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Photo: ‘Stranger Things 4: Vol. 2:’
Like all of the other television enthusiasts, I have been anticipating the final two episodes of the fourth season of ‘Stranger Things.’ Because this season is so massive, the episodes have been released in two parts, with the first volume dropping at the end of May, consisting of the first seven episodes, and the second volume releasing at the beginning of July with the last two. This split is unconventional for Netflix, but with the run time for most installments being well over an hour, it makes sense.
As the penultimate season, a lot is riding on it. Everyone cares so deeply about the characters Eleven, Hopper, Max, Dustin, Robin, newcomer Eddie, Steve (especially Steve), and all the rest. So, it’s no surprise that we were all waiting with bated breath to see how everything would turn out for all these wonderful characters. ‘Stranger Things’ has always had a vast amount of hype for it, and that hype is well-deserved. With a nearly two-and-a-half-hour finale, Volume 2 lives up to that hype, but it’s not without its flaws.
How Does ‘Stranger Things 4: Vol 2’ Hold Up for the Series?
‘Stranger Things 4’ is filled with all the trademarks that first made the worldwide phenomenon a worldwide phenomenon: big horror elements (that have been dialed up this season), lots of close-to-death encounters, fun banter between the characters, and, of course, that sweet sweet ‘80s nostalgia. Some critics have claimed that the show should’ve ended after its first or second season because those individual stories were so compact and wrapped up the journey nicely. Those criticisms are valid, however, by expanding the show, the creators are expanding enjoyment for the viewers. I said it before, and I’ll say it again, this season is massive. The Duffer Brothers (the creators) have labeled this the ‘Game of Thrones’ season, likely because of all the different storylines. There is just so much to it, and because there is so much, the good can often outweigh the bad.
Volume 2 was specifically anticipated because it would determine the fates of many cherished characters, and it was expected to end in a way that would properly set up season 5 (and we’ll probably have to wait another two years before we get that final season). The final episodes succeeded in toying with everyone’s emotions. This is a show that makes you yell at your TV screen. I remember being scared that the last episode was going to end because I needed the story to continue, and despite the movie-length runtime, it kept me captivated, never feeling boring. The performances this season are absolutely astounding! We’ve watched these kids since they were very young, and they were always stellar, but seeing them grow up and mature as performers is marvelous to watch (even though it can be hard to believe that some of these kids are still supposed to be in high school). Everyone’s talking about Sadie Sink crushing it this season, and they’re 100% right.
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New cast member Joseph Quinn has created a fan favorite with the character of Eddie Munson and fits right in with the cast and the story despite being new this season. In Volume 2 specifically, there was so much heart from Gaten Matarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin. Both actors, as well as their characters, have been here since the get-go, but they have reached the next level with their authenticity and rawness in their performances. If I were to list all the other standouts, I’d probably just be listing every single main cast member because not a single performance misses.
I think the one main fault of Volume 2 comes from the writers’ relationship with risk-taking. It’s not unusual for creative works, and especially highly anticipated creative works, to be risk-averse. Fans can be scary with their demands, so it can be easier to just play it safe. The extreme opposite outcome of not taking risks is taking a risk that doesn’t pay off – that fate may even be worse. Volume 2 takes some risks, but not all the ones they should’ve. It follows the familiar formula of its previous seasons, a formula that worked for the show to be so well-received, but this is a big season! A long season full of excitement and fear that set itself up for more than what we have seen before.
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The Pros and Cons of Splitting a Season
In the modern streaming service era, we’ve moved away from episodes dropping every week, and have become more comfortable with seasons dropping all at once. Getting every episode at the same time is instantly fulfilling, but leaves a hole once the season is done. By splitting up season 4, ‘Stranger Things’ was able to avoid that hole a little longer. Fans were able to create theories and analyze everything that had happened before gearing up for the finale. The ‘Stranger Things’ hype was and still is, able to last longer because there was that split. Other shows that don’t release all at once, such as HBO’s ‘Euphoria,’ have benefited for the same reasons. The longer it’s around, the longer the hype and enjoyment will last.
However, this schism was not perfect. The volumes didn’t split halfway, so that left everything riding on the last two episodes. This is an unfamiliar method for Netflix shows, and ‘Stranger Things’ in particular rides off tension and intensity as the story pursues, and that tension feels a little strange because of how the split of the volumes was executed. Furthermore, all those fan theories and analyses that raised the hype so much caused disappointment when the inferences didn’t come true. For example, a detail that everyone thought was so important that would lead to a plot twist turned out to just be single detail without deeper meaning. The disappointment reminds me of Marvel’s ‘WandaVision’ that was released way back at the beginning of 2021 because so many fans created so many insane theories that sounded so cool, but none of those cool theories came true, so the show felt bland by the end. It is so great for a show to be able to generate so much enthusiasm from its viewers, but that leaves more room for unfortunate disappointment.
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I had my issues with ‘Stranger Things 4: Vol 2,’ but I was still able to enjoy the watch so so so much. ‘Stranger Things’ will always be quality television, and it’s a ton of fun to watch fans converse and share thoughts and feelings on a piece of artwork. The Duffer Brothers have created something truly memorable. If no one cared about these characters and what happened to them, then it wouldn’t be as special. I can’t wait to hear everyone’s responses to the ending, whether people like it or not. It may sound pretentious, but that’s what stories are supposed to do. They’re meant to catalyze a response in others. Even if that response is a criticism, it still demonstrates that the viewer was actively engaging with the content.
There will always be a lot of heart in ‘Stranger Things.’ Volume 2 kept that heart beating strong, and kept everyone on the edge of their seats. Now, we just have to wait for season 5. That’ll be fun, right?
Cast and Crew:
Cast: Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Noah Schnapp, Charlie Heaton, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Sadie Sink, Joe Keery, Natalia Dyer, Winona Ryder, Brett Gelman, David Harbour, Joseph Quinn, Eduardo Franco, Priah Ferguson, Robert Englund, Matthew Modine, Gabrielle Pizzolo, Dacre Montgomery, Maya Hawke, Paul Reiser
Directors: The Duffer Brothers, Shawn Levy, Nimród Antal | Producers: Shawn Levy, Matt and Ross Duffer, Dan Cohen, Rand Geiger, Iain Paterson, Emily Morris, Curtis Gwinn, Paula Kramer, Gary Tuck, Richard Denault, Paul Dichter, Lampton Enochs, Joshua Kohl Hegmann, Tudor Jones, Kate Trefry
Editor: Dean Zimmerman | Writers: The Duffer Brothers, Paul Ditcher, Kate Trefry, Curtis Gwinn, Caitlin Schneiderhan,
By Rachel Beltowski
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Rachel Beltowski is a screenwriter and film critic, with a passion for character-driven stories and thought-provoking themes. From adventure to horror, Rachel enjoys stories which take the audience on an emotional rollercoaster and allow for personal expression that would otherwise go silent. Rachel was drawn to The Hollywood Insider’s dedication to individual perspectives and positive world impacts. The Hollywood Insider has provided a foundation for Rachel to share her insights and leap into the center of the entertainment industry. Rachel hopes to bring a fresh voice into the world of film and television, and share her love of stories with others.