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‘Stranger Things’ Season 4 Volume 1 is the Darkest Yet, but Character-Driven Arcs Make it Fantastic

Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 1 Spoilers Ahead

Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 1
©Netflix

Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 1 separates its key characters and dives deep into uncovering the mysteries of the Upside Down, all while clarifying that, if nothing else, this show is about found families at its core. The series introduces new characters who become instant fan favorites while some of the older key players fall into the trenches of the underused.

While we’re left with more unanswered questions by the end of the seventh episode, nothing is more evident than the fact that no character on this show is truly alone. Someone somewhere is going to show up for them or stick beside them.

STRANGER THINGS. (L to R) Charlie Heaton as Johnathan Byers, Noah Schnapp as Will Byers and Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler in STRANGER THINGS.
Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Though the Season 3 finale also includes separations with characters on different missions, it’s heavier today when dealing with the aftermath of those splits. Some characters benefit as a direct result of who they’re left with, while others ultimately serve zero purposes. Jonathan and Will Byers, along with Mike Wheeler, remain stranded in California, resulting in, unfortunately, no form of growth, especially when we look into how the adult in the equation feels more like the kid than the others do.

Of all the people to feel a connection to Vecna, it was easy to presume Will would be one of those characters, but instead, we see very little of him, only allowing him and Mike a few brief moments of vulnerability. It’s unfortunate how underused Jonathan is because, at this point, he’s becoming the type of character who’d be easy to forget long after the show’s over. And that’s never something you want happening within a show where everyone’s so fleshed out and complex.

However, the best thing to come from this situation remains the detail that Mike and Will’s friendship is still growing strong. Their friendship has been a constant throughout the seasons—a shining paradigm of what loyalty looks like while simultaneously exhibiting how difficult distance can be. It wasn’t just about Mike and Eleven but also about how friendships are impacted with miles in between. And despite everything, we can be sure of this fact even while much of the California arc remains a disappointment.

TRANGER THINGS. (L to R) Natalia Dyer as Nancy Wheeler, Joe Keery as Steve Harrington, Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson, Maya Hawke as Robin Buckley, Sadie Sink as Max Mayfield, and Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair in STRANGER THINGS.
Cr. Tina Rowden/Netflix © 2022

But, like previous seasons, Babysitter Steve Harrington remains a highlight in Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 1 even while he expresses his frustrations with always being tasked with the role of the lookout. Steve, Robin, Nancy, Dustin, and Lucas make the best team to date, and though all characters are on edge for various reasons throughout the first few episodes, when they’re together, the concept of a found family could not be more obvious.

In all honesty, it was easy to be indifferent towards Nancy throughout most of the show’s run, but that all changes this season when she continues to establish that there’s nothing she wouldn’t do for those she cares about while proving that her resourcefulness is a superpower when Eleven is nowhere to be found. The season also hints at a potential rekindling between Steve and Nancy, and while that could lead to a riveting second chance trope, for the time being, both characters being on their own, continuing to grow is a better option (which also means hopefully, they both survive and leave the gate they’re trapped under).

STRANGER THINGS. Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven in STRANGER THINGS Season 4 Volume 1
Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

While few on this show possess telekinetic powers, it isn’t the only form of strength—vulnerability and stepping forward no matter the consequences. Surprisingly, however, we get tangible proof of how found families operate with the series allowing Nancy and Robin to not only become friends but enjoy working together as partners. It also brought audiences face to face with bravery where hesitant women dealing with demonic sources that can’t be understood continued to put up a fight instead of backing down.

And speaking of bravery, where we didn’t see as much of Eleven this season, we got to watch her finally understand that she isn’t and was never the monster in the equation, but instead the vessel—the victim of abuse and manipulation. We got to watch her come to terms with who she wants to be without her powers, how she’s going to handle being far away, and where she could potentially go should she finally be able to escape the lab once more. And that takes us to the villain of the series, Jamie Campbell Bowers’ 001/Henry Creel/Vecna, the culprit behind every last attack in Hawkins.

Vecna’s identity and role in Stranger Things Season 4, Volume 1 makes the season the hardest one to stomach yet. If you’re anything like me, there’s a high chance you averted your gaze multiple times throughout the season, which generally isn’t something that happens with this show. As freaky as it is, it’s never been scary until now. Today, it leads to horror elements that aren’t for the faint of heart while at the same time hopefully leading us closer to answers and a satisfying end.

The season is far from perfect—the overly long episodes get tiring after a while, but the character development remains top-notch, and we see the most substantial arc with Max Mayfield in Chapter 4: “Dear Billy.” Max was an intriguing character from the moment she stepped onto our screens, but this season beautifully fleshes her out and gives Sadie Sink exceptional grounds to leap forwards from. The episode cements the detail that this show is primarily about friendships and anchors the heavy storylines with the wholesome appeal it’s always been known for. 

And finally, though it doesn’t happen until the final episode, the show reminds us that Jim Hopper and Joyce Byers are a duo unlike any other with a single embrace we’re going to be replaying for a long, long time. This story isn’t over any time soon, but with everyone’s mom and dad united, it’s bound to get stronger from here. While there are still ways to go, character-driven arcs remain a sharp form of storytelling. This isn’t going to be the kind of season to rewatch repeatedly, but there are plenty of scenes and moments worth revisiting. Whether it’s aces as a penultimate depends on the final two episodes, which we’ll finally see in July. 

Now streaming on Netflix: What are your thoughts on Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 1? Let us know in the comments below.

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Gissane Sophia View All

Gissane (pronounced Geese-enny) or, as people often call her, "Goose," is a Christ fan above all and a romance enthusiast who's taken her Master's degree in English and love for essays into writing lengthy analyses about pop culture.

She is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Marvelous Geeks Media and the co-host of Lady Geeks' Society Podcast. She drinks too much coffee, wants to live in a forest, and cries a lot because of her favorite characters. She's a member of The Cherry Picks and can also be found writing features for Looper.

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