You’re probably thinking, “I don’t ever remember you writing any posts about Stranger Things before.” Well, you’d be right. Despite being a fan of the show ever since 2017, I haven’t written any reviews or thinkpieces on Stranger Things. However, seeing as we’re on the final season of the series*, I figured I’d bless y’all with a post on my thoughts on the first round of episodes. Plus, this season was too damn good not to talk about it.
****WARNING: THE FOLLOWING POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE MOST RECENT SEASON OF STRANGER THINGS. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN SEASON FOUR YET, PLEASE REFRAIN FROM READING THE REST OF THIS POST. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.****
This season begins in the spring of 1986, nearly one year since the gate inside Starcourt Mall was closed (although it’s clear the kids aged at least three years, but I digress). Our favorite gang of D&D nerds are now all freshmen in high school, older kids Nancy and Robin are finishing their senior year, and Steve graduated the previous year. Jonathan, Will, and Eleven are living in California with Joyce now, but life isn’t all sunshine and lollipops in the Golden State, especially for El. Also, the long distance is putting a bit of a toll on Jonathan (who’s also graduating) and Nancy’s relationship. Plus, Jonathan has recently taken up a very interesting extracurricular activity with his new friend, Argyle. Let’s just say that 4:20 is Jonathan and Argyle’s favorite time of day. Dustin, Lucas, and Mike joined the Hellfire Club, which exclusively meets up to play D&D, although Lucas is more interested in becoming a star in his school’s varsity basketball team. Max is having trouble coping with Billy’s death, and as a result, she’s become a shell of herself. Despite the kids’ teenage angst, things appear to be normal in Hawkins and across the country in Lenora Hills, CA…until a grisly string of teen murders begin to occur in the small Indiana town, and nearly everyone in Hawkins starts looking at Hellfire Club leader Eddie Munson as the main culprit.
At the same time, the gubment (I meant to say that) catches wind of these killings and believe that El is the cause, which springs them into action. It turns out the real murderer is a demon from the Upside Down whom the Hellfire Club donned “The Vecna.” This being enters into traumatized kids’ minds and annihilates them from within. They soon find out that his next target is none other than Max and they have to rush to have The Vecna’s curse removed. Across the country, El is snatched up by government officials, and Mike (who visited El in California for spring break), Will, Jonathan, and Argyle have to try to find her. As for Joyce, she learns that Hopper is indeed alive and being held in a Russian facility located in a remote section of Alaska.* She and Murray head out there to rescue him, but naturally, things don’t go as planned.
Sounds like a lot? That’s because it is! However, the first part of season four is a fun, wild, and sometimes scary ride. The supernatural baddie the kids face this go around has a bit of deep meaning as well. Our beloved characters are still great, for the most part. I had a few small gripes with some changes in their personalities, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Aside from the science fiction/horror element of the show, I could definitely relate to what most of characters were going through as far as high school and personal trauma were concerned. When it was revealed that Max is still suffering from PTSD, my heart went out to her. I didn’t agree with Lucas turning his back on his friends, but I get why he wants to be well-liked and popular, hence his ambition to be a star basketball player. On the other hand, Mike and Dustin are perfectly fine with being the school nerds in the Hellfire Club, and I’m totally down with that. I do have to say though, I’ve been a 14 yr. old in high school myself (granted, my Freshman spring break was in 1996 and not 1986), and trust and believe, as good looking as Mike and Lucas are, they would never be unpopular. On a side note, the Hellfire Club reminded me so much of a similar unofficial fantasy club at my high school, but instead of playing D&D, those kids played Magic: The Gathering every B day during lunch. I kid you not.
One thing about Stranger Things I’ve always liked is that each season we’re introduced to a new character, and every time, that character is a welcome addition to the series. Argyle and Eddie, the new editions for the current season, are both hilarious and fit in perfectly with the rest of the cast. As for the slight gripes I mentioned earlier, they involve Jonathan and Mike. This go around, Jonathan is a complete stoner, and although he has some funny scenes with Argyle, him not being the voice of reason and flaking out on seeing Nancy are very out of character (more on that later, as well). I was also surprised at Mike, due to how coldly he treats Will when they’re first reunited. His behavior is later explained, but it still irked me that he treats Will like he doesn’t matter sometimes, whereas before, they were the best of friends. I went through that nonsense in junior high and high school, too. *Sigh*
While I’m on the subject of Will, it looks like the writers may go the route of making his character gay (there’s a scene where a girl in Will’s class is being forward with him and he rejects her advances), but it’s not 100% confirmed yet. I know some of y’all are calling me a damn fool for not seeing the “obvious,” but things like this aren’t always black and white.
Calling back to my high school days, I liked boys, but they didn’t like me. I also was terribly shy, and didn’t approach the guys I liked, and the few that liked me weren’t really my type (with the exception of two or three of them, but nothing panned out. I swear I have the WORST love life). Most importantly, although I liked boys, I wasn’t as “boy crazy” as a lot of my friends. While they were scheming on what dude they’d try to holla at, I’d be more preoccupied with schoolwork, riding my bike, losing myself in my music and books, occasionally playing with my dolls (I completely grew out of this by Sophomore year), and fantasizing about Prince (later, it would be LL Cool J). I’m not even gonna lie, even now at my big age, I still get nervous talking to men. Will may be like me as a 14 yr. Freshman. I’m not ruling out the possible gay storyline, but I’m not going to say that there’s no other explanation as to why Will doesn’t have his own teenage romance as of yet. Actually, I’m getting a vibe that Will may have a crush on either Mike or El. Again, I’m not sure yet, but I’m certain this will be answered in Part 2 (which is coming out just in time for my birthday!). Another big question I have about Will is what’s up with that painting he always carries around? Who or what is it a painting of? I can’t wait to find out.
If there was a character I HATED this season, it’s Angela the bully, hands down. This witch is the queen bee at the high school in Lenora Hills, and this heffa never misses an opportunity to humiliate El, whether it’s verbal or physical. Plus, some of the stuff that comes out of her mouth is completely despicable. That’s okay, though. After a public humiliation—in front of Mike—El eventually got fed up with Angela’s bullshit and clocked her upside the head with a roller skate, and I felt no ways. Maybe it knocked some sense into that evil little girl.
I feel like I should mention the Hawkins High varsity basketball team. After troubled cheerleader Chrissy becomes Vecna’s first victim, her distraught boyfriend Jason, who’s captain of the basketball team, takes his teammates (Lucas included) and goes looking for answers. Unfortunately, Jason and the team act solely on emotions as opposed to facts and logic (unlike the main cast), and they have it in their minds that Eddie is a devil worshipper that “sacrificed” Chrissy. Even when Vecna takes Jason’s best friend and teammate, Patrick, Jason is even more convinced Eddie is the cause, and rallies the entire town against Eddie and the Hellfire Club, denouncing them all as Satan worshippers. They even deem Lucas a “traitor” when they learn that he’s a member of Hellfire. Lord… I didn’t dislike Jason and his crew—not half as much as that heffa Angela—and I believe that’s due to the fact that I can see why Jason felt so strongly about getting justice for his girlfriend’s death. However, I can’t deny that these guys aren’t part of the solution, they’re definitely part of the problem, and their constant interference and rushes to judgement were aggy as all hell. I have a feeling the shit is really gonna hit the fan in Part 2.
Like season three, there’s so much going on that the main characters are separated into groups, although this go around, instead of the groups being separated within Hawkins, they’re spread out throughout the country. Max’s crew (Max, Dustin, Lucas, Nancy, Steve, Robin, Eddie, and later Erica), are the most important and interesting group of the season, hands down. They’re still in Hawkins, trying to clear Eddie’s name—as well as keep him safe from the ever growing mob of overzealous varsity athletes and confused townspeople—and to try to prevent Vecna’s curse from killing Max. The only thing I’m not liking about Max’s group is that the writers are trying their damnest to get Nancy and Steve back together. Don’t get me wrong, I love Steve, but his and Nancy’s time is over! I hate when television writers decide just to up and destroy a perfectly good couple because…reasons. Why can’t y’all allow Nancy and Jonathan to stay together and be happy, while Steve finds a girl that really likes him?
Back on subject, El’s crew is located in a remote section of Nevada and consists of herself, Dr. Owens, and doggone Dr. Brenner aka “Papa.” How the hell did he survive that demigorgon attack in season one? Anyway, they have to try to unlock El’s powers so she can destroy Vecna, and in doing so, they must uncover some painful memories that she’s blocked out. We learn that El is closer to Vecna than we ever realized. As it turns out, Vecna was once Henry Creel, a young child with deadly telekinetic powers. Henry went on to be Dr. Brenner’s first test subject as well as Eleven’s orderly and friend, One (we see El talking to Henry/One in flashbacks; is this a plot hole, or did El lose her ability to speak after blocking her painful memory of Henry/One?). More on that later. In meantime, the folks from the Pentagon are closing in on El’s location to take her down.
Hopper’s crew consists of himself, Joyce, and Murray in Alaska, and we see the three of them try to plan Hopper’s escape from the Russian facility. It’s interesting, but things get turned up to 100 once it’s revealed that the Russians have the prisoners fight a demigorgon just for shits and giggles. Lastly, there’s Mike’s crew (Mike, Will, Jonathan, and Argyle). They start off in California and travel to Utah to have Dustin’s girlfriend use her hacker skills to try to find where Dr. Owens is holding El. After they learn where El is, no one from Mike’s crew is seen or mentioned again. It’s almost as if the show forgot about them.
Now onto the big baddie of this season: The Vecna. Y’all, this dude is scarier than the demigorgon and The Mind Flayer combined. Vecna looks like something out of a pure nightmare. He even attacks and kills the kids in their minds, a la Freddy Krueger (speaking of which, legend Robert Englund makes an appearance this season as Henry Creel’s longer suffering father Victor Creel). This brings me to the question I posed in the title of this article: Is Vecna’s existence a metaphor for anxiety and depression?
Some of y’all may think this is a reach, but just hear me out. The teens that Vecna targets are going through some type of trauma, whether its body image/eating disorders, abuse, survivor’s guilt, and/or PTSD. People in real life that experience these types of traumas may very well be suffering from anxiety and depression as well. To make matters worse, Max and the other kids Vecna targeted weren’t really talking about their issues, despite having sessions with the school guidance counselor. I remember whenever I had sessions with my guidance counselors in elementary school and junior high (my high school guidance counselor was mainly there to ensure I took courses that looked good on college applications), I would sometimes try to act like everything was okay when it really wasn’t. The kids later learn that the only way to unlock a victim’s mind from Vecna’s curse is music, namely a song that resonates with the victim. Max is able to fight Vecna off not only due to the crew making her listen to her favorite track, but also by reaching inside herself and finding a will to live. On a side note, Max’s favorite song is Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.” I’ve always loved that song and the music video.
Many people not properly treating their anxiety and depression may feel like there’s no way out, and opt for a permanent solution to a temporary problem, if you get my meaning. In Stranger Things, Vecna traps the kids in their minds and destroys them while in there. He even appears to get stronger with each life he takes. When he’s giving his origin story to Nancy—as well as to Eleven during a flashback—he discusses how he gained his power when he was a small child (as Henry). He fed off his family’s fears and traumas, and became so powerful that he was unable to withstand it, hence the reason young Henry fell into a coma and ended up in Dr. Brenner’s care.
I had a serious battle with anxiety myself earlier this year, and I felt as if my mind was holding me hostage with awful, catastrophic thoughts that wouldn’t ease off no matter what I did. Don’t get me wrong, I never considered the other solution, but I was miserable nonetheless, and part of me wondered if I would ever be myself again. I was trapped in a living nightmare and the never-ending fear engulfed nearly every part of my life. The negative thoughts seemed to get stronger and stronger. It was only when I started opening up about what was happening to me, reading up on anxiety and certain self-care treatments, taking some time for myself to relax, and listening to certain music (in my case, I have Andy to thank for that) that I began to feel like Nadiya again. I had to reach inside and find the will and determination to get better, just like Max did. Vecna and his curse reminded me a lot of what anxiety and depression can do to people if they don’t get the help they need. Just a thought.
Y’all, this season of Stranger Things is fan-friggin’-tastic! It’s full of action, teen angst, horror, and the Vecna storyline hit in a way I never imagined it would. I binged watched the entire season in one weekend. I just hope the powers that be don’t break Nancy and Jonathan up and give Mike’s crew more to do. Oh, and sober Jonathan up, please. He even looks like a straight up pothead now. Other than that, this installment was perfect. I can’t wait to see Part 2 next month!
—Written by Nadiya
*EDIT: Season four actually isn’t the final season of the show; it’s been announced that Stranger Things will return one last time. Also, the prison Hopper was in was located in the Soviet Union, and Joyce and Murray traveled there, via their connecting flight—or should I say, crash—from Alaska.
So what did you think about season four of Stranger Things? Do you like it as much as the past seasons, or do you believe the previous ones are better? Was Vecna a scary villain in your opinion? Do you feel like Vecna really is a metaphor for depression and anxiety, or am I just reaching? Do you want Jonathan and Nancy to stay together, or do you want Nancy to hook up with Steve? Is Will gay, or is he just incredibly shy when it comes to girls? Which storyline interests you the most? Which storyline interests you the least? Which new character is your favorite? Which is your least favorite? Will you be watching Part 2 in July? Let me know in the comments section!