Stranger Things season 4 looks to have a more epic scope than ever before, but this is the last thing the Netflix show needs to recover its footing.
Going by its most recent footage, it’s now clear that Stranger Things season 4 will boast a bigger scope than ever before, but this is a major mistake for the series. With a staggering array of characters and storylines, a long runtime, and what appears to be all-out war with the Upside Down, Stranger Things season 4 is living up to producer Shawn Levy’s promise of a “more epic and cinematic” season. But this wasn’t how the series began. Debuting in 2016, Stranger Things became a word-of-mouth sensation for streaming service Netflix. A fusion of small-town mystery, nostalgic coming-of-age dramedy, and sci-fi horror, Stranger Things season 1 told the story of a group of kids who uncover a vast government conspiracy and are hunted by an inter-dimensional monster.
Despite this dramatic summary, Stranger Things season 1 owed its inspiration to Prisoners and other dark domestic dramas as much as the work of John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg. It had a superpowered heroine, a toothy monster, and shadowy government agents killing civilians, but the tone was nonetheless surprisingly intimate, and many of the strongest moments came from the believable interplay between the talented cast. However, Stranger Things season 4 could be dropping this approach, which does not necessarily bode well for the latest season’s adherence to the zippy dialogue and well-crafted relationships of the early seasons.
The Stranger Things season 4 trailer confirms Shawn Levy’s comments from 2021 that the long-awaited season will be a bigger and more mature affair than its predecessors, with “storytelling [that] is more epic and cinematic than we’ve ever attempted before.” This may be a bad thing for those disappointed by Stranger Things season 3, however. The biggest problem with Stranger Things season 3 was that it had too many sprawling plot threads for viewers to keep track of, and the series sacrificed believable character drama for the sake of bigger action. Despite the Stranger Things season 4 trailer’s epic feel, this is not what makes the series work, as the best moments have been atmospheric, slow-burn plots and subtle character work, rather than large-scale action.
Stranger Things Seasons 2 & 3 Went Too Big
Focusing on the blooming relationship between Jonathan and Nancy in Stranger Things season 1, for example, worked better than season 3’s attempts to balance Dustin, Steve, and Robin uncovering a Soviet takeover of Hawkins, Mike and El breaking up, or Billy becoming possessed by the Mind Flayer. The last plot, in particular, was a wasted opportunity, with Billy’s eventual redemption being an afterthought where it could have been an impactful moment in a quieter, less stuffed season of Stranger Things. With so many subplots and so much action overlapping, the Stranger Things season 3 had a far larger scope than season 1 but left viewers cold in some aspects.
This issue was less prevalent in Stranger Things season 2 but the beginnings of a large scope could be seen in the introduction of numerous new characters, which inevitably resulted in fewer quiet scenes shared by the central cast. It is in such quiet scenes, like the beginning of Mike and El’s tentative relationship, Joyce’s early interactions with a taciturn-but-sincere Hopper, or the devastating discovery of Will’s (fake) body that Stranger Things season 1 truly soared and was able to prove its full potential. Stranger Things season 4 needs a smaller story to bring back this tone, not the trailer’s more “epic” approach that will likely drown out subtle moments entirely. Unfortunately, it’s now become even more likely that Stranger Things season 4 will instead fall into the same trap as its predecessors of thinking “more is more.”
Stranger Things Season 4 Is Too Long
Stranger Things season 4 will have 9 episodes, which is right in line with the 8-9 episode format earlier seasons have followed. However, the Duffer brothers have confirmed that each episode in Stranger Things season 4 is over an hour long, which is a considerably longer total runtime. Given the staggering amount of content in Stranger Things season 4’s story, this makes sense but doesn’t bode well for the show’s ability to return to its roots. In addition to its smaller-scale character moments and slow-burn story, Stranger Things season 1 was strong because of its conciseness. After seasons 2 and 3 tried to do too much in the same amount of runtime, Stranger Things season 4’s monstrous length could indicate a worsening tendency to overstuff the plot. At the same time, however, it could mean more opportunities for the pace to slow down, which would help develop the characters better.
Why Stranger Things Season 4 Could Still Be Great
Despite all the ways in which Stranger Things season 4 doesn’t seem to be learning from the show’s past mistakes, it could still be a solid season in a number of ways. Large-scale monster/alien battles might not be part of Stranger Things‘ original brand, but they still offer plenty of opportunity for excitement. Likewise, some of the mystery elements in Stranger Things season 4, like the Creel House and the shadowy Vecna figure, could open up new supernatural and sci-fi channels like hauntings and time travel. All of these aspects might make Stranger Things season 4 worth the long runtime and deserving of its epic scope.
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