawkins yet again. Elsewhere in California, Mike’s (Finn Wolfhard) spring break visit reunites him with Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and Will (Noah Schnapp). Whereas Joyce (Winona Ryder) receives a mysterious package from Russia, while Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) befriends the local hippie, Argyle (Eduardo Franco).

When Stranger Things debuted in 2016 it struck a chord with viewers, thanks to its reimagining of 80s America. Even for viewers from around the world, there were several things that evoked a sense of nostalgia, thanks to the rise in popularity in American pop culture through film, television, and literature. Creators, the Duffer brothers, had crafted something truly unique, but yet familiar. And the Stephen King novels’ inspiration is evident by design, and one of the best uses of pastiche in television history. The cinematography, the sound design, the board game Dungeons & Dragons, and the walkie-talkies, added to its aesthetic.

However, despite its popularity, it risked being repetitive and stale by the end of season three. Especially considering the countless films and TV shows that have tried to replicate this formula by bringing the 70s, 80s, and 90s back to life, with varying degrees of success. The challenge the showrunners faced was daunting, considering the minor criticisms the third season endured. But Volume I of the new season offers a fresh perspective of a familiar story, further exploring themes of horror, often blurring the lines between supernatural and sci-fi.

The new storyline of season four has given the ideal platform for new characters. And the one thing the writers have never failed to deliver is the fact that the characters in Strangers Things are well written and have thoroughly fleshed out character arcs. Within the first episode of season 4, the new characters and their respective storylines are quickly established without creating narrative inconsistencies. This helps the series move forward effortlessly and will keep one hooked from episode one to seven, without missing a beat.

Out of the several new additions, two characters in particular, stand out, Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) and Dmitri (Tom Wlaschiha, who played Jaqen H'ghar in Game of Thrones). Dmitri essays an opportunistic Russian prison guard, while Eddie is Mike and Dustin’s new friend and the leader of the Dungeons & Dragons society called the Hellfire Club, and the lead guitarist of the local rock band. Joseph Quinn’s character Eddie is an obvious nod to rockstars such as Slash (Guns N’Roses) and Bon Scott (AC/DC).

The narrative yet again delves into socio-political themes, often referencing historical events such as the Watergate scandal, the 80s paranoia in the US about rock music being Satan’s device to corrupt children, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War. The writers have also subtly added contemporary politics to the narrative as well, indicating that several aspects of socio-politics remain unchanged even after 40 years. These allegorical references have been incorporated without hindering the storyline. Themes of existentialism, trauma, abuse, and addiction continue to feature in the series.

The story is yet again split into different branched out storylines, each pivotal to the central narrative. One is set in Hawkins, another in California, and the third in the Soviet Union. These storylines offer great moments perfectly executed by engaging screenplay, editing, and performances. While certain areas of the narrative are protected by plot armour, they are but minor blips to an otherwise strong first half of the fourth season — a season abundant with thrills and chills, along with a smattering of light-hearted humour. Winona Ryder and Brett Gelman's double team as Joyce and Murray is a delight and delivers some of the best moments of the season so far. A few surprises and revelations towards the end of Volume I will surely keep the audience invested in season four. 

Volume I of season four recaptures the true essence of Stranger Things, going back to its roots, and delivering a riveting first half of the season. It has found the perfect balance between a fresh storyline and its core elements, allaying any fears that the series might become repetitive.