Stranger Things 4 Volume 2 Review: It's Always Been About Hawkins

Netflix released the long-anticipated Volume two of season four of Stranger Things with the Hawkins gang fighting the Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower) on multiple fronts. Before their elaborate plan can be set up, things have to be set in motion for that final confrontation in the episodes "Papa" and "The Piggyback". There are tons to unpack here including long-awaited reunions, pacing issues, and elaborate plans. This is your minor spoilers warning.

Stranger Things
Image: Netflix

We start with "Papa" with visions shared by the Vecna to Nancy (Natalia Dyer) to reveal his plans to take over Hawkins and by extension, the world. He needs to claim his fourth victim, which is Max (Sadie Sink), who barely eluded him last time. As the title suggests, Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown) circles around the corner on the truth about Brenner's (Matthew Modine) research and the orderly (Bower) who would be discovered to be One. She befriended him before he revealed his true intentions and their fight resulted in his banishment to the Upside-Down and physical transformation to the Vecna.

stranger things
Image: Netflix

Stranger Things & Its Many Splintered Narratives

Team Byers consisting of Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), Will (Noah Schnapp), Mike (Finn Wolfhard), and Argyle (Eduardo Franco) are trying to make their way to Eleven trapped inside Brenner's secret laboratory in the desert. Team Hawkins splits up into mini-groups, with the first being Nancy, Robin (Maya Hawke), and Steve (Joe Keery), followed by Max, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Erica (Priah Ferguson). The third group is Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Eddie (Joseph Quinn). Adults in Joyce (Winona Ryder), Jim (David Harbour), Murray (Brett Gelman), and Dmitri (Tom Wlaschiha) are all trying to escape within an inch of their lives from a Soviet prison that also openly experiments with creatures from the Upside-Down to its inmates.

stranger things
Stranger Things – Image: Netflix

Now that we got those dynamics out of the way, I'm glad that they gave a lot more for Heaton, Schnapp, and Wolfhard to do since the Duffers did a far better job overcoming the emotional awkwardness that plagued the previous volume. I liked it that they didn't ignore Will's past trauma he's had since season one, but it just felt like too much was lost in the shuffle building everyone else up. I liked that the three were allowed to be more aware of the dangers and threats they were facing. That being said, I also appreciate the fact the Duffers allowed Brown to fully realize her character's maturity this season because it felt like during much of the previous seasons, she still felt like a character still trying to overcome remedial social skills. The difference in earlier seasons with Eleven's interactions with Brenner compared to season four is just night-and-day and the way they got to this point made sense and didn't feel forced when you see this season as the true culmination of what came before it.

Stranger Things 4 Volume 2 Review: It's Always Been About Hawkins
Stranger ThingsImage: Netflix

The adults didn't have the same level of impact on the core storyline as they had in previous seasons as they escaped the cruel, harsh conditions of the Soviet prison and the leftover experiments from the Upside-Down. You really wouldn't miss anything if their Russian scenes were cut out and left with just their final scenes of the fourth season. That being said, the adults did serve as a change of pace from the younger cast. Ryder contributes more than really leads. Harbour looks like he's been on the receiving end of training for a Bond film. Gelman still gets his share of wisecracks in as a more physical John Malkovich-type. Murray's become such a fun character with his antics and he truly lived up to & earned his wildcard status. Perhaps for organizational purposes, the season could ha – ve been recut to have one or two adult-centric episodes before focusing mostly on the kids throughout for better consistency and pacing but that's more of a personal thing and a hit against the season.

Stranger Things 4 Volume 2 Review: It's Always Been About Hawkins
Stranger Things – Image: Netflix

Keery and Hawke really shine when the pair play off of one another as they showed natural growth from their initial adolescent insecurities to their now-developing adult insecurities, and how the seasons have prepared them to face them head-on. While Sink kept up her top-notch performance from the first volume, McLaughlin stepped up every which way, tying a number of Lucas' loose ends the best way possible in what was definitely his best performance to date on the show. If there was one tragedy we never got to see this season and I'm hopeful we could get a glimpse of in the final season is what Max and Lucas' relationship actually was before the abrupt breakup since we're missing a ton of context behind what it was truly about. Even their time together in Max's flashback scenes of "happier times" were from season three and not anything original for the current one.

As far as how those team-ups went, it was a pretty mixed bag. I'm glad they gave Quinn's Eddie a more satisfying redemptive arc than Dacre Montgomery's Billy in the third season finale. Expected more from Steve, Robin, and Nancy in their contribution, but it's creatively understandable since it's already a two-and-a-half-hour-long season-ender. I wouldn't have minded if they split "The Piggyback" into two episodes and upped the season's total to ten. While Volume Two isn't perfect, it did effectively follow up on the storyline threads from the first volume though a bit rushed at times (like Nancy, Jonathan, and Steve's reunion). My biggest regret is how much the season finale felt like everyone was trying to make up for lost time after spending so much of it apart from one another that certain aspects weren't given their fair due.

Stranger Things 4 Volume 2: "Papa" & "The Piggyback"

Stranger Things
Review by Tom Chang

9/10
Netflix released the long-anticipated Volume two of season four of Stranger Things with the Hawkins gang fighting the Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower) on multiple fronts. Before their elaborate plan can be set up, things have to be set in motion for that final confrontation in the episodes “Papa” and “The Piggyback”. There are tons to unpack here including long-awaited reunions, pacing issues, and elaborate plans, so buckle up as we look at how effective a wrap-up Volume 2 proved to be for the penultimate season.
Credits

Directors
The Duffer Brothers

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About Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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