Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 1 arrives with much of what viewers have come to love about the hit Netflix show. It embraces far more than just nostalgia although there’s a greater societal focus this time around. It continues the coming-of-age dramedy even if it’s a little hard to buy how much of the young cast is still in school.

But what makes this particular season stick out is that it feels like there’s more to discover just beyond another monster. This time there’s more pathos to explore, more mysteries to unearth, and a greater sense of danger than seasons prior. It elevates the horror aspect of this show into the maturing state to make it far more than a 1980s time warp.

Splits and Reunions in Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 1

Since the third season of Stranger Things, many characters have found themselves going in different directions. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is trying to adapt to normal life at school but is finding it difficult when being sent away from her first love Mike (Finn Wolfhard). Will (Noah Schnapp) is finding his friendships harder to balance when feeling like the third wheel between Mike and Eleven.

In Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 1, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) wants to keep up his D&D love but is finding it hard to muster. Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) has shifted from geek to jock and the transition has left him conflicted. And, perhaps the worst relocation, Hopper (David Harbour) is still alive but trapped in a Russian prison camp.

All of their lives are complicated by threats of both their own reality and coming from the Upside Down. Joyce (Winona Ryder) discovers that there may be a way to save Hopper but it will involve bribes, deception, and a dangerous journey through Russia. Eleven finds herself being forced back onto the operating table when her powers diminish and a new threat looms.

Enter Vecna

The latest monster the town of Hawkins needs to contend with is Vecna, Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 1 and 2’s baddie. He’s far different than the other creatures our heroes had to face. Vecna has a voice, a humanoid form, and stalks his prey more out in the open. More importantly, he has a sinister plan.

His series of murders center around past traumas that have occurred within Hawkins. Approaching anytime a dying clock is heard, he targets those he believes deserve punishment for past transgressions. This makes him far more dangerous than just being a mindless beast that can be conquered with mere force.

The mystery behind Vecna goes far beyond just being another Dungeons & Dragons monster. There’s a dark past to this character that remains locked away. This leads to some shocking revelations, made all the more compelling with exposition spoken by Robert England.

Satanic Panic

Throughout Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 1 is a paranoia that divides Hawkins. With the terrors of the Upside Down relating so closely to Dungeons & Dragons, the town targets geeks for being behind the murders. This brings about a mob mentality where the jocks lead the charge against the geeks in a fury of misplaced anger.

This is an angle of the era that feels far better explored than the simplistic red-scare cultural material of the last season. The Satanic Panic was very real and it transformed small towns into the community forming witchhunts. The propaganda spreads far and wide, making our underdog heroes even more like underdogs when the whole town is against them.

Throwback Charm

It’s surprising how well Stranger Things embraces the era this time around and doesn’t linger as much as it used to on the dated elements. I thought for sure that the video store was going to be exhausted for the nostalgia but it’s actually used in a clever way. The usual gang of Upside Down case-solvers uses the video store database as a means of tracking down stoners, narrowing down which one rents the most Cheech & Chong movies.

It should also be noted how well the series uses music. The Kate Bush song “Running Up That Hill” is used in a fantastic way that heightens one of the tensest episodes of the season and better defines Max (Sadie Sink) as one of the breakout stars of this season. It’s hard to get that song out of my head now for how amazing it was used.

There are also a lot of little things that make the 1980s setting work well enough. Everything from the TV programs to the mentioning of Police Academy 3 is peppered in throughout. Even settings like a roller rink are better utilized as a scene for a conflict than just a chance to lavish in the carefree days of yesteryear.

The Many Enemies in Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 1

There is so much going on this season that it’s easy to understand why the running time was beefed up and the season was split into two volumes. The many enemies faced this season include shadowy American operations, violent jocks, Vecna, a resurgence of the Demogorgon, Russian forces, and the typical bullies. Pile all of this on top of a heap of trauma and there’s a lot on everyone’s plate.

It’s for this reason why much of Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 1 spends its time splitting up the characters. Joyce and the eccentric doctor Murray (Brett Gelman) are off in Russia without anyone else knowing. Meanwhile, Eleven is mysteriously being held captive at an undisclosed location while she relives the darker days of her past.

Eventually, most of these stories culminate together into centering on the real terror that threatens all of existence. Just when it’s starting to feel as though we’re only getting episodic tales of Stranger Things, everything wraps together to make this rich tapestry connect. It’ll certainly be fascinating to see how Volume 2 finally tries to stop the evils of Vecna.

Conclusion: Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 1

So far, Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 1 has been perfect. It moves incredibly fast for such long running times, amps up the twists, keeps the characters interesting, and plays off the 1980s better than previous seasons. It even treads into the territory of elevated horror for embracing some truly grotesque and frightening elements that go beyond mere monsters and body contortions.

For as difficult and frustrating as the binge-watch model has been, it’s been a real treat to slam through these amazing episodes. There’s hardly an episode that feels wasted and always something interesting going on with the horrors of Hawkins. Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 2 can’t come soon enough, despite being under a month away.

Did you see Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 1? How does it compare to previous seasons? Which was the best episode? Let us know in the comments below.

Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 1 is currently streaming on Netflix.


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