Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Stranger Things 4

The Experience

Stranger Things 4
USA May - July 2022
Nine episodes

Warning: Some spoilers running right up that hill at you.

Okay, it has to be said that series four of hit show Stranger Things was a little bit hit and miss for me. I didn’t like it as much as the second and third series, for sure but, I still liked it a lot better than the first. That being said, there’s lots of good stuff within it too so... let’s take a little look.

Okay, plot...  it’s Spring Break and various characters are reunited, after the close of the last season meant that some of them had to move away from the sleepy town of Hawkins. Something, though, is killing high school kids in Hawkins, making them see dark visions for a week or so in advance... before levitating them into the air, breaking their bones and then sucking their eyeballs back into their head. However, as with other seasons, the plot strands are split both globally and in terms of character threads, into three or four different groups, which merge and then diverge over the series. You have one lot trying to figure out what’s going on with the bizarre murders that look very much like they come from the Upside Down (the physical manifestation of the alternate, dark version of Hawkins where all the dark things dwell), you have Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) being retrained (through ordeal) to recover her superpowers by both Mathew Modine and Paul Reiser, themselves pursued by an army splinter group, because they believe Eleven is the only way to stop what is coming to Hawkins. You also have three of the kids trying to recover Eleven (along with new stoner character Argyle) and we have Joyce (Winona Ryder) finding out that Hopper (David Harbour) may still be alive after the events of the last series finale but, needs assistance to help break him out of a Russian security prison in Alaska. And, of course, the series concludes with all the characters reuniting but, things go a little differently this time around.

Okay, so lots to like here. The playing of a Dungeons And Dragons game crosscut with a basketball game is pretty well done. There’s a nod to the famous real life Hellfire Club (although mostly just in the name used for a D&D group) and, being as it’s set in 1986, the usual pop culture artefacts such as an Elvira poster, a Halloween mask and, in a series of moments which surprised everyone in terms of the spin off benefits... using the Kate Bush song Running Up That Hill as Max’s (Sadie Sink) favourite song, used to save her life and pull her away from the clutches of the creature at one point midway through the season, resulting in it being number one in the world charts for weeks (and still counting at time of writing). I remember when this song came out in 1985... it turned me on to Kate Bush big time and within the space of about six weeks I’d saved up enough money to purchase all of her albums, of which there were then five in total. Of course, in those days they were vinyl albums but they were certainly among the first non-soundtrack titles I upgraded to CD when the format was introduced.

Another great pop culture moment is when the kids are trying to find a drug supplier by only his first name. The two who work in a video store run it into their computer and narrow it down to about seven people in the area before checking the rental records... when they find the one who keeps renting out all the Cheech And Chong videos, they know they’ve got their man. And Dustin quoting Han Solo in normal conversation (Never tell me the odds!) was a nice touch. Not to mention the casting of Freddy himself, Robert Englund (from the Nightmare On Elm Street films... which don’t really appeal to me, I remember him best in V), as a key character in one episode.

Another thing I liked about the show was that the main villain turns out to be someone from Eleven’s past (she’s repressed the memory for so long) and, not only that, it turns out he’s the prime mover for the villains in all three previous seasons. I also liked that, although it seems for a little while that the day has been saved by the usual suspects... there’s one important character left in a coma and, as the Upside Down has ruptured Hawkins in various multidimensional rifts... well, it starts snowing that kind of ash that is in the air in the Upside Down... it’s clear the kids aren’t out of the woods yet...

Although I really thought they would be because, well, I was under the impression that the fourth series was the final one for the show but, no, it turns out that there’s going to be a fifth and final season at some point and, all I will say about that is, they’d better get their skates on. Those kids are growing up fast and when you compare them to flashback footage from previous iterations, it’s really noticeable. The other thing about that is... usually a year has gone by with each new show but... I just don’t see how they’re going to be able to pick up the storyline again without carrying on from exactly where they left it this time around. Which makes getting it in the can even more urgent, I would have thought.

Talking about the music though... there’s a thing about the needle drop of pre-existing tracks that I really didn’t like. Namely the way they’ve been cut up and looped about. For example, would it have killed them to cut the big Kate Bush scene (out of the many in the show using that song) to the actual track as it exists rather than keep chopping it about like that? And in one long scene where the villain is monologuing for quite a while, the music seems to start off with the last track from Philip Glass’ Koyaanisqatsi score before, bizarrely, jumping into his opera Akhnaten midway through. Not quite sure what’s going on there.

All in all, though, like I said, I still appreciated Stranger Things 4 more than the first season and I have the two volumes of score CD (not the stupid song compilations) on pre-order (which at two discs each makes it the most music we’ve had from a season in one hit). So if you liked the other three seasons you should probably be okay with this one. I’m kind of hoping that Season 5 will be a marked improvement though... and I hope they continue to bring Kate Bush along for the ride.

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