While I was initially skeptical of Netflix’s decision to split Stranger Things Season 4 into two volumes, the move wound up being brilliant. Having had a few weeks to dig into fan theories, speculation on who will survive, and listening to a lot of “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush, has all made the two episodes that comprise Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 2 all the more meaningful as the series had its strongest ending yet while setting up its upcoming final season brilliantly.
While Stranger Things has always had strong writing, it has been more than a bit formulaic, relying on splitting up its strong cast of characters and then reuniting them for a satisfying, final battle. Season 4 Volume 2 throws that trope on its head as the gang doesn’t all reconvene in Hawkins to tackle it together, instead saving that sort of full team effort for the last season — which is wonderfully established over these final two episodes. While separated in three locations, the main groups are all working toward a common goal of disrupting the Upside Down and taking down Vecna, who quickly became the greatest villain the series has had as it evolved beyond terrifying creatures into full-fledged villains with depth and personality.
The final two episodes also do a brilliant job of tying up loose ends while balancing out a few complaints. Like many viewers, I was let down by how little Mike, Will, and Jonathan had to do plot-wise in the first seven episodes of the fourth season. However, this trio has some of the best heart-to-heart and tender moments in the series thus far. From friends reminding each other of their value to brothers realizing they need to support each other through their struggles rather than trying to face the burden alone, these are emotional moments that wind up registering and raise the stakes of Season 4’s final act. Oh, and Argyle is there too, even if he only serves to make pineapple on pizza and weed jokes for the most part (that said, he’s not that bad).
It’s also quite fun to start feeling nostalgic for a series that has always played upon viewers’ nostalgia for other entertainment and pop culture. Seeing the sparks fly between the newly reunited Joyce and Hopper is electric and it’s similarly exciting to see Eleven using her powers at full force once again. Season 4 Volume 2 is able to expertly tread new ground while also giving us enough character moments to remind us why we love this group in the first place, essentially playing its own greatest hits in the process.
While the enormous, two-hour-plus episode “Chapter Nine: The Piggyback” focuses on concluding the battle against Vecna, plenty of seeds are planted for the future. From Steve confessing his dreams of one day having a large family to emotional deaths that will have major repercussions moving forward, additional story beats are expertly set up to make Season 5 even bigger and better. This series has never struggled to top itself, but the Duffer brothers deserve to be commended for managing to stay consistent in tone while continually ratcheting up the emotional drama and the top-notch action.
The confrontation with Vecna lives up to the hype, with the psychological horror being brought to the forefront as Max is again forced to deal with her darkest thoughts as Vecna attempts to consume her. Sadie Sink’s acting is phenomenal as she proves to be a true talent. Likewise, Caleb McLaughlin’s Lucas is another standout in the final two episodes, confronting the well-meaning but antagonistic jock Jason Carver and his desires to be popular in school. While every character (okay, maybe except for Argyle) has their moments, it’s Millie Bobby Brown’s Eleven that wows in the action sequences as her fight against Vecna winds up being the most impressive visual splendor yet in a series that has always looked fantastic. Plus, as the preview images have shown, Murray winds up getting a flamethrower and the results are spectacular. This isn’t just Stranger Things at its best, it’s some of the most satisfying, fist-clenching action that can be viewed.
With incredible action and even more memorable characters, Stranger Things continues to be some of the best television that streaming has to offer. Netflix spares no expense in making Season 4 Volume 2 its most thrilling and satisfying conclusion to date.
ComingSoon’s review policy explains that a score of 9 equates to “Excellent.” Entertainment that reaches this level is at the top of its type. The gold standard that every creator aims to achieve.
Disclosure: The critic received a Netflix screener for ComingSoon’s Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 2 Review – Episodes 8 & 9.