Is there a logic in breaking up the episodes in this fashion? Why not just have four one-hour episodes? Perhaps by making the final episode as long as the average Marvel movie, it makes the final showdown seem that much more epic in scope and seem more “important,” especially if you have to wait an extra month for it. It’s a way to keep the show in conversation over the course of the summer rather than just a couple weeks before people move onto something else.
Chapter Eight (“Papa”) doesn’t feel like a new beginning, but a logical continuation of Chapter Seven (“The Massacre at Hawkins Lab”). No new characters are introduced and the pop culture references take a backseat while the characters remain the primary focus. If anything, the callbacks this time have more to do with previous seasons as our heroes have to use what they’ve learned years ago to help get them out of, or into, a situation or setting, but not without resolving their inner feelings first.
In fact, the best moments of these last two episodes happen to be the scenes where pairs of characters just work through their loves, denials, heartbreaks, and confusions. Remember how good Noah Schnapp (who plays Will Byers) was in those first two seasons? In the first part of “Stranger Things 4,” he seemed relegated to the backseat of the car the entire time while looking left out of everything. Here, he finally gets to be his character again and remind us why he matters.
“Papa” does have a few reveals that pay off later on, but basically, Eleven is still in the lab with Dr. Martin “Papa” Brenner (Matthew Modine) and Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser), who are at odds with how to handle Eleven’s determination to leave and help her friends. Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Will, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and Argyle (Eduardo Franco) are still en route to try and find the lab where Eleven is being held. Over in Soviet Russia, Joyce (Winona Ryder), Murray (Brett Gelman), Dmitri (Tom Wlaschiha) and Yuri (Nikola Djuricko) are still in the prison doing battle with a demogorgon and now have to figure out a way to get back to the States. Back in Hawkins, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Erica (Priah Ferguson) Eddie (Joseph Quinn), Max (Sadie Sink), Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin (Maya Hawke) are out of the Upside Down, but as you recall, Nancy ended up back in and now has a message from Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower) that he wants shared with Eleven.
That’s about as detailed as I can get, of course. Chapter Nine (“The Piggyback”) has a two-and-a-half hour running time that must tie everything together once and for all, but these last two episodes do a good job of paring down the action to four basic threads (instead of the eight or nine we had in Chapters Five through Seven). As it happens every season, no matter how separated everyone is, they all seem to find out about, and be in on, the same plan at the same time, so that everything turns out okay. It’s a plot convenience the Duffer brothers somehow manage to pull off in the writing, but it does make for some clumsy editing in spots this time. Peter Jackson always ran into this with his “Lord of the Rings” films, but because we remain invested in the characters and the action, it just seems like an inevitability that comes with the territory.