Alarcon saw a few things last month – some were good, some were great, and some you can pass on. This is your ongoing summer viewing guide. There will be spoilers.
Stranger Things, Season 4
Starring: Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Winona Ryder, Noah Schnapp
The quaintness of Stranger Things’ debut in 2016 couldn’t last forever. The cast was young and cute and the set designers captured the look and feel of the American middle-class suburbs in 1983 with uncanny perfection. There was a very strong Spielberg/E.T. influence throughout that first season. Despite the demogorgons and the occasional bloody nose, early Stranger Things was very delicate upon the sensibilities, some would even call it charming.
Smash cut to this season, season four, where mangled teenage limbs snap with compound puncture wounds like so much dry kindling wood, while a vast chunk of screen time is devoted to the kind of gnarly torture porn that would make Jigsaw blush.
Set in March 1986, season four starts eight months after season three ended: Mike tears himself away from his fellow Dungeons & Dragons-playing nerdlings long enough to visit girlfriend Eleven, best friend Will, and perpetually-stoned Jonathan, all of whom relocated with Joyce to California in order to escape the demons – literally and figuratively – of their hometown Hawkins, Indiana.
There are also lots of subplots. Joyce plans a covert Russia op in an attempt to rescue an imprisoned Hopper. A mysterious force dubbed “Vecna” is detected and must be stopped by the gang. Will struggles to come to terms with budding homosexualty. These interwoven subplots tend to muddy the waters, so keep tabs on Henry Creel – he quietly plays a large part in the series.
Varied B-stories aside, season four is very good, but the uneven pace of individual episodes keeps Stranger Things from ever building that heaving momentum those early seasons had. Call me a softie, but I liked when Stranger Things was kindler and gentler. I suppose the show’s creators (Matt and Ross Duffer) feel the pressure to continually up the ante in terms of storytelling, and the ‘satanic panic’ of the mid-’80s is an ideal backdrop for the Duffers’ heightened demonic gore, but this season’s blood and guts seems excessive.
All that said, if I have one complaint, it’s that this season has turned Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” into a trite social media meme. I’m assuming it’s satisfying for Bush, both artistically and financially, for her song to find a new audience, but it’s difficult to hear such a graceful song misappropriated with such impunity.