This probably contains SPOILERS, but I’ve really written it for people who’ve already watched the season. If you’ve never watched it, it won’t make sense to you. I wasn’t really going to take the time to analyze Stranger Things. I wasn’t even going to watch it. Others have pointed out that the show has lost its oomph and settled in to regurgitating itself and lore-expanding. That’s to be expected whenever TV creators don’t know how or don’t want to bring things to an end.
Back when Season 3 came out, I said “Let’s hope they stop after Season 4”. Since a good bit of the season is involved in fixing the cliffhanger of the previous one, one might hope for a merciful end. But no, they had to set up Season 5, in which… they’ll fight a big monster. Again.
But as I said, that’s a structural problem with television. If it gets popular, they keep making more, and if they keep making more, they bleed out the thing that made it work. Been there, complained about that. This is not about that. This is about the show’s character problem. There are two many of them, and not enough for them all to do, so they end up running around in tightly-packed groups like so many lemmings trying not to die.
But don’t take my word for it, take a look at what the characters we’ve gotten to know spent their time doing:
Will Byers, the kid who disappeared into the Upside Down in the first Season, grew a bowl haircut and put on two shirts and acted like he was going to either come out of the closet or poop his pants, possibly both. He also drew a picture.
Lucas joined the basketball team and sort of acted like a jock until that went the only place it could go, and otherwise spent his time acting like his puppy just died, except his puppy was a redhead who “liked” him despite never actually having anything nice to say to him, or anyone else
His sister Erica, despite being a fully-fledged Scoobie at this point, somehow manages to do even less than in Season 3. She plays DnD now. Whatever.
Dustin finds another higher-status male to irritate, without abandoning his chokehold on his previous alpha. He still has a girlfriend, but other than a Ferris Bueller prank (which wouldn’t even have worked on 80’s school technology, just trust me on this), they have zero contact. Johnathon’s stoner buddy has more real-world contact with Dustin’s girlfriend than Dustin does. Let that sink in.
Speaking of Jonathan, he gets stoned and hits golf balls with a porky Hawaiian-looking dude and tells his brother that he still is there for him. Nancy is as bored of him as we are.
Nancy, of course, spends her time Nellie-Blying around, solving the mystery well ahead of the cops, who are still completely in the dark as to what happened when the closing credits roll. That’s just what she does now. Even Vecna gets this, as he has her in his clutches and uses her to transmit a message to the rest of the Scoobies, because even though Nancy should feel way more guilty about Barb than Max does about Billy, she doesn’t, because It’s All About Nancy. Nancy does not care. She’s gonna keep pinging back and forth between men (and anyone else) as they cease to be useful to her. Vecna knows a Black Widow when he sees one.
Which brings me to the third leg of this neverending love triangle. Steve Harrington is done with this shit. He just wants to run his video store and mack on babes. He doesn’t want to drive all over the county every time Dustin (or whoever) pulls exposition out of his butt, but he doesn’t have a choice. He’s the Fred of our Scoobie Gang, except he doesn’t get to date Daphne, and Velma throws unfunny zingers at him every time he opens his mouth.
I should say “speaking of Robin..” at this point, but I can’t, because whoever this character Maya Hawke is playing this season, it’s not Robin. Robin was hilarious and self-possessed. Robin had wit and wryness. This girl-who-won’t-shut-up-such-lol is not Robin. I think the Duffer Brothers either lost track of her character, or decided to have her “grow”, by making her awkward and annoying. Except they forgot to add the part where she grows or overcomes something. Maybe next season.
Who does that leave us with? Well, there’s the aforementioned Max, who almost has a character arc this season, except when you boil it down, she’s just a willing Lois Lane to Eleven’s Superman. They managed to write her well, making me actually believe that she feels bad for Billy dying while recognizing that their relationship was horrible. She bore the weight of impending death with grace and nobility. I never liked her before, but I did this season. That’s something.
I don’t want to get into the B-Plot involving Joyce and Murray going to rescue Hopper out of the USSR. It’s ridiculous, but at least every character is involved in it and contributes. It’s exactly what you think it’s going to be. It’s fine.
I made it this far forgetting all about the most important character of Season 1, Mike. Remember Mike? Remember when Mike did things? Remember when Mike was a character who had goals? No longer. Mike exists to love Eleven; Eleven exists to save the world. This was fine so long as Eleven let Mike help her understand the society she’d been locked away from, but they abandon that this season because it would get in the way of her discovering The Villain Origin Story, which she had Completely Forgotten her role in, because Of Course She Did. Discovering this helps her recharge her superpowers, because Of Course It Does. Nothing else matters. She raises her arm and screams and bad guys go boom (has anyone tried clocking Vecna with a roller skate? It looked like it could be effective), once will says that he loves her, which is totally new information.
All of these characters are languishing because there are too many of them, with nothing to do, because none of them are Eleven. They go into the Upside-Down; they come out of the Upside-Down, it changes nothing. Until Eleven faces off against the monster, the season cannot end. It’s unfortunate that they killed off the likable new character Eddie Munson, but if they hadn’t, he’d just be one more Not-Eleven for the Duffers to find meaningful character moments for. I’ll take Dead Eddie over Ruined Robin.
Probably the Duffers feel that way, too, because they didn’t just kill Eddie. Every new character in Hawkins with more than three lines of dialogue dies. We have our locked Scoobie Gang, and we are going to ride it into the circles of hell, because this can only end with Eleven destroying the Devil Himself, before fleeing into the Pacific Northwest with Mike and starting an Eggo-based Cult of Nosebleed Consciousness. Other predictions:
- Steve and Nancy get back together, get married, and then divorce when Steve’s store gets crushed out by Blockbuster. He takes his savings and invests it on startup stock in a little business that ships DVD’s to your house. He retires rich, living in Silicon Valley, running Boy’s clubs, dating women half his age.
- Jonathan will act so pathetic and girly that Robin will find him inexplicably alluring, which will spike her ongoing existential crisis. They will change their names to Jimmy and Candace and have a series of adventures hunting Chupacabra, one step ahead of the cartels.
- Dustin will go to college, join a fraternity, start LIFTING, and end up on Wall Street. He’ll lose a fortune in the ’08 bust, but that doesn’t matter, does it?
- Lucas will also go to college, go into politics, and end up becoming Indiana’s first black governor. He’ll lose his bid for re-election when it’s discovered that he still prefers 1st-Edition DnD, stating that 5e is “for babies”. Erica will defend her brother from getting canceled by torqued-up nerds and then end up getting elected herself on a surprise write-in candidacy.
- Will Byers will never leave Hawkins again. He won’t do much of anything else, either, content to work in a hardware store and drink Kentucky Gentleman on the weekends. He’ll live in his mom’s old house, a recluse. One day he’ll take a walk into the woods and Prophet Elijah will come down on a fiery chariot and tell Will that his days of suffering are over. He’ll smile like Frodo Baggins and that will be that.
- Joyce and Hopper will finally go have dinner at Enzios, will find it not as good as they remembered. Hopper gets so mad he calls the health department on them.
- Max will wake up, and will briefly become a Kate Bush roadie before starting her own entertainment production company, chiefly known for bankrolling Zaz Bagans’ Ghost Adventures.