STRANGER THINGS IS BACK! The premiere episode of the fourth season of Netflix’s biggest show is a beautiful mix of familiar and mysterious, and it starts things off with a bang.
The episode begins with a flashback. Dr. Martin Brenner is inside Hawkins National Laboratory, and chaos ensues as an outside force interrupts one of his tests with a live experiment. Outside, he sees Eleven standing amidst disheveled lab equipment, suggesting that the commotion is her own doing. Eleven looks at Brenner menacingly and the scene cuts to black.
Flash forward a few years, and Eleven is heard narrating a letter to her boyfriend, Mike, saying that she’s acclimating pretty well to her new place in California (which is a complete lie; she has no friends, and the popular girls laugh at her every chance they get).
In quaint, queer Hawkins, Mike and Dustin fail to persuade now school athlete-slash-benchwarmer Lucas to not join the basketball team in the championship match. The brand-new members of The Hellfire Club, a Dungeons & Dragons club at Hawkins High, need their best friend in the last leg of their campaign, but Lucas sees this as them not supporting him in his effort to be famous and no longer be bullied.
Max, who apparently has called it quits with Lucas after the Battle of Starcourt, now suffers from PTSD and has chosen to detach herself from the gang, mourning the untimely death of her brother, Billy. She also listens to Kate Bush now, so that automatically makes her the coolest character in the show.
Steve and Robin continue to hang out with each other: they talk about their uneventful escapades trying to get ladies, and Steve pushes Robin to confess her feelings to Vickie, her bandmate.
Back in California, Joyce receives a mysterious package, and she reaches out to Murray to figure out the meaning behind the unexpected delivery.
Unbeknownst to the main gang, a new entity begins to spread fear into the citizens of Indiana’s most mysterious town, hiding from the shadows and slowly emerging from the horrors of its domain.
It feels good to finally see our favorite 80s gang again, but what brings Stranger Things 4’s first episode down is the exposition surrounding them: Eleven still struggles with the fate of her father, Jim Hopper, and Jonathan and Nancy are now in a long-distance relationship, and the scenes that depict the struggles these characters have feel largely unnecessary, and it takes a while for the show to let us catch up on everything and everyone. Most of the first half of the episode feels a little too slow compared to the previous seasons’ pacing. Fortunately, The Duffer Brothers deliver nothing but sharp and witty writing, never making the reintroductions feel like a chore.
The episode’s biggest highlights are undeniably Hawkins’ new faces: Jonathan’s stoner pizza delivery guy friend, Argyle, The Hellfire Club’s leader, Eddie Munson, and the surprisingly endearing star cheerleader, Chrissy, all bring something fresh and exciting to an all-star cast that just can’t seem to stop growing.
Stranger Things was notorious for almost having no stakes in its major battles, and although we can no longer say the same after the season 3 finale, we sure hope that these three won’t suffer the way some of our old faves did (justice for Bob!). In a matter of minutes, these newcomers managed to meld themselves extremely well with the main cast, establishing on-screen relationships that have weight to them (huge props to Joseph Quinn as Eddie, who shares a particularly very memorable scene with Priah Ferguson’s Erica).
Combining fanservice-y nostalgia with a handful of humorous newcomers, its long runtime could be a bit off-putting for binge-watchers, and for a season full of feature-length episodes, Stranger Things needs to steer clear of unjustified slow burns. Still, “The Hellfire Club” is a fun, hearty episode with ultimately only one purpose: getting the ball rolling for the Hawkins clique one more time.
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