Thursday, August 18, 2022

REVIEW: Grappling with the horror of Stranger Things 4

July 26, 2022
<p>Illustration by Madison Echlin.</p>

Illustration by Madison Echlin.

Photo by Madison Echlin | The State News

After almost three years since the previous season debuted, the fourth season of Netflix’s hit science-fiction series “Stranger Things'' returned on May 27, but the series left its sci-fi character-focused roots and opted for gruesome terror in season four which left viewers, and myself, with mixed feelings.

Written and directed by brothers Matt & Ross Duffer, the show has gained notoriety for its unique and chilling plot, stunning scenery and lovable characters.

While previous “Stranger Things” seasons inspired 80's TikToks, retro bikes and the childhood throwback of Eggo waffles with its lighthearted scenes of best friends Mike, Will, Eleven, Dustin, Lucas and Max navigating through their teenage years together, “Stranger Things” season four took a notably darker tone.

After the first episode, I didn’t think I would be able to keep watching.

The first episode of season four opens with a particularly gruesome scene depicting bloodied children and adults who had been murdered in the Hawkins Lab, ending with an equally grisly scene of high schooler Chrissy Cunningham being killed by the season’s villain, Vecna.

I started season four excited for the fun TikTok trends that would surely come from it and for the cute scenes of the kids just hanging out – but I left the first episode feeling as if I had just watched a gory horror movie instead of the show I first started watching with my mom as a freshman in high school. 

A few days later, I attempted to brave episode two, but had to stop 30 minutes after another high schooler fell victim to Vecna in yet another ghastly scene. 

Season four seemed to be missing what had made me fall in love with the series in the first place — the kids just being kids. 

Although the science fiction plot is the main focus of the show, I always felt like I could’ve done without it. Rather, I just wanted to watch as Mike, Eleven, Dustin, Lucas and Max hang out.

All of my friends and family members feel the same way. The characters are each so strong and interesting that we could've enjoyed a show of the characters just trying to get through high school together as the nerdy outcasts. 

I loved the moments in previous seasons when they would have sleepovers, deal with dating troubles and experience the sentence “weird” in high school.

However, this season could not have been the furthest from that.

Instead, we watched the kids face death, heartbreak and complete ostracization. 

In the majority of the season, they fought battles within themselves and against outside forces alone — Eleven and Mike were separated as they both worked to save Hawkins (and their relationship). Will was pointedly alone as he watched his best friend neglect him for his girlfriend, Max was trapped in Vecna’s world and Lucas was set apart by the basketball team.

I missed when they were all together and when their lives weren’t consumed with evil, but still, despite my fear of it, this season may have been the most powerful one yet.

“The Massacre at Hawkins Lab” (Ep. 7) is one of the most genius and insane episodes of television I’ve ever seen. The story of Vecna’s creation was flawless, unexpected and tied up every loose end in the season. I thought about it for days.

I also realized, after my shock and horror had faded, that while they may have been separated, the love and support of the six friends still remained.

I may not have been able to see them bike through Hawkins and do typical teenager activities, but I did see them exhibit compelling acts of friendship throughout the entire season: Eleven went back to the lab to save her friends in spite of her trauma, Max fought for her life through memories of her friends and Nancy, Steve, Robin and Eddie risked their lives in the upside down to give everyone else a chance at life.

The season also was reminiscent of what I and many others have had to go through in our lives.

Since “Stranger Things“ season three came out, there has been a pandemic, multiple mass shootings and conflicts. I personally graduated from high school and started college in the midst of the pandemic.

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Like season four, sometimes it seems that I, too, cannot escape all of the bad surrounding me. I miss the carefree days of high school hanging out with my friends; I hate the constant anxiety the pandemic has left me and I grieve for the senseless deaths all around me.

Season four took a notably darker tone than the previous seasons, but it seems as if the world has too.

Maybe it was harder to watch because I want a break from everything and I don’t want to face all of the bad that constantly happens, but I’m sure the “Stranger Things" kids feel the same way. 

Just like them, we don’t get the privilege of being kids anymore and have to grow up in a world that constantly hurdles obstacles – it’s hard.

However, while this season didn’t inspire any fun 80's trends or hanging out at the mall, it did inspire a sense of love in a world that seems to be filled with hardships.

What set One and Eleven apart from each other was that Eleven was able to find love both outside and internally to share with the world. 

In spite of constant bullying and torture in the lab, Eleven did not turn out evil like One did. She did not let the misery surrounding her consume her yet instead, she remembered and carried the love she had for her family and her friends within her.

This season, while utterly terrifying, reminded me that while it’s so easy to let all of the bad consume you, it’s important to remember that love exists in this world too and that love could be the only thing to get you through life.

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