Warning: The following review contains spoilers for Stranger Things season 4 episode 3. Turn away now if you have not seen Netflix’s latest venture into the Upside Down…
There’s a lot to love about the first three episodes of Stranger Things 4, but there’s no escaping the feeling that The Duffer Brothers could have cut a fair amount out. Take Joyce and Murray’s flight – there’s so much screen time doing nothing to develop the story. Nothing of substance happens on their journey, yet we see them on the plane multiple times, and the diner scene already did a brilliant job setting up the episode and showing the fallout of Eleven going wild and punching Angela with a skate.
Tensions rise over the meal and there are a couple of fun jokes, too. Yet, even here, the episode struggles under the sheer size of the season. Do we really need to see Jonathan stoned at the table? He’s becoming a cliche, and not a particularly fun one. Meanwhile, Joyce’s parenting skills are certainly questionable after she fails to do anything about the awkwardness. Oh, and Eleven literally just smashed someone’s face in. Why wasn’t she arrested on the scene?
At least, by the end of the episode, Eleven’s journey is clear. One of Dr. Brenner’s good co-conspirators, Sam, prevents her from a few years in juvenile detention. There’s tension here, too, as we’re not sure whether Eleven really is the “cure” or the “monster” she sees herself as. The season’s opening scene is proving more and more key to unlocking the mystery at the center of Eleven’s story. I just wish this had all been condensed into the first episode, but I’m glad we’re moving away from the high school antics. Eleven’s future is now extremely exciting, though I suspect we’re not seeing the full picture when it comes to Sam’s intentions.
From California, we head to Russia, where Hopper’s trying to escape imprisonment. David Harbour continues to do great work, and seeing him break free of his chains by cracking his ankle is gnarly. They said Stranger Things 4 would be more mature, and when it comes to the gore, the cast were not joking. I had to avert my eyes, that’s for sure. Unlike Hopper, I do not trust his apparent Russian friend. This deal’s definitely not going to go down as simply as we would all hope.
The real gem of a story remains back in Hawkins as Dustin, Steve, and Max search for something that links the victims Chrissy and Fred, while Robin and Nancy do some old-school detective work at the library looking into the mysterious Victor Creel, who lived in the house that Vecna now calls home. Robin and Nancy’s relationship is fun, and I’m fully shipping Steve-Nancy already, though Nancy’s definitely the less interesting of these two characters. Maya Hawke is simply great in the role of Robin and her straightforwardness makes for great comedy.
Also great comedy value: Steve being forced to babysit Dustin again. I love that the writers have found a way to bring these two back together, their simple scene in the car – talking about Nancy while Max steals her counselor’s keys – showcasing the chemistry they share. The Duffers have spoken about a potential spin-off, and right now, I’m hoping it’s just Dustin and Steve teasing each other. At the very end of the episode, we also witness how Max has been suffering from Vecna’s curse. The stakes are raised once again in Hawkins, and all fingers are crossed that Max gets out alive.
There’s also Lucas hunting Eddie with Chrissy’s boyfriend, Jason. It’s a struggle to understand why Lucas has done this complete 180 on the friends he has fought literal monsters with for the past few years. Yes, he wants to be with the cool kids, but surely he knows the truth, and it doesn’t exactly feel like he’s doing a whole lot to help, leading the Tigers to the boathouse. How’s Lucas going to stay in the cool club while also wanting to help his friends? I would rather see Lucas as just part of the gang rather than working against them – though I imagine that’s coming imminently, unless Stranger Things really does commit to Lucas turning on Dustin. Come on, Lucas, just leave those punks and get back with your friends!
Joyce and Murray’s flight aside, there’s a whole lot of great stuff in the episode. It’s perhaps no coincidence that this happens to be the shortest episode of the season. I wish they had been a bit more brutal in the editing room, but the third installment in Stranger Things 4 develops the story in a very interesting way – especially with Eleven and Max – and I’m excited for the next episode, perhaps for the first time, properly, this season.
Stranger Things season 4 “Vol 1” is out now. For more, check out the best Netflix shows streaming right now.