Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 2 Review: The series goes out with a bang and a concert
The last two episodes of Stranger Things underline the show’s ability to show and then tell, with swag and style.
In a scene from the penultimate episode of Netflix’s Stranger Things, Dr Martin Brenner explains Vecna’s(One) plan to Eleven. “Think of it as a dam. One is slowly breaking this dam,” Brenner says holding a pencil before breaking it at the middle to signify the end of Hawkins. It’s a scene that perfectly encapsulates why Stranger Things became the pop culture phenomenon it is. Do artificially deep things, in a deceptively easy-to-interpret manner. The last season of Stranger things is further evidence of the show’s ability to exist beyond the wall of logic and sense. Timelines merge, characters are added and subtracted, and narratives collude, simply because they ought to. But it isn’t the show’s map that has always impressed, but of course, its ability to marry nostalgia with the coming-of-age stories of not one but many likeable characters. To which effect Stranger Things is a feat of simplicity, doing the simple thing right. And in this sprawling final season, it leaves a mark.
The last two episodes are obviously about multiple narratives, coming together for one big last fight. Eleven is freed at a personal cost. So is Hopper. Not all of them will meet and stand together, but the show, ensures there is a sense of collective fight. Nobody really asks questions about timing, coincidences or even if the assumptions most characters make about a world no one really understands, are even verified. Stranger Things moves on instinct, driven by comic-book energy that can also often feel like a video game. There are small missions, that lead to other missions. Nothing is as simple as a fist-fight or a straight battle of powers. Nobody really asks why it can’t be a straight up battle between Eleven and Vecna without the preface of several humans attempting to do so in vain. The wait, the wandering, the many pop culture milestones that we go past in the process is what it is all about.
There are some obvious stars of this last season. Steve, the cocky stud of the previous seasons emerges as the poster boy of redemptive masculinity. His heart is broken, but he is learning to walk with it still. Nancy’s journalistic abilities take centre-stage as the brains of the operation. There is even the intriguing sub-plot of Bill being secretly in love with Eleven. What is perhaps the show’s greatest strength in this longer last season is the pedestal it helps Eleven retreat from. Other characters, their journeys feel more prescient and important. Hopman’s arc could have been easily done away with because it exists for the sake of servicing fans, and yet, it doesn’t feel juvenile and redundant. It holds its own globetrotting intrigue, and adds that political gloss that comes with international diplomacy - a third of this last season has operated around a Soviet prison. To which point Stranger Things has also been Netflix’s most American show ever. It’s red, blue and white on the inside.
The long run-time of the two finale episodes make sense in retrospect. Stranger Things nurtured so many threads, cutting or tying them together, quickly, was never an alternative. It’s GOT-like mistake that the show chooses not to make. For that matter, the adversary is near absent during the final episodes. The show has realised, over the course of its four seasons, that it’s the characters, their chemistry, their nifty little science projects masquerading as plans, that people come to watch. The nature of the adversary can change, what must remain is the nostalgic core of the show. It’s why the show has always been reluctant to divorce its characters, some of it painfully visible in wistful, but listless arcs like that of Will, after being reclaimed from the dead. There are some hat-tips in the show to inclusivity, but they frankly, feel aimless. There to fit that 80s political luggage.
Stranger Things has never been convoluted, or complex enough to be a mysterious. It lost that novelty after the first season. What it has rather done through the middling two seasons is build characters that sustain, at times, the cyclic pointlessness of fighting the same battle over and over again. On some level Stranger Things has always been a soap, reluctant to evolve into anything beyond its most carnal, but convenient pleasures. It found comfort in simply flicking on the switch every few years to show us the same room with different antiquities and collectibles in sight. Some worked, some didn’t. Somehow the persistence of this show made this room memorable. Some pillows, some books and some cassettes you simply couldn’t discard. You knew every time you walked in, what you were walking into and yet, Stranger Things felt cathartic, nostalgia done, thrillingly, ecstatically. Of course the finale has rock concert in the upside down. It couldn’t have been any other way.
The author writes on art and culture, cinema, books, and everything in between. Views expressed are personal.
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