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‘Stranger Things’ season 4 runtime impacts show in more ways than one

‘Stranger Things’ season 4 runtime impacts show in more ways than one

‘Stranger Things’ season 4 runtime impacts show in more ways than one
June 02
15:00 2022

Content warning: The following story contains spoilers.

It’s been over two years since viewers last returned to Hawkins when the third season of “Stranger Things” premiered in the summer of 2019. Its new fourth installment, the series’ longest season to date, is the first to be released in two parts. Volume one, which premiered on May 27, contains seven episodes that average around 80 minutes each. This increased duration acts as the main contributor to many of season four’s successes, as well as several of its downfalls. 

Right off the bat from episode one, the Duffer brothers make the goal of this season clear — to be darker and scarier than ever. From visually disturbing gore to deep, grim plotlines, the show now offers a new take on its version of 80s horror with inspirations from classic slasher films like “Nightmare on Elm Street.” Understandably, experienced viewers are no longer scared by the simple jumpscares or off-screen deaths from earlier seasons. In an attempt to satisfy this heightened hunger for horror, Netflix has demonstrated its intent to grow with its maturing fanbase.

While this gruesome evolution helps the show develop into a new era, it also removes elements of nostalgia that originally attracted its large audiences. Even obvious attempts at sentimental callbacks throughout this season, like Eleven’s shaved head and bike rides through the Upside Down, lack the same feeling they once held. By taking on darker themes, these characters and what they stand for have all taken on new roles significantly changing the meaning behind certain nostalgic symbols. As “Stanger Things” becomes a more in-depth series, its had to steadily swap some of its childish 1980s charm for more adult concepts to be fully fleshed out.

Although less wistful than what it once was, the maturation of “Stranger Things” is only natural to see as the show’s main cast continues to age themselves. As a result of bleaker topics and longer running times, viewers have been able to get a more insightful look into the lives of many characters. From Eleven’s history at Hawkins Lab to Hopper’s past as a Vietnam veteran and father, fans have finally been able to fit together some of the missing pieces in the characters’ puzzling pasts. While many of these backgrounds are arguably long overdue, it still continues to show a history of steadily uncovering the mysterious story elements of Hawkins and its residents.

From this character development, the true star emerging from the shadows of the show’s dark themes is Max, played by Sadie Sink. Like many main characters, most of Max’s inner struggles had not yet been revealed since hints about dynamics with her family in season two. When confronting her character’s previous trauma head-on in episode four, Sink gives an amazing, heart-wrenching performance that others online have deemed Emmy-worthy. By allowing such members to show the full extent of their characters’ psyche, the Duffers further expand the influence of each player’s story.

While longer episodes have moved more focus on previously underrated roles, they also left other potential-filled characters in the dust. With the show’s main cast split up across four main locations, and the introduction of new characters like the charismatic Eddie, the Duffers struggle to give each group even roles across the season. The Californians, made up of Mike, Will, Jonathan and new comedic relief Argyle, find themselves stranded in one of the show’s most bland and uneventful journeys. By placing key players in such uninspired positions, “Stranger Things” easily loses the potential to further some of the main leads’ growth closer to the end of the show’s five-season run.

Additionally, more active characters, like those in season four’s Hawkins home team, are once again stuck in overtried tropes. Steve and Nancy, who have each characteristically evolved since season one, are once again seemingly thrown into the beginnings of another tired teen romance. The younger relationship dramas within “Stranger Things” have never been the show’s strong point and only further constrain characters to predictable roles, despite evidence of previous growth. In doing so, the Duffers diminish any potential viewers could have hoped to see from some of their fan-favorite party members, shrinking individual aspects of the season’s long-awaited progress. 

Without the final resolutions that are yet to be revealed in volume two on July 1, it is still hard to tell what the full impact of this season may be. The last two episodes have a combined length of almost four hours, leaving plenty of time to tie up loose ends and grant forgotten characters their rightful screen time. In the meantime, one can only hope that the fourth season’s end will deliver the impactful blow its been promising throughout volume one, and can do so without subjecting viewers to watch any devastating major character deaths.

Featured Illustration By Erika Sevilla

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Samantha Thornfelt

Samantha Thornfelt

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