After what felt like a lifetime, the fourth season of Stranger Things is now in the books. Split into two parts, which included multiple feature-length episodes, the season saw the kids from Hawkins and beyond pushed to their limits against a terrifying new villain who, actually, isn’t that new at all.
Volume two was released over the weekend, bringing the season to a close, so io9’s Germain Lussier, Sabina Graves, and Rob Bricken sat down to discuss our thoughts: what we liked, what we didn’t, questions we have, answers we guess on, and our thoughts going into what we know will be the fifth and final season.
Full spoilers follow so beware.
Germain Lussier: Hello all and welcome to io9’s spoiler-filled roundtable discussion of Stranger Things 4 Vol. 2, which really means all of Stranger Things 4. The final two episodes of the season dropped this weekend and…
Rob Bricken: Aka the short movie and the long movie.
Germain: Yes, yes, we’ll get to that, Rob. But for now, please, I’d love to hear what both of you felt overall, mostly about volume two, but also the season as a whole.
Rob: I really liked both, to my surprise. I was lukewarm when Stranger Things season four arrived, but my interest kept growing until I was really excited for the final two episodes, which I really enjoyed too.
Sabina Graves: To me, volume one was more solid, I really enjoyed the build-up and reveal to Vecna being 001. Volume two didn’t quite work for me as two movies. Episode seven and episode nine were the best of the movie-length episodes. I thought episode eight kinda dragged.
Germain: I think I fell somewhere in the middle. While I enjoyed volume two, I mostly think that was just because I love these characters and all the stakes the Duffer Brothers set up in volume one. But on the other hand, to me, they set up SO MUCH that I didn’t exactly feel like it all came together in quite the right, satisfying way. Almost like season four was its own volume one to season five, which has never been the case really with Stranger Things.
Rob: True, but it’s pretty normal for a season finale leading into a final season, methinks. Gotta have that Empire Strikes Back bad stuff to end the story on, so the stakes are more dire than ever when the characters return.
Germain: Right, I totally get that, but for example, what did the Russia section really add? Wasn’t it a little bit of a cheat to do this whole “Piggyback” thing? Almost like they moved the characters too far away geographically? It worked but just didn’t quite fit for me. Sabina?
Sabina: I agree about the Russian section, it felt unnecessary and I’m tired of seeing David Harbour escape from snowy Russian prisons. Definitely felt like the angle was “we need to make sure the kids are unsupervised so let’s make Joyce go against her protective mother instinct to go after her man.” Which I wasn’t a fan of.
Rob: I blame the pandemic and cast schedules, but also they all felt like viable storylines to me. Yeah, the Russia stuff was extraneous, but the only reason the Mike and Will stuff wasn’t insanely extraneous is because they found Eleven right there at the end. The fact that all “Teams” had something to do that had them actually participating in the final battle with the others was very satisfying, although I know it’s also a bit of a cheat. However, this will make it all the more satisfying when the Justice League fully reunites to take down Vecna in the series finale.
Sabina: I’m so glad everyone is back in Hawkins.
Germain: Yes, that season five seems to be going back to its season-one, everyone-together-in-Hawkins roots, is very good. So what were your favorite and least favorite moments of volume two? Or if not “moments,” then just overall general things? For me, I think my least favorite was kind of what I said before, just so much going on in the end and the timing didn’t all quite match up (how long were Steve, Nancy, and Robin in those vines?) But I also liked the bromance between Dustin and Eddie. Really gritty, emotional, and fun, even if their role wasn’t super important.
Rob: It’s harder for me to remember volume one since I just saw volume two last night. But I absolutely loved everything about Eddie Munson. Everything. Everything.
Sabina: I had Eddie all wrong, totally thought he was in league with Vecna but genuinely grew to appreciate him as a misunderstood fella and loved his arc. The Duffers always make a season standout character who dies and it’s crushing every time.
Rob: He was a great character who surprised me by being a nerd but also a metal head but also a really good guy—subverting all sorts of tropes I’ve had paraded in front of my in pop culture for decades.
And honestly? The final episode could have been two hours and 16 minutes of the Duffer brothers picking their noses on camera and four minutes of Eddie playing “Master of Puppets” amid a tornado of demobats and I’m pretty sure I’d have given it five stars.
Germain: Oh, yeah I mean, Eddie for season four MVP all day. Sort of like Sean Astin’s Bob in season two. Are we okay that he’s gone, though? We did get that great, great moment with Dustin and his uncle.
Rob: As much as I’ll miss him, I’m fine with that. He was new for season four, which meant his death protected the main characters from the Duffers feeling a need to kill one of them. Also, he could not have died a better death. And all scenes with Dustin—and Dustin and Eddie’s father, as you said—were wonderful.
Sabina: Barb, Bob, Billy, and now Eddie. Ahhhh! I hope it’s not the last we see of Eddie but also don’t want him to be an evil avatar of any sort.
Germain: At least they finally changed the first letter of the dead character. What about Max though, speaking of “Dead” characters. Obviously, she has to come back, right?… Right?
Rob: For sure. No question. They would have just made her die now for maximum emotional impact if they were going to kill her off.
Sabina: I was definitely surprised at the brutality and at how the Piggyback didn’t entirely work. It crushed Eleven and gave her a defeat that really shook her in not being able to protect someone she loves. It was awesome to see her and Max’s storylines meet so it built to an earned sacrifice. I honestly thought at one point Jason, the dime-store Gaston, was going to be Vecna’s plan B when I thought Max and Eleven were going to be successful.
Germain: Yes, great point. I loved how it went back to Eleven and Max’s friendship in such a nice way. I almost forgot how important that was to both characters in previous seasons. Speaking of Eleven, let’s talk about the Piggyback. Not the logistics of it per se but just how it fits in with the show and the very interesting dynamics between Will, Mike, and Jonathan. I wish they all had more to do besides just watching Eleven but I thought that back and forth between the three of them was dynamite, albeit it a little short.
Rob: They were all the weakest storyline, especially Jonathan. Honesty, neither Jonathan nor Argyle needed to be in the season other than for Jonathan’s really sweet speech to Will and Argyle’s ability to get into a pizza joint for Eleven’s impromptu isolation tank. You could call Argyle… Chekhov’s Joint-Smoking Gun.
Germain: The “Comic Relief” for sure, which was big in the 1980s. But seriously, what do we think about Will and Mike’s relationship? Will loves Mike, yes? And Jonathan knows it? I read some people who didn’t get that but to me, it was very clear and powerful.
Rob: Yes and yes. I am not surprised to hear some people didn’t get that but it was obvious as hell. With the caveat that I am a cisgender white male, I liked the scene, and I appreciated that Will (the character) never felt like he could be honest about his truth with Mike, which was an unfortunately very real situation in the ‘80s (and beyond). He clearly hasn’t accepted himself, which is why he hides it, which makes Jonathan’s really sweet speech to him at the end even better, I think Will may well come more into his own in season five as a result of that moment.
Sabina: That was honestly the most standout scene for me too and glad it gave Noah Schnapp and Charlie Heaton a moment to shine. Vaguely redeemed Jonathan for me at least in being there for his brother and not like high all the time and letting Will and Mike dictate what to do. But in regards to his and Nancy’s storyline? Oof. Steve’s grown up and Jonathan’s leaned into being a burnout. Maybe the events that just happened will motivate him to figure his shit out. I’m invested in this love triangle again.
Germain: Right. All love to Heaton in that scene but seriously, why is Nancy with Jonathan? Like, come on now. But speaking of things I have questions about, I want to circle back and indulge myself a bit. What, in your minds, did the Russian prison scenes do exactly? Did the adults killing the Demogorgons actually hurt Vecna? Was that why the bats dropped? It was unclear to me and, maybe, some of our readers.
Rob: They did hurt Vecna in the sense that the show told us they would. Since those scenes were montaged with the other folks kicking Vecna’s ass, I’m fine with believing they did. Like I said, I think the show did a great job of managing to tie the storylines together for the climax despite being so far apart geographically.
But I think maybe the bats dropped when Vecna dropped? Like they’re all connected, but Vecna’s the kingpin, so when Vecna starts getting Kentucky Fried he has to withdraw his power from his external forces to reconsolidate himself.
Sabina: I just wanted to get back to Hawkins and more with the home team. But did like seeing some of the action against the Demogorgon and Demodogs.
Rob: I should say Hopper deciding to take out a Demogorgon with a sword is so goddamned stupid and cheesy and nonsensical and it was completely awesome and I loved it.
Sabina: That was wild and metal.
Germain: Yeah the Conan sword magically being left there from the weapons cache was cute. Obvious, but cute. Like how Eddie wears the Michael Myers mask at one point and then Vecna pulls a Michael Myers, falling out the window and then disappearing. I was surprised the Duffers didn’t use the John Carpenter theme in that moment.
Rob: Well, we all know the Duffers are masters of restraint. (pointedly ignores the final episode’s runtime)
Germain: Okay okay, as we wrap it up, let’s talk about that. Were these episodes, and most specifically episode nine, too long? Would you have preferred it as two or three episodes broken up? Personally, I did like the propulsive nature of making it all one, cohesive episode since so much was going on but I had to plan to watch it like a movie, not a simple episode of television.
Sabina: Some of the pacing felt like a lot of filler and undid some big moments for me. Specifically, Eleven taking her agency back from Papa. It was super impactful but was sort of undermined by dragging it out with obstacles to delay her escape. Everything in Hawkins was solid and could have been the focus of their own episodes with the plan Max, Nancy, Steve, Robin, Dustin, Lucas, Eddie, and Erica set into motion. The town felt like it ended up getting lost in the background till the very end.
Germain: Yes, I’m with you that the Hawkins stuff—the master plan—was truly the highlight and did, at times, get a little left in the dust. Or vines. Rob?
Rob: All jokes aside, I ended up thinking it was fine. It never flagged for me. I was even looking for places that would make a natural point to end an episode and begin a new one, because the Duffers said they had tried to figure one out and couldn’t. And I couldn’t either. It all worked really well together.
Germain: There are literal cuts to black a few points in the episode. I said “There’s a break” a few times.
Rob: But those felt like space for a commercial break, not a “Come back next week!” break. I honestly don’t think you can split the three-probing assault on Vecna into two episodes, and if you separated the epilogue from the action, it would feel extremely boring in comparison to what’s come before. I think you need the narrative momentum from the fight to carry you through to the end.
Germain: Okay, fair. Last thing. The Upside Down and Hawkins have merged at the end of volume two. Everyone is back together. What are your feelings going into season five? Can the ending be better than this when we’re inevitably just going to end up with Eleven vs. Vecna again?
Rob: I love the season four ending and I am looking forward to season five more than I was three and four. My hope, however, is that it can be another group fight against Vecna instead of being a mere One/Eleven showdown.
Sabina: I hope the Piggyback results in Max coming back with powers.
Germain: Whoa! I love that idea. Never thought about that.
Rob: I was thinking that exact same thing, Sabina. Or maybe, because they’ve all dealt with the Upside Down for so long, they all get psychic powers to varying degrees and whoop-ass.
Sabina: YES! Now I hope someone remembers to replace Max’s tape deck and Kate Bush cassette and put some earphones on her STAT.
Rob: Full disclosure: If I had a Walkman that only played “Running Up That Hill,” I would ask Vecna to put me out of my misery. Not to begrudge anyone who likes it.
Germain: No surprise it was the season’s worst character that broke the Walkman. Dude nearly broke the show and I’m glad he’s dead. Was that too much?
Sabina: I thought his death was too easy on him.
Rob: I’m glad’s dead because this was the most worthless subplot. I was excited about the show doing a “Satanic Panic” storyline but the only one who ended up panicked was the head jock and that was because of his girlfriend, not anything else. And that character only existed to screw things up during the final assault on Vecna. Call him… Chekhov’s Smoking Jock Holding Chekhov’s Smoking Gun.
Germain: Haha. I’m glad we agree on that but now I cannot in good mind end this discussion on that guy. Final thoughts on what you loved or what to say now that Stranger Things 4 is over.
Rob: HOPPER AND JOYCE FINALLY KISSED. THIS IS A GOOD THING. It’s weird it finally happened in the USSR, but I’ll take it.
Sabina: I am both relieved and worried that Steve has made it out alive so far. At this point, whether he gets the girl or not I hope he lives to have his six kids and they have a cool aunt Robin (also alive).
Germain: God, I love Steve and Robin. They’re the best. And let’s just hope that whatever happens, we see it in less time than it took for this season to come out. Two years!
Robert Bricken: Guys, if Steve has six kids in less than two years he’ll have much bigger problems than Vecna.
Stranger Things Vol. 4 is now streaming on Netflix.
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