Stranger Things’ penultimate season finally arrives this spring and summer after a pandemic delay in production. “Volume 1” drops on May 27, followed by “volume 2” on July 1. As much as Netflix’s “consume everything at once” binge model has permanently changed television—and audiences do like the convenience of it—there is no denying that airing episodes over weeks benefits shows. Weekly episodes have been huge for Disney+, where that format allows one show to dominate the pop culture landscape (and online discourse) for weeks, even months at a time. Thus, splitting the season into two, giving Netflix two shots in the arm from one of its biggest marquee shows. Even Netflix’s biggest shows have a way of dropping off the map after a couple of weeks, so we’ll see if the two-part drop changes how people interact with Stranger Things, if it gives a longer shelf-life to the new season, instead of just disappearing.
As for the trailer, it is certainly very dark and spooky and self-important. I do like the use of Journey, but just a reminder—this is a show about nothing. Stranger Things has become a hangout show, New Girl but with kids in a spooky town instead of adults in a loft. Will season four change that? Will it insert some narrative purpose, instead of just being a collection of nostalgic references? Hopefully. Season one remains, for all its fantastical sprawl, a tight narrative about growing up and growing apart from your friends. Re-watching that season now, it really feels like there was no initial plan beyond that one-off story, and stretching Stranger Things into a multi-season show hasn’t done the story any favors, even though the characters remain tremendously likeable, like adding unnecessary sequels to a movie with finite endings (ahem, The Matrix).
As for those likeable characters, it seems Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Will (Noah Schnapp) have been relocated in some kind of witness protection, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is still without her powers while Max (Sadie Sink) might have acquired some, and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) has joined the basketball team—oh hey, there’s that “growing up and growing apart” theme. All of these kids now look older than David Harbour, and he’s playing Gulag Hopper this season. Also, the creepy Upside Down spider-guy at the end, that’s totally Billy, right? Calling it now, it’s gonna be Billy.