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5 Reasons Stranger Things Season 4 Was Easily The Best Season of the Series

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

As Eddie Munson (Joe Quinn) stood atop his trailer in the upside and tore into a blazing rendition of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” one thought ran through this reviewer’s mind — Stranger Things Season 4 is easily the best season of the tentpole Netflix series since the inaugural season in 2016.

Blasphemy, right?

How could this season be better than the mall-centric third season where we all sang the theme to the Neverending Story at the top of our lungs? What about the Halloween-themed sophomore season that not only saw our heroes unite at The Snow Ball, but also began our love for Steve Harrington (Joe Keery)?

Now before you threw me into a Russian prison to become a snack for a wild Demogorgon, let’s really look into this.

First, let’s look at the cultural relevance of Stranger Things Season 4 as opposed to Seasons 2 and 3. Granted, cultural relevance doesn’t always equal quality, however with this series there is a correlation.

When was the last time Stranger Things dominated the pop culture conversation for this long? Likely, it was six years ago when we first met Eleven and the boys in Hawkins. That first season took the world by surprise and by storm at just how excellent it was. The series made Eggo Waffles a pop culture fad, it launched the careers of Finn Wolfhard and Millie Bobbie Brown, it reinvigorated Winona Ryder’s career and it took David Harbor from character actor to Hollywood player. Hell, I even re-subbed to Netflix for this series alone.

Why did this happen? People fell in love with the series. It was special, it was creative, it was nostalgic and quite frankly it’ll be hard for any season of this show or any series in general to hurdle the bar set by Strangers Things’ freshman season.

Six years later, the show has never been hotter. The explosion of memes, GIFs, fan art,  undying love for Eddie Munson have been non-stop on social media. Kate Bush’s career being revitalized. Metallica looking cool to a younger generation. Fans are already chomping at the bit for the fifth and finale season — creating fan theories based off even the slightest hints and clues The Duffer Brothers have allowed out in the public since Season 4 ended.

There’s five really strong reasons as why Stranger Things Season 4 achieved the same heights of popularity and hysteria as the initial season.

1. A Change in Format: This is not the main reason why Stranger Things Season 4 worked, but the format change to the series definitely allowed for all the main reasons to exist.

First and foremost, expanding the run times on episodes was one of the best ideas the showrunners of the series have had in years. Longer runtimes often are an albatross for a series or film because it often allows for excessive and self-indulgent storytelling, sidetracks, over-explanation and a lot of unnecessary plot and character arcs designed for the sole purpose of filling time.

This season wasn’t guilt-free of those issues (e.g. Vecna’s plan being told multiple times, the California crew’s story sometimes feeling a bit slow, and the divisive Russia subplot) it did allow for a lot of time spent with our characters — both the heroes and the villains. Vecna felt tremendously fleshed out and the more we learned of him, it only increased his threat-level. The time allowed us to fall in love with Eddie Munson. It got us inside the head of Mad Max (Sadie Sink) and our fear for her life grew. It gave the Steve/Nancy (Natalia Dyer) subplot time to grow. We were able to dedicate time to really understood Eleven’s guilt and trauma. We found out so much about Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) and that added so much to the finale. And finally, we got a huge redemption arc for Hopper (David Harbour)  — who desperately needed it after his sadly one-note storyline in Season 3.

All of this time with our characters only made the two-part nature of the series mean even more. Left on such an epic cliffhanger, we were left desperately wanting more. After spending years and years of having our Netflix stories wrapped up within a weekend. Now, we were told to wait a month and change. This time away from this series where we grew closer than ever to our characters made us fear for most of their existences (particularly Steve, Max and Eddie).

2. A Change in Tone: Horror has always been a huge factor in what makes Stranger Things so great. Each season really paid homage and took from the classics. Season 1 definitely took cues from Evil Dead, while Season 2 found inspiration likely from a plethora of films, Season 3 definitely had vibes from The Thing. However, these all worked as inspirations, not a shift in the vibe.

Stranger Things Season 4 dove headfirst into the playbook Wes Craven created when he unleashed A Nightmare on Elm Street onto the pop culture world. Everything about this series felt much scarier than in seasons past. Yes, watching little kids come face-to-face with a demogorgon was scary, but the sheer fear imbued into this season was undeniable. Whether it was the fear of Vecna, the Upside, overzealous townspeople, power drunk teenagers or shady government figures — the entire series was doused in an undeniable sense of fear. It wasn’t just the characters either — the music was eerier, the lighting was so much more piercing and intimidating, the visuals were haunting and this new version of the Upside was a glimpse into a hellscape none of us were ready for.

The episodes having more time allowed that fear to build. It wasn’t just a bunch of lore and jump scares, this was a real deal slowburn psychological horror that manifested itself into ungodly scary visuals and action.

3. A Real Villain: Vecna is the best villain in the history of Stranger Things. The simple reason being — he was portrayed by a real person. For the first three seasons, the gang dealt mostly with CGI demogorgons, demo dogs and the Mind Flayer — both in dust and physical form. Yet, at the end of the day they were all computer generated and not tangible and less … impactful. Think about it what was scarier in Season 3 — the big goopy version of the Mind Flayer or the possessed Billy?

Vecna being portrayed by an actual actor (while enhanced by CGI) made the character more intimidating than the CGI characters. This character feels more violent, dangerous, and manipulative than any of the other villains in the Stranger Things universe. Yes, the demogorgon in Russia was way more violent and visceral than Season 1, it still pales in comparison to Vecna. Jamie Campbell Boyer gave this inherently sinister and malevolent performance that makes your skin crawl, but he allows Vecna/Henry/001 to be much more than a boogey man. He’s evil, but he has this genuine sense of care for Eleven. It’s a very interesting dynamic that he and the writers create here and that shred of humanity somehow makes Vecna even more frightening.

4. Actual Stakes: The idea that our heroes wouldn’t save the day or that someone might not make it out alive has always surrounded the series, but it never felt more prescient than in Season 4.

At any given moment it felt like Hopper would not make it out of Russia. Given that he cheated death at the end of Season 3, it was not out of the realm of the possibility that he wouldn’t make it out of Mother Russia. Max Mayfield also seemed like a prime candidate to eat it before season’s end — hell, The Duffer Brothers even thought so! Being marked as one of Vecna’s targets seemed like she was destined to meet her maker, but when she showed Lucas the picture of them at the movies — whose heart didn’t sink because you felt she was doomed. Her survival makes for a very interesting arc for Season 5 and it’s still a shame Sadie Sink was not nominated for an Emmy this.

Steve Harrington seemed destined for death — but then again when doesn’t he? No, but seriously that whole speech about having six kids and driving around the country in an RV felt like he was literally signing his own death warrant.

That’s the beauty of the writing of Stranger Things Season 4 — it zigged when you expected it to zag, it head-faked you without cheating you and it grabbed you by the heart and didn’t let go until it wanted to.

5. Eddie Munson: Literally the best addition to the cast ever. Nothing more needs to be said.

Stranger Things Season 4 is now streaming on Netflix

Bill Bodkin
Bill Bodkinhttps://thepopbreak.com
Bill Bodkin is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break, and most importantly a husband, and father. Ol' Graybeard writes way too much about wrestling, jam bands, Asbury Park music, HBO shows, and can often be seen under his season DJ alias, DJ Father Christmas. He is the co-host of the Socially Distanced Podcast (w/Al Mannarino) which drops weekly on Apple, Google, Anchor & Spotify. He is the co-host of the monthly podcasts -- Anchored in Asbury, TV Break and Bill vs. The MCU.

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