Article by Alison Isko
“Stranger Things” does best when it remembers that emotional impact exists. In that regard, the second half of season 4 was much more successful than the first, but it did run into some major setbacks.
Because the most recent two episodes were both as long as feature-length films, clocking in at over 90 minutes each, they were not as self-contained as normal episodes. The issue with this is that each episode didn’t function like a feature-length film. The story arcs were not as defined as I would have liked them to be, as they dragged on and were inconsistent. I forgot that Steve, Nancy, and Robin were there because nearly all they did during their sporadic inclusion was walk through a forest.
Robin’s part was the smallest of all. She was initially introduced last season as comic relief, but her character did have very fleshed-out relationships and dynamics with those she interacted with. This season, she pretty much only exists to give witty comebacks. She speaks to both Nancy and Steve in the same way when they’re all together, which feels inconsistent when considering the relationships she has with both. Steve is her close friend. Nancy is her friend in the way you’re friends with kids at your table in middle school math class.
While in the forest, Steve does tell Nancy he’s in love with her. While I’m not a fan of that particular subplot, that should have been an easy and effective climax to their storyline together. But it doesn’t work. Robin interrupts their conversation before Nancy can respond, and that topic isn’t discussed between Steve and Nancy afterwards. While her answer is implied towards the end of the final episode, it is not ever stated, and that means their story has no closure. That particular subplot could have been wrapped up very neatly, but it is instead yet another loose thread (much like Johnathan’s entire character arc in Part 1).
I understand that the Duffer Brothers were trying to bring emotional impact and levity to this season, and I appreciate that. But there were better ways to do that. While I firmly believe it was unnecessary and just included for the sake of killing off a character, Eddie’s death was very sad. That’s because we see Dustin and his uncle react to it, and we see how his final moments affect Eddie personally. That is not present with Steve’s confession, and is why it doesn’t work.
Max’s grievous injuries are impactful for that same reason. She’s panicking, Lucas is panicking, and she deserves better. Her emotions radiate out over the other characters and into the audience. We see that with Will, too. Will talks to Mike, Mike feels better about his relationship with Eleven, and Will ultimately cries in a car because he’s in love with Mike. That subplot isn’t neatly wrapped up, similarly to Steve and Nancy, but is different because we clearly see emotional impact and no conversation has been had between Mike and Will in regards to this. There is no open-ended storyline to conclude, as the storyline has barely been opened in the first place.
Will does get to discuss some feelings with Johnathan, but that conversation is awkward. Johnathan tells Will he loves him and misses spending time with him. Will concurs. They then likely have a stronger relationship as brothers because of it, though we never actually see that. The issue is that it sounded strange to hear Johnathan mention any of it in the first place. The actor is stilted, the dialogue is stilted, and it isn’t important at all.
That is the issue with the entire Russia storyline as well. The dialogue is stilted, which makes the actors stilted, and it isn’t important at all. It is so unimportant that I forgot it existed while initially writing this article, and had to go back and add this paragraph three hours later. This season sets up Hawkins as a gateway to the Upside Down and the focal point of all its power. Russia being such a big player now dampens that impact, especially because it has virtually no impact on Hawkins itself. It is there for the sake of being there. While it does expand the Stranger Things Universe, it would make no virtually difference to the broader plot if that plot line was scrapped. It’s only a vehicle to give a handful of characters (Hopper, Joyce, and Murray) a way to explore a different dynamic, meaning it needed to be at least 75% shorter. Let us see Hopper escape and come back home, but don’t make it one of the most drawn-out stories of the season.
One thing I did like is that Robin got to speak to Vickie again in this half of the season. That scene was entertaining and brought some much-needed levity. That being said, if someone is introduced as a love interest, it would be nice for them to speak more than twice in one season. It might be nice for those two characters to actually have a storyline together.
The second half of the season is undoubtedly better than the first. But that doesn’t mean much, and doesn’t mean that the second half is great by any means. It’s watchable. It’s a TV show that was made, and that is available to you. It just feels sloppy, and I’m disappointed by how low-effort it comes across.