After a long COVID delay, Stranger Things has finally returned. As one of my favorite shows of all time, I was highly anticipating the newest chapter in the upside-down misfortunes of Hawkins, Indiana. Here are some of what I found to be key highlights from my several day binge sessions.
WARNING: The remainder of this article contains spoilers for season 4, part 1 of Stranger Things
- Eddie Munson and the Hellfire Club: One of my favorite things about Stranger Things was how the kids were Dungeons & Dragons players. Joseph Quinn absolutely owns his scenes as Eddie Munson, a third-year senior who collects the outsiders of Hawkins High and gives them a home with the Hellfire Club. When he tells Mike and Dustin to find a substitute for Lucas on Game Night, they don’t find a substitute so much as a ringer and bring Erica Sinclair into the game. Her entrance from the American flag cape (because you can’t spell America without Erica) and her verbal showdown with Eddie were amazing. Honestly, I should not be surprised that Erica plays a rogue with her history of scene-stealing and her verbal sparing that should require saving throws. I would also like to note that Mike’s enthusiasm for D&D down to trying to explain that they “aren’t regular dice” made my dice goblin soul relate so hard. I may already own three pieces of officially licensed Hellfire Club merchandise.
- Steve and Robin: The two best things that ever happened to Steve Harrington were his adoption of Dustin as some sort of surrogate younger brother and his friendship with Robin.
- Lucas’s Torn Loyalties: While we often hate any sort of implication of the party splitting, Lucas struggling to fit in with the jocks while his other friends prefer not to chase high school popularity for loyalty with the Hellfire Club is all too real. The horrified look on his face when he realizes that his closest friends are in very real danger from the angry mob of basketball players looking to blame Eddie and the Hellfire Club for Chrissy’s death is way too real on how getting swept up with a crowd without thinking can get out of control.
- Satanic Panic: My first DM was a guy whose step-father was a Boy Scout Troop Master and recalled how they got literature with “warning signs one of the kids might be playing D&D.” D&D being blamed as some harbinger of doomed and dangerous youth was very real. Including it here absolutely makes sense, even if we all know that it’s just a fantasy game that’s actually gaining in popularity in recent years.
- Erica: Erica’s real weapon is a verbal one, and at tense moments like Jason and the basketball players looking for Lucas, she shines as she informs them she’s charging Lucas for covering for him and charging interest. If it keeps up for a week he’ll owe her a Nintendo with Duck Hunt. Other highlights include her standing up for the Hellfire Club at Town Hall, threatening to tell Lucas’s friends what is under his bed, giving Holly a bag of Skittles after her Light Brite is commandeered, and punching a hole in a police car’s tire to help the kids get away. Just the facts, but she needs to just be an official member of the group already.
- Angela: Is there an ’80s mean girl we will ever hate as much as Angela?
- Argyle: There are mixed opinions about this new character, but when he complained he was getting stressed about Jonathan and Nancy’s relationship and he wasn’t even in it, I felt that so hard. I will say this for him—when Jonathan needed back-up, he was there driving the getaway pizza van.
- Murray and Joyce: A team-up I did not realize I needed, but the minute Murray announced he was a karate black belt, I knew we needed to see that in action, and I was not disappointed. Also, is it bad that there’s a familiarity in Joyce’s house getting destroyed/damaged yet again?
- Hopper and Enzo: Hopper’s team up with a Russian prison guard is absolutely delightful. Tom Wlaschiha (recognizable from Game of Thrones) nails the role.
- Max: Sadie Sink is on the shortlist for MVP of this season. Her portrayal of Max’s struggles as Billy’s death causes her rough family life to implode and the impact that trauma has on her is phenomenal. The revelation that she’s had suicidal thoughts is a gut punch, but her friends rallying to save her from Vecna and her scene of running to them while Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” plays is one of the finest moments in the season.
- Robin and Nancy: The team-up we never knew we needed but Nancy’s down-to-Earth resourcefulness paired with Robin’s outside-the-box thinking actually gives the Hawkins group several key revelations about Creel House and Vecna.
- The Nancy/Jonathan/Steve Love Triangle: All is not well between Nancy and Jonathan as Jonathan feels he can’t join Nancy but won’t communicate it to her. A frustrated Nancy is trying to brush it off but is clearly bothered. Add that everyone can still see a connection between her and Steve and one can’t help but wonder if things are going to shift again. Jonathan was there when Nancy needed help avenging Barb, but as Vecna tries to grab Nancy, could Steve be trying to save her shift in his favor again?
- Eddie’s New Perspective: Eddie seeing Nancy and Steve in a new light over how they handle this whole situation and realizing he has to drop his rich, preppy kid assumptions about them.
- Will: After last season there was a lot of online debate about whether Mike saying it wasn’t his fault that Will wasn’t into girls was an indication that Will might be gay. This season gave a lot of clues that the answer might be yes and that Will’s frustration over being the third wheel to Mike and El was because he had feelings for Mike. A line about it being hard to admit things to the people closest to you was a huge clue. The question hasn’t been directly answered yet, but both Noah Schnapp and Shawn Levy have spoken about it. We’ll have to see if part 2 gives a more direct answer to what’s been implied thus far. The struggle with being the third wheel to your best friend is also so dead-on for that age group too.
- Suzie: On one of the craziest road trips yet, Mike and Will decide to enlist hacking help from Dustin’s girlfriend Suzie. Suzie well earns her genius title in one of the most hilarious scenes yet. Can you use the chaos of a house full of children as the best means of distraction to pull off a plan? Yes, yes, you can. Now to part 2 to find out what Suzie found out for them.
- El: El’s struggles to fit in and the sense that she never quite will hurt so much and I have never worried for her as hard as I did when she was being questioned by the police with no real sense of what trouble she was in and what her right’s were. That interrogation made me anxious. I didn’t truly believe she caused the massacre at Hawkins Lab, but I also did not see the full answer coming. El pushed One, who is also Henry Creel, into the Upside-Down after he killed everyone in the lab he possibly could, and it was Henry who killed his family. The showdown between these two is going to be highly anticipated. Jaime Campbell Bower is perfectly cast in this role and may never escape being cast as creepy characters for the rest of his career.
Since there are two episodes left and no major character deaths yet, the looming question is who won’t make it out this season alive. I have two guesses, and either will hit fans hard. Note, my theories MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR PART TWO.
Steve Harrington: We love Steve, but Steve got bit by a creature in the Upside-Down, and that can’t be good. Also, he’s been grumbling about not being taken seriously as anything but the “baby-sitter” of the group. With his feelings for Nancy still clearly there, might he be the guy to make a sacrifice play for her or to protect surrogate little brother Dustin? I could see Steve going down heroic and swinging. Second theory: if that bite is not resolved this season could it set up trouble for the final season?
Eddie Munson: Eddie has a plan and it includes finally graduating and flipping off the principal on the way out. Combine this with his speech about playing the hero in D&D but being the guy who runs scared in real life and I can’t help but wonder if we’ve got a tragic sacrifice being set up. Add to this his emphasis on how Mike and Dustin are the future of the Hellfire Club as well as a shot of him in the trailer playing his guitar in what is clearly the Upside-Down. We know Vecna’s hold can be countered by music, could Eddie be headed for the greatest gig and sacrifice of his life?