Stranger Things 4 Volume 2 review: Emotional conclusion that ends on a sinister note

Lucy-Jo Finnighan
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Netflix

Season 4 of Stranger Things ended today, but what kind of note does it finish on? And does the finale compare to Volume 1?

Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 1 has widely been considered the best season since the first. With a deadly villain, fun new characters, and an amazing Kate Bush needle drop, Volume 1 created a hard act to follow when it arrived on Netflix in May.

Thankfully, Volume 2 – aka the final 2 episodes of Season 4 – races to the finish line at the same high quality that Volume 1 does. As our heroes – who are scattered across three locations – plan to take down Vecna and the Upside Down, there is a fantastic culmination of an entire four season’s worth of build-up.

While Season 4 may not be as tight as Season 1 – no season of any show may ever be – the finale provides a fantastic conclusion that (somewhat) ties all of the stories together. There’s some flaws here and there with episodes 8 and 9, but overall it is definitely worth the watch.

Emotions keep running up that hill in Stranger Things 4 Volume 2

Both finale episodes are long enough to be their own movies, but thankfully they never feel like they drag, which arguably makes an improvement upon Volume 1.

As previously stated, all the main characters (of which there are maybe too many) are split across three locations: Hawkins, California, and Russia. It’s probably not controversial to state that the Hawkins plot-line is clearly the best, and the final two episodes only increase this divide.

In Hawkins, not only have our protagonists been the most targeted by Vecna, but they’re the ones who actually come up with a plan to defeat him. Their plan cleverly splits them up and gives everyone a role in the final fight, which makes each character feel significant.

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Netflix
Those in Hawkins give us the fight we’ve been waiting for

Plus the relationships are the most enjoyable to watch, with Lucas and Max tentatively rebuilding their dating life, Steve admitting his feelings for Nancy in a way that doesn’t feel contrived, and Dustin and Eddie being their delightfully goofy selves. All of which only makes what happens later all the more heart-breaking.

In comparison, the other two plot-lines feel a little lacklustre, as many characters are stuck without anything to actually do. This is a product of the seasons adding more and more characters, without doing the necessary amount of pruning.

Hopper and Joyce’s date planning is nice, but their plot of defeating the demogorgon in the Russian prison feels like a rehash of Season 1 and 2, even if Hopper’s sword fight is fantastic.

Joyce hugging hopper in Episode 7 of Stranger Things Season 4 on Netflix.
Netflix
Hopper and Joyce rekindle their romance in Volume 2

And pretty much every character in California – aside from El – doesn’t do anything. Eleven’s storyline is interesting, as her relationship with her “papa” Doctor Brenner is dissected, and Eleven struggles against him to save her friends from Vecna’s wrath.

There are also some good moments with the other California characters; Will offering Mike emotional encouragement after Mike admits to feeling unneeded by Eleven shows why they were originally the series’ main characters, and Mike yelling his love to Eleven when she’s fighting Vecna brings his seasonal arc full circle.

Granted, even in Hawkins, there are some moments that border on the melodramatic. There is an abundance of theatrical line readings, with dramatic pauses between every sentence that is hard to ignore once you start noticing it. Will’s multiple scenes that hint at his hidden sexuality – including what could be interpreted as a coming out scene with his brother Johnathan – has the potential to be incredibly emotionally cathartic, if the show wasn’t doing everything they could to avoid saying what his sexuality actually was.

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Netflix
Somehow, Will’s sexuality has been the biggest mystery of the show

There are also moments where everyone is having emotional topics at the same time, which can get a little repetitive. When preparing to battle Vecna, you have Robin talking with Steve, Eddie talking with Dustin, Lucas talking with Erica.  But considering that these relationships have been well built up, it’s easy to let it slide. Especially considering that it feels as if we are saying farewell to these characters, making it all the harder to figure out who is going to die in the season’s final battle.

And this is definitely a battle fans have been waiting for.

Vecna makes for a vivacious villain

Vecna, the big bad against which our heroes must fight, does have a tendency to unrealistically revel in being evil: he oddly lets Nancy go so that she can send Eleven a message, a message which Eleven doesn’t even need; he takes his detrimentally sweet time in killing Max; and he seems to love a good monologue, even pulling the classic villain take of asking the main hero to join them.

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Netflix
Vecna takes his time to enjoy sacrificing kids

Now, these points could easily come across as criticism. But frankly, they are what make Vecna probably the best villain that Stranger Things has ever had. Vecna is so delightfully evil that he is just incredibly entertaining to watch.

Actor Jamie Campbell Bower’s delivery of certain lines – such as when he gently asks Max to stay still so that he can kill her – makes him enjoyably unsettling. He also fits into the story well, as the mystery of his curse has been carrying the plot thus far, and his history with other characters allows him to get in their minds much more effectively than any other villain has thus far.

He is also the most impactful villain, having succeeded in his plan against El, and bringing the Upside Down into the real world.

The human villains are also equally as tension-inducing. Martin Brenner – or “papa” – is far more fascinating now than he was in Season 1, and the scenes between him and Eleven are not only acted great – credits to both Milly Bobby Brown and Matthew Modine – but they create a storyline mirroring relationships that real people may be able to relate to, disregarding all the government experiment stuff. Hopefully the fact that she is able to walk away without accepting his attempts to excuse himself will create catharsis for those at home.

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Netflix
Meet this season’s greatest horror: Jocks

The growing DnD-fearing mob in Hawkins, while more frustrating than intimidating, do provide a clever insight to how easily hatred and fear can spread. It also uses the zeitgeist of the 1980s as part of the story, rather than just referencing it for nostalgia’s sake.

Stranger Things 4 takes its action to supernatural levels

While Season 3 may have had that big action set piece in the mall, the final battle of Season 4 is probably the best we’ve seen so far. As stated previously, the Hawkins fight against Vecna cleverly splits the characters up, which makes the final battle feel intricate and interesting.

Firstly, let’s address the elephant in the room: That Kate Bush remix needle drop. The incredibly popular song from Volume 1 makes a comeback, remixed with the Stranger Things theme song, and it is incredibly epic. It covers a scene in which Nancy fires a flaming Vecna through a window with a shotgun, and Hopper decapitates a demogorgan with a sword, as if those scenarios weren’t already jaw-dropping to begin with.

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Netflix
Nancy is epic in this Stranger Things finale

Stranger Things knows how to use music effectively, as even the song that plays as Max, Lucas, and Erica simply walk into the Creel house – “Separate Ways” by Journey – is enough to send chills down the viewer’s spine.

The fights also have a nice mix of CGI and special effects, so nothing feels too phony. Although, there was a moment where Eleven sends Vecna flying through the air in slow motion that came off more silly than exciting.

But the majority of fight sequences are exhilarating, with Murray’s flame-throwing and Eddie’s guitar solo coming to mind. It also must be mentioned that Eddie’s sacrifice, while very sad to watch, cleverly brings his character arc full circle, meaning that the action carries thematic weight to it. The same can be said for Eleven’s fight against Vecna, in which she desires to feel like a superhero.

Eleven in Stranger Things Season 4
Netflix
Season 4 asks: Is Eleven a superhero or a monster?

Max’s attempt to outrun Vecna is just as terrifying as the first time, as there is a moment where you genuinely feel she is about to die. Technically, she does, even if just for a moment. While actor Sadie Sink (Max) has been a marvel all season, credit should also go to Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas) as his cries of panic while he holds Max’s mangled body are just as gut-punching as any death scene.

While this season hasn’t really been the bloodbath that people expected, the sacrifices made genuinely feel like sacrifices. When Max and Eddie throw themselves in harm’s way, they don’t get out scot-free simply because they’re main characters. This makes the danger all the more real, which puts the audience on edge, because it feels like anyone could die at any moment.

Stranger Things 4 Volume 2 ends on a sinister note

The ending of Season 4 is one of the most exciting finales yet, as it now seems like the Upside Down has crawled itself the right way up. The finale ends with Vecna’s plan succeeding; after Max dies for a minute in the show’s final battle, Vecna has enough sacrifices to open a giant gate that shatters through Hawkins.

This leaves a bunch of anticipation for where the story is going to go, as the real world will now have to contend with the horrors that our protagonists have been dealing with for years.

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Netflix
Vecna wins this round, but what is he planning to do in Season 5?

A sudden time-jump to two days after the final battle feels somewhat jarring, but the scenes that play out help ground this supernatural show in reality. Robin gets a cute moment with the girl she likes, Nancy and Johnathan’s relationship still hangs in the air, and a scene between Eddie’s uncle and Dustin is arguably more tear-jerking than Eddie’s death itself.

Seeing all of our leads reunite feels satisfying, if a little anti-climactic – fans probably hoped for a bigger moment between El and Hopper – but it now seems like everyone will be together to face whatever comes next in Season 5.

Stranger Things 4 Volume 2 strangely ties into the whole series

One thing Volume 2 does well overall is tie into the rest of the show. We see plenty of flashbacks to every prior season, which jump through multiple characters’ minds. These constant call-backs thankfully never seem redundant, instead they make it feel like the show is truly building to something.

Vecna’s whole plan and backstory, which he gives in his battles with Eleven and Nancy, links him to previous seasons. This is very welcome, since it was initially unclear how he was connected to the mind flayer and demogorgans, and why he hadn’t really shown up before Season 4.

There are some scenarios, such as Eddie being the latest in a line of newly introduced male characters that kick the bucket shortly after, or Max and Lucas’ relationship following the trajectory of Joyce and Hopper’s in Season 3 – including it’s tragic end – that either feel like poetic parallels or like habits that showrunners the Duffer Brother’s can’t quit.

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Netflix
Lucas and Max’s sweet relationship is cut short

But either way, the Duffer Brothers, and every other cast and crew member, should be very proud of what they’ve accomplished this season. It’s the biggest season yet, has arguably made the show feel iconic and fresh again, and has everyone rabid to find out what will happen in the fifth and final season.

Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.

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