Note. Suggestive spoilers ahead. It’s probably best to come back to this review after finishing the seven episodes that make up this release.
Just after the midpoint within the return of the one Netflix show remaining that has not been prematurely cancelled after two/ three seasons there is what has to be the TV moment of the year so far. A character escapes the curse put on her by the villain. She uses a mixture of friendship, determination and sheer force of will to determine that she will not meet her end at the hands of the season’s new big bad. The buildup has been expertly handled but the payoff as she attempts to escape the spell put on her that could easily result in the character giving in and embracing death. It is utterly spectacular. There’s a harsh cut to black without revealing what the outcome of the set-piece is. This viewer was sat on his sofa knowing the episode could well end here resulting in one of the most aggravating yet brilliant TV cliffhangers of recent memory. Then, cutting back to the real world the character falls to the floor with the curse broken and the character is safe surrounded by the members of the ensemble that have been part of this particular plot thread. It’s an utterly enthralling and expertly handled 5 minutes. That said what has been the main talking point in the wider media discussion around this sequence ( and the new batch of episodes as a whole.) It is soundtracked by an orchestral remix of Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush The track had been established as a recurring plot point as the character’s favourite song along with the fact music has the ability to beet the monster. This is the perfect example of launching swaths of the wider discussion around this show being purely driven by the nostalgia elements. In reality, this shows ability to remix various elements of pop mythology into its own story with fun characters, great dynamics, engaging performances and strong world-building. Yet the 80s coat of paint is all section of the wider audience can think on.
Stranger Things is easily in this watcher’s personal top three for currently ongoing streaming TV series. Season 2 might have some missteps but 1 and 3 are perfect for what they are trying to be. There was a sense of “where do you go from here?” after season three. The conventional episode runtimes were starting to sag under the weight of so much stuff going on at any one time. The answer for the hotly anticipated season 4 after a three-year COVID induced hiatus is to increase the runtime to fit the enormous scope. Not to mention a far darker tone well still keeping the adventurous core and fun dynamics of what makes Stranger Things resonate with so many( 80s pop culture aficionado or otherwise.) The central plot especially is easily the best and most intense material that has been accomplished thus far while still feeling like a narrative and maturity related extension of what has come before. It’s fantastic stuff. The main pre-release bone of contention seemed to be the extended episode runtimes ( 5of the 6 regular episodes here comfortably hit 70-75 minutes without credits.) Not counting the undisputably feature-length volume one finale ( the first of three that finish the season Not to mention the $30 million per episode productions budget have been used by some as a proverbial stick with which to Beat Netflix accountants o the head by some online. Certain audiences and commentators will never change their minds. That said having seen having these episodes much as a lot of the side plots have things to nitpick at and criticise the sheer scope and scale Of what creators The Duffer Brothers are attempting to do here cannot be understated. . To say the results are mostly incredibly effective is a massive understatement. That said with such a huge palette to work with there are some casualties along the way. One of the season’s initial 3 core plots remains decidedly disconnected from the others even after 539 minutes of viewing time. Episodes can go long stretches without two continuous scenes from the same strand of the narrative. Johnathan’s new stoner friend adds absolutely nothing. For the most part, however, this is the sort of blockbuster event piece that combines character, scope and spectacle in a way that most movie and TV studios can only dream of. It might not be quite as well-formed and packaged as the previous seasons but the very best stuff in these episodes is the show at the very height of its powers. The final beat of the 93-minute Volume 1 finale might be convoluted and obvious to some but sets the stage for a truly epic finish.
After the disappointment of the Ozark finale and the weekly dumping of mediocre movies and the general sense, the streaming landscape has moved on from the Netflix model. One of the pioneers of the streaming platform returns and rightfully takes it takes his throne as among the best Original programming the modern streaming landscape has to offer. There’s the question as to whether or not the final four hours of this gargantuan return will stick the landing. Given how well the best material in these seven episodes land there’s nothing here to suggest the two-part finale won’t be an epic of world-shattering proportions. The season thus far might fall victim to its sheer scope at times. That said but at several points, it is good as long-form serialised blockbuster entertainment can be. Bring on the finale