Stranger Things season 4, volume 1 review – the boldest and bloodiest season yet

By Marc Miller
Published: May 24, 2022 (Last updated: February 1, 2023)
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Netflix series Stranger Things season 4, volume 1


Thrilling, funny, and genuinely frightening, the arm-rest-grabbing Stranger Things returns with a masterful fourth season. It’s as good as mainstream popcorn escapism can get.

This review of the Netflix series Stranger Things season 4, volume 1 does not contain spoilers.

Access the archive of news, recaps, and reviews of Stranger Things.

What the Duffer brothers have accomplished with the long-awaited fourth season of Stranger Things is a remarkable feat. They produced nine episodes, seven to be released this Thursday, May 27th, and all are feature film length. Volume One is as thrilling, hilarious, and downright terrifying as possible, the Duffer’s boldest and bloodiest season yet. It’s a phenomenal season of mainstream popcorn television. And it has the added highlights of two significant character returns and jaw-dropping plot lines that come together by Volume One’s end. In fact, I would call “The Massacre at Hawkins Lab” maybe the best episode of television the Duffer brothers have ever produced.

The fourth season signifies a change for our favorite Stranger Things freaks and geeks. The time elapsed has only been six months since the Battle at the Starcourt Mall. The kids grow, mature, and veer off into different paths. Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) is now on the Hawkins High School Basketball team. Max (Sadie Sink) broke up with him and is dealing with the aftermath of her step-brother Billy’s death. Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) have joined The Hellfire Club, a band that doubles as a Dungeons and Dragons group. Nancy (Natalie Dyer) is on the school paper and is ready to attend Emerson in the Fall.

While things are evolving in Hawkins, little has changed regarding bullying in Lenora, California. El (Millie Bobby Brown) is now living with Joyce (Winona Ryder), Will (Noah Schnapp), and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton). The cool kids are bullying her. You know, the kind from the era. They look like they have come right form from Saved by the Bell cast auditions, equipped with big, volumized hair while dressed in pastel-colored clothing, and they love a good roller rink.

El has lost all her powers, but the military thinks otherwise. Their theory? El must be the one killing people in Hawkins remotely with her mind. The local police believe the leader of the Hellfire Club, Eddie Munson, is the killer. Team Hawkins, which also consists of Steve (Joe Keery), and Robin (Maya Hawke), all team up to solve the mystery. At the same time, Team Lenora works on El being captured and weaponized by the U.S. Military. With the help of Dr. Owens (a terrific Paul Reisser), he will help her regain her powers to support the new threat in Hawkins.

I won’t ruin things with spoilers. Anything mentioned above is clearly in the trailer (which makes embargo plot points of certain characters’ return pointless, but we follow the rules here at Ready Steady Cut), but the season is expertly plotted throughout. From the wickedly moving and entertaining chapter four, “Dear Billy”, to the jaw-dropping finale, the first volume of episodes has an all-roads-lead-to-here moment that is genuinely surprising and impressive.

The fourth season’s first batch opens with seven new episodes, all being feature-length (the shortest being just over an hour and the longest being 98 minutes). The Duffer Brothers remain highly conscious of its audience’s wants without sacrificing quality, narratively or visually. In a rare move even by the studio, the creative team were given the time, money, and platform to produce a season like this that is truly extraordinary. The bar was set high with an extended wait, and they cleared it masterfully.

Besides, much of the credit needs to go to the writers and directors like the Duffers, Shawn Levy, and Nimrod Antal, who seamlessly kept the tone and core vision of the show intact. The series captures themes from today to the lost decade, like government mistrust versus loyalty, religious zealotry, and fear. Not to mention, the 80s choice in style and music was born and has stayed in its bubble for decades. Stranger Things captures a time when America tried to regain its innocence and failed, all while making an homage to 80s classic film consumerism that focused on great characters and just wanted to entertain you without preaching.

I will say the show does need two episodes to begin to find its groove. Those opening chapters have some genuinely horrific moments that can be jarring even for Stranger Things. The first two episodes are almost a reset since so much has changed in the world since we last saw a new episode of the show. Its violence and high-stakes storytelling brand cannot help but be viewed differently than it was three years ago. But, once they do, it’s a suspenseful ride. And besides my pet peeve of when characters enter a home and never close the door and some minor scene transitions, there is very little to quibble about.

Netflix and the Duffer Brothers have essentially produced nine feature films and rarely has a show made as triumphant a return as Stranger Things has with this outstanding season. And trust me, the spectacular ending to Volume One is so satisfying that I cannot imagine what the Duffers have come up with to top it. Thrilling, funny, and genuinely frightening, the arm-rest-grabbing fourth season is escapism at its finest.

What did you think of Netflix’s Stranger Things season 4, volume 1? Let us know in the comments below!

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