Like It or Not, Stranger Things Season 4 Hurls the Series Into Adulthood

The Netflix series finally has its Goblet of Fire moment. It (mostly) works.

Returning to Netflix after a nearly three-year-long, pandemic-induced break, Stranger Things could've done two things. You'd think the horror-mystery series, which has lost a little bit of hype since its 2016 debut, may have returned with a guitar in hand, ready to play the hits: the brilliant Gaten Matarazzo squealing and wise-cracking as Dustin, more romancing between Mike and Eleven, lots of Eggos, and even more '80s nostalgia than you could throw a season of Cobra Kai at.

There's some of the old Stranger Things in Volume One of Season Four, which is now streaming on Netflix. (The remaining episodes will drop on July 1.) We'll avoid spoilers here, but very early on, it becomes exceedingly clear that Stranger Things went in direction number two—which takes a hard left into Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire territory. Meaning: not only do the kiddos not look like kiddos anymore, but the show itself has matured. The gore has been turned up to (pardon me) an 11, the flesh-and-bones look of the Big Bad is genuinely nightmare-inducing, hell, even horror legend Robert Englund has a role in this batch of episodes. Suddenly, it doesn't feel like Stranger Things is fighting a raging tentacle monster in a shopping mall anymore. At long last, the stakes feel real, the high-schoolers feel mature enough to reckon with the evil in their lives, and the twists and turns through Hawkins feel earned.

The only problem? It takes roughly nine hours to get there. Season Four fractures Stranger Things's ensemble into four groups, all scattered throughout the world. There's Detective Hopper, who is toiling around a Russian jail after mysteriously surviving the explosion in Season Three's finale. Jonathan, Mike, Will, and Argyle wheel around in a pizza delivery van, with the older contingent stoned off their asses most of the time. Divulging the details of Eleven's quest would veer into spoiler land. But the most compelling crew consists of Dustin, Steve, Max, Lucas, and Nancy, who investigate this season's newest terror from the Upside Down—the telekenetic Vecna, whose terrorizing of Hawkins residents is damn near what finally turns the town insane. All of that, as tedious as certain episodes can feel in the middle of the season, is worth sitting through until the hour-and-a-half-long finale, which feels like Stranger Things: The Movie.


Now, ultimately, it'll be up to this season's final two episodes—set to run at a collective four hours—to deliver on the promise Episode Seven gives us. The series will need the momentum, because Stranger Things is set to end with Season Five, which may very well end up as a 24-hour-long marathon at this rate. But for now, Volume One sees the much-needed coming-of-age of the Hawkins gang. Let's just hope there's no Order of the Phoenix-esque slog coming our way next.

FromEsquire US

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