‘Stranger Things 4 Volume 2’ Review: A Two-Part Season Finale With Some Major Problems

The final two episodes of Stranger Things 4 arrived this weekend after a month-long wait from the first seven episodes. For the most part, I enjoyed the two-part season finale but I have to admit, quite a few things about it bothered me.

While I found the first seven episodes to be pretty good, and a couple of them to be some of the best in the entire show, I felt a little bit letdown by episodes 8 and 9—Papa and The Piggyback.

Before we get to the problems, I’ll go over what I enjoyed. Spoilers follow, obviously.

The Good

Lots Of ‘The Feels’ — You can always count on Stranger Things to hit you with the feels at some point in a season. When Hopper “died” and El read his letter at the end of Season 3 I got pretty emotional. I still feel like bringing him back was kind of cheap. More on that in a minute.

But there were some great moments in the two-part finale including Will’s speech to Mike that was really about him almost certainly being gay and not actually about Eleven. Jonathan’s own pep-talk to Will later was also great. Dustin comforting Eddie’s uncle was another great moment of emotional poignancy. Same with Lucas cradling Max’s body when she (temporarily) died.

Some Great Action — The invasion of The Upside Down by Nancy, Steve, Robin, Eddie and Dustin was a great segment with some fun action including Molotov cocktails (oddly never used in the Russia plotline). Eddie playing metal guitar in the Upside Down was pretty rad (if totally preposterous).

I really liked that Hopper used the Conan sword to kill a demogorgon. I have that exact same sword actually, and it’s 100% battle ready so on the off chance I’m attacked by an interdimensional monster I will have some protection.

The fight scene between Lucas and Jason was pretty intense also, and I’m glad that Erica didn’t swoop in to save the day (which is what I thought would happen) and they let Lucas be the badass this time.

Vecna As The Big Bad — A lot of people got suckered by a red herring in the first volume of Stranger Things 4 when the characters theorize that Vecna is a lieutenant of the Mind Flayer’s. I thought that was a bad theory, personally. Vecna was clearly the guy pulling the strings, and my guess was that he was in charge of the Mind Flayer and all the other monsters.

Sure enough, we learn that Vecna bent the Upside Down to his will, shaping the Mind Flayer into a form he always loved since he was a boy: A spider. Vecna as the Big Bad who’s always been trying to get through the gates back into the real world is a much more compelling idea than some giant, voiceless, mindless monster. It adds a lot to the story that I wish had maybe been introduced or hinted at more much earlier.

Brenner’s ‘Redemption’ — In episode 8, Brenner effectively betrays Eleven and his colleague, Dr. Owens, because he’s so certain she’s not ready to face One, but really because he’s a control freak who thinks he knows better than anyone else. When the soldiers invade the project he races Eleven to safety before being gunned down by a helicopter. At this point he has her in one of the protective collars that is supposed to prevent her from using powers, which is pretty messed up. She’s still able to down the chopper with the collar on. He then releases her from the collar as he dies, and his dying words are basically that he’s always loved her and done all of this to protect her.

Eleven doesn’t really buy it, which I think was great. Sure, in the end he did the most obvious possible decent thing once he knew he could no longer control her, but that’s not enough to atone for all of his past sins and she doesn’t forgive him and doesn’t help ease his passing. He dies without her accepting his bullshit and it’s a fitting way to go.

The Bad

The Run-Time — The combined length of episodes 8 and 9 was about 4 hours. While there was a great deal of entertaining content within those 4 hours, there was also a ton of filler. Episode 8 was almost entirely setup for the finale, getting the pieces into place both with Eleven and Brenner and with the Hawkins gang, who decides rather foolishly that they should attack Vecna.

Actually, since we’re on that point I’ll just include it here. What on earth was Nancy thinking leading everyone into such a dangerous mission? There was nothing at all suggesting that they had to act that very night and put Max and everyone else in harm’s way. They could have delayed since Vecna was apparently still going after Max and she knew how to prevent him getting hold of her (though even Runnin’ Up That Hill gets old if you have to listen to it 24/7).

In any case, it was a bad plan given they surely know by now that without Eleven they simply can’t stand up to the worst of the Upside Down’s denizens.

So a lot of time was spent on planning this and then a lot of time was spent carrying it out. Eleven’s crew spends a ton of time first trying to get a flight back to Hawkins, then making pizza in a pizza place before Eleven’s immersion bath and then that whole sequence with Max and Eleven and Vecna felt weirdly drawn out. Which brings us to . . . .

Eleven’s Powers —When Eleven first shows up in Max’s mind and actually confronts Vecna, she easily tosses him into the air and suspends him there. Then she throws him through the wall and, um, forgets about him I guess? She clearly has grown in power as the helicopter scene shows, and here she easily bests him though that may be partly the element of surprise.

But then she just ignores him to go talk with Max which feels like a rookie mistake and when he comes back he stomps her handily, quickly binding her with vines so she can watch helplessly as he mangles Max (all while slowly choking Nancy, Robin and Steve to death). It’s the “power of love” that reminds her that she can fight.

And don’t get me wrong, the scene with Will telling Mike he’s the ‘heart’ of the group, and Mike telling El he loves her and shouting at her to fight was all fine and appropriately dramatic and moving, but it also felt . . . redundant. Eleven just spent three episodes figuring out how to get her powers back, learning that she was more powerful than One and so forth. Why does she need to be reminded now—now that her and all her friends’ lives are at stake—to fight?

Why does she need Mike to remind her of this after everything? Is it just to give Mike something to do? Is it just to delay her saving Max so that they can fake us out with her death (and put her in a coma and break all her limbs)?

Look, if you’re going to spend all this time giving El her powers back, you don’t need another whole segment where she has to “remember” to fight. Just have her show up and stomp Vecna and at the same exact time have Nancy’s group torch him. This all plays out so awkwardly. Just have her show up right as he’s mangling Max and cut a lot of the extraneous stuff. (If Vecna is going to monologue about how he’s the Big Bad, fine, but he can do that as they fight, or before they really get into it, without making her seem weak for no reason).

Plot Armor / Low Stakes — Another big issue I have with this season (and all the seasons at this point) is how much plot armor the main cast has. They should have killed off Hopper at the end of Season 3. It was an emotionally powerful moment when he “died” and as much as I love his character and as cool as his Conan sword scene was, nothing about him returning in Season 4 was really better than a good death at the end of Season 3. (More on the Russia plotline in a minute).

The plot armor that he, Joyce and Murray have in Russia is ridiculous. An entire prison base is killed off but somehow these three escape without a scratch.

And really, other than Max, the same applies for the entire core cast. There was a great deal of ominous hype about all these big deaths at the end of Season 4 but that didn’t pan out at all. Not a single main character died. No adult, no kid, no teen. Sure, Max being so badly injured and potentially having her soul sucked into Vecna is a pretty big deal, but still. And Brenner dying is hardly that big of a deal since he was gone for the last two seasons and because he’s such an unlikable character to begin with.

The only death that really stung in the end was . . . .

Eddie’s Death — And frankly, give me a break. Give me a break, Duffer Brothers, with this unoriginal nonsense. Eddie was a great new character and Joseph Quinn really knocked it out of the park, but what an absolute waste his death was in the end.

First off, this is an old trick. This is Bob in Season 2 and Alexei in Season 3. All over again. How shocking, guys. Really didn’t see this coming at all!

Second, what was the point exactly? Why did he need to keep drawing the bats away? They were already away from Vecna’s lair. Steve and Nancy and Robin had already made it inside. The distraction was complete and then Eddie just . . . throws himself into unnecessary danger and dies? What? Screw that. If you’re going to kill off such a great character at least have him doing something truly heroic, like saving Dustin’s life. If the bats had gotten inside and the only way for Dustin to escape was Eddie sacrificing his life, fine. (Though see point #1 for why this would still be annoying).

This was just a pointless waste of a great character that exposes the Duffer Brothers’ reliance on reusing the same formula over and over again. I’m not happy about it at all. And I mean, why not just kill Argyle while you’re at it?

The Rifts — Minor quibble here, but what exactly happened with the Upside Down rifts in the end? When Max dies they open up and converge on Hawkins, destroying entire neighborhoods in the process. Then the next day everyone thinks it was an earthquake and it appears the rifts are gone. But then later that day some ash is falling from the sky and when they go look we see the rifts are open again. Why? What’s going on in this scene? I found it very confusing.

The Russia Plotline — This was all pretty lackluster and ended up being drawn out way too long. Aside from the fact that I think Hopper should have died because it would make a more emotionally compelling (and narratively bold) story, his rescue sequence didn’t need to last the entire season. Them going back to the prison felt very strange to me also (also letting Yuri just do his own thing out by the helicopter while they all sat around in the church was . . . strangely stupid).

I guess this just ended up being yet another way to split up the gang as much as possible for the entire season. Same with having Mike and Will and Eleven and Jonathan off doing their own thing instead of helping out in Hawkins. Again, this feels very formulaic and very much like what this show does every time, with the gang finally reuniting at the very end again.

Jason — Another small quibble, but I was really disappointed with Jason as a villain, though his ultimate demise is good soil for jokes. (Jason had to split, etc.) By the end, Jason is rolling around with a giant revolver which he threatens to shoot Lucas with if he doesn’t wake up Max. He’s totally unhinged, utterly unsympathetic and just a one-note villain who isn’t very interesting.

But as a grieving boyfriend looking for revenge for his girlfriend’s killer, he had the potential to be an interesting antagonist who maybe could have had a tragic redemptive arc once he finally realized the truth. Instead, Lucas knocks him out and the poor bastard gets rifted in his sleep. A quick death, sure, but kind of a lame one beyond the “oh crap!” factor.

The Soldiers — What happened to Colonel Sullivan and his soldiers? They couldn’t get to Hawkins before Eleven? I thought for sure they’d show up and cause some trouble in the end but I guess they were like, “Oh dang, she got away in a pizza van how will we ever follow her now.”

How Many Death Stars Are Too Many? — I am very glad that we have Vecna now and a bit of a story behind all these attacks on Hawkins. The villain now has motive and personality. The war has a more distinct shape to it. But also, couldn’t we have just wrapped things up with this season? This is the fourth season where the kids have to fight the Upside Down and its monstrous denizens. The Big Bad has finally been revealed. The backstory has been unveiled and all the pieces have finally come together. Why not just wrap it up?

Season 1 had a great arc with an original villain and conflict and an ending that felt very tidy and fitting. They could have stopped the show there and it would have been nearly perfect. Season 2 and 3 felt redundant. A new, bigger villain emerged with the Mindflayer, but then we went through all the motions of shutting the gate to the Upside Down again and again, with the absolutely goofy Russian underground facility gate in Season 3 really feeling a bit like Starkiller Base.

This show does have a bit of a Death Star problem in that regard. And while we certainly did move the story forward in Season 4, it also seemed like a pretty good time to call it quits and just have our heroes make their brave final stand, finally vanquishing Vecna and closing down the Upside Down once and for all.

Now we have a new problem: The Upside Down is making itself very obvious in the real world with these huge rifts in Hawkins. I thought we were getting a time-jump between Season 4 and 5 but with the rifts right there and Max in a coma, I don’t see how they can do this unless they have the final showdown with Vecna off-screen and Season 5 is just some friends hanging out playing D&D and going to the dance.

I still very much enjoyed these final two episodes. There were some really good bits and obviously it’s the characters that make it all worthwhile. Max and Lucas and Dustin were great this season, but I felt like Mike and Eleven and Will were less so. Jonathan feels kind of aimless also, though we can thank him for bringing the much more entertaining Argyle along. Oh, and Steve has become one of the best characters on the show (which is why I thought they’d kill him off) and he and Nancy totally need to get back together. They have actual chemistry which is sorely lacking between Jonathan and Nancy.

Nice to see Robin may finally get the girl of her dreams also, though the two are far too alike if you ask me. Oh well.

What did you think of the season and the two-part season finale? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook.

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