STRANGER THINGS 4: Vol. 2 is the series at its undisputed best – a certified masterpiece [Spoilers]

The decision to split Stranger Things 4 into two parts came with the agonising realisation we were going to have to wait an entire month before witnessing the conclusion of Vecna’s mysterious plan. After uncovering the mind-blowing twists in episode seven and finishing the masterpiece that is these final two episodes, I can safely say that the execution of splitting the season up was flawless. The ambitious move built up an exponentially high amount of hype, to the point where Netflix literally crashed upon Vol. 2’s release. Not only did it build up hype, it delivered on that hype with two episodes that single-handedly cemented this series as my favourite of all time.

The penultimate episode came in with the sole purpose of setting up the big finale, ending in a way that set up an epic battle with emotional stakes that were through the roof! Then you get the finale – which is a cinematic masterpiece in and of itself. Creeping up to two and a half hours, this finale is the Infinity War to next season’s Endgame – an epic showdown in which every single character arc is closed out to perfection.

Firstly, I must credit the Duffer brothers – not only for their work on the series as a whole, but for the phenomenal things they achieved in writing and directing these supersized episodes. Matt and Ross Duffer had a clear vision for what they wanted to achieve and simply trusted in the process. Over two hours can seem like an eternity for a single episode of TV, but if what you’re making is exciting and thrilling from beginning to end, no one is going to be complaining. With that, let’s get into the penultimate episode and all the big moments that pave the way for an enormous finale.

Chapter 8: Papa – a pressure cooker about to burst!

Right off the bat, this episode displays just how terrifying this season has been in comparison to the seasons that have passed. The main culprit in that being Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower), whose presence alone is enough to send chills down your spine. The moment in which he confronts Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and shows her a vision of the potential future is as close to straight-horror as the series has gotten, and it’s glorious. As a whole, this episode’s main purpose is to build pressure – it’s packed full of tense sequences, touching character moments and little twists that guide us into the finale.

There’s tonnes of memorable moments, but my favourite single scene of the episode has to be the emotionally-crushing conversation between Will (Noah Schnapp) and Mike (Finn Wolfhard) in the back of the pizza van. So much can be drawn from this conversation – from Will’s true feelings to the importance of friendship in defeating Vecna. The unveiling of Will’s painting, and how he uses it to reassure Mike that he’s an essential part of the crew and important to Eleven, is a perfect moment between the two life-long friends – displaying the unbreakable bond they have. The duality in what Will is saying, alluding to his feelings for Mike, adds another layer of emotion to the scene. The moment in which he begins crying is the first scene within Vol. 2 that completely broke me, and that comes down to Noah Schnapp’s powerful performance. He hasn’t had a tonne to do in this season, but when he’s on, he’s absolutely incredible.

An interesting reveal in the Russia narrative is that the Russians have been keeping and/or growing multiple demogorgons and demodogs in test chambers – seemingly for the purpose of understanding them and attempting to weaponise them. On top of this, they’ve also managed to trap part of the dust from the Mind Flayer – a very clever bit of foreshadowing that’s clearly about to come into play in the finale.

As much as the big moments are memorable, I loved the smaller character interactions within the episode – especially the scenes with Steve (Joe Keery) and Eddie (Joseph Quinn), and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Eddie. When those characters come together, the chemistry is remarkable. The callback to Max’s (Sadie Sink) Michael Myers mask way back in season two is a nice touch for long-time fans of the series. Even the scene where Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is watching over the Hawkins crew through using her telekinetic abilities is a cool one considering we haven’t seen them in the same room all season. Moments like these, with a strong focus on character relationships and development, are why I love this show so much.

The episode’s ‘explosive’ climax occurs when Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) reverts back to his truly evil nature – capturing Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) and imprisoning Eleven. What’s amazing is how quickly I could go right back to hating Dr. Brenner after actually believing he’d had a change of heart – speaking volumes on the writing and Modine’s convincing performance. After the realisation that Brenner was potentially using Eleven’s powers solely to search for One in the Upside Down, he gets his comeuppance when he’s shot down by the military. There’s a nice final moment between Eleven and Dr. Brenner in which he releases the device around her neck and they have a heart-to-heart. It’s definitely not enough for a redemption, but I liked the moment of closure. This final sequence is a huge showing of the scale of this series – headlined by a massive explosion that looked almost entirely practical.

Episode 9: The Piggyback – our heroes lose…

Firstly, I have to mention that this episode as a whole is truly phenomenal. It’s movie-length, movie-intensity and movie-quality… an absolutely brilliant piece of cinematic television. At no point during these last two episodes did I know what would happen – nothing was obvious and I had absolutely no clue what would occur. It goes to show how tight the writing is, that the series is still able to shock and surprise on the way out of its fourth season. To put it simply – my jaw was agape through most of this episode. It delivered shock after shock, and had me crying more times than I could count. The pacing was flawless and had me on edge through every single minute.

Most importantly, this finale proves why splitting up all of our characters throughout the season was a genius decision. It makes the final moments that much more impactful, feeling very earned when everyone finally comes together. If the Russia and California crews made it back to Hawkins in the first couple of episodes, it would have felt like a waste. The way it was handled was deliberate and perfect. This episode is a non-stop thrill ride, so I’ll do my best to talk about the largest elements.

The joy of this episode comes with the fact that every single character across all of our locations is a part of something thrilling and intense. It means there’s no moments where I wished we were moving away from one arc and onto the next. It’s perfectly balanced and maintains a rapidly intensifying atmosphere through every scene. Over in Russia, I love that we finally got to see Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce (Winona Ryder) get together – albeit very briefly. The couple are finally a thing – something we’ve all been waiting multiple seasons to see.

I won’t go into every moment that got me tearing up (because there’s a lot of them) but I’ll just add that the emotional weight of this episode is one of the most intense things I’ve ever experienced. Just when I’d emotionally recover from one scene involving Nancy and Steve, the following scene with Max and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) would get me right in the feels, and then another moment with Will and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) would hit me again. That happened too many times to count throughout the episode.

The brilliance of this episode’s central moment is that when the Hawkins crew’s plan to take down Vecna fails, every single character is in some form of danger and on the verge of dying. Hopper is being attacked by a demodog – Lucas is being brutalised by Jason (Mason Dye) – Steve, Nancy, Eleven and Robin (Maya Hawke) are being strangled by vines – Eddie is being hounded by demobats – and worst of all, Max is about to be killed by Vecna himself. The stress of every single one of my favourite characters in peril was almost too much to bare – but it was phenomenally well executed.

The sequence in which Eleven faces off with Vecna inside Max’s mind is awesome. It’s not quite the full ‘rematch of the century’, but it’s an intense sequence that shows us how much stronger Vecna is than Eleven at the moment. It also leans in to the fact that our entire crew needs to band together and attack Vecna all at the same time in order to have a chance. Finally, when everyone overpowers Vecna and begins unleashing hell on him, it leads to an epic, triumphant moment that gave me genuine chills. Seeing him be attacked on all fronts with a powerful rendition of Kate Bush’sRunning up that Hill‘ playing over the top is one of my favourite moments of the series to date.

Despite everyone overpowering Vecna, it’s not without sacrifice. Our beloved Eddie, who we’ve only spent one season with, succumbs to his injuries and bleeds out in Dustin’s arms. Despite only meeting him this season, this is a truly devastating loss due to how much of an instant connection we made with the character. He had a tonne of fun interactions with the rest of the Hawkins crew, making it look like he’d become a part of the main cast going forward. The writers did a brilliant job to keep his death a surprise, with me not thinking he’d die until the very second he did.

However, by far the most shocking moment that stressed me the fuck out was Max’s (brief) death. Seeing her eyes bleed out and limbs be snapped in half, I thought she was done for, only to be slightly relieved when it turned out she was alive… albeit barely. Realising she was blind and seemingly paralysed, the moment had me an emotional wreck – then when she actually dies seconds later, I was stunned. It’s like time literally stopped and I was paralysed in shock. I never thought Max would die, especially after her close call back in episode four. Thankfully, she’s revived by Eleven in the final moments, but only enough to put her in a coma. So much unfolded in the minutes leading up to this near-death experience, but this was the most shocking event of all. The scene is rounded out by an utterly mesmerising performance from Caleb McLaughlin, who sells the pain and devastation that Lucas is experiencing in that moment beautifully well. His reaction is so raw and impactful that it absolutely broke me – by far the most heartbreaking moment of the series so far.

Within all of that chaos, in which there was so much going on that I couldn’t possibly cover it all in order, there was a great twist that reveals the true extent of Vecna’s presence in previous seasons. Where we previously believed Vecna was merely a pawn in the Mind Flayer’s plans, it’s revealed that Vecna is actually the one who created the Mind Flayer upon arriving in the Upside Down. Basically, the Upside Down existed as a world entirely untouched by humans, and Vecna used his powers to weaponise the entire realm and get his revenge on Eleven. So essentially, Vecna has been the villain pulling the strings since the very beginning and is only now choosing to do things himself. This pretty much answers any and all questions we had about the Upside Down, something I’ve been waiting years to find out.

With Vecna having briefly killed Max, he won, and his plan to collide the worlds of Hawkins and the Upside Down was fulfilled. The gates Vecna had created throughout the season expand and join together, killing Jason in the process and creating a permanent gate leading directly to the Upside Down. I said it before and I’ll say it again – this is the Infinity War to season five’s Endgame. The villain has one, our heroes lost greatly, and it’s up to them to take the fight back to Vecna.

The episode closes out with a “two-days later” flash-forward where we see the total destruction Vecna has caused while getting a number of heartwarming reunions. It’s all very bittersweet. The California and Hawkins crews reunite, giving us touching reunions across the board. We learn Max is in an indefinite coma, along with being tragically blind and paralysed. There’s a beautiful moment between Robin and Vickie (Amybeth McNulty), teasing a potential relationship in season five. There’s even a brutally emotional scene in which Dustin connects with Eddie’s uncle to cry over how he’s now gone. Lastly, we get the emotionally-heavy reunion of Eleven and Hopper, made even more powerful by the fact that she thought he was dead. All of these moments had me fighting back the tears with absolutely no success.

As beautiful as all that was, Will can feel the presence of Vecna now that he’s back in Hawkins. As a dark storm rolls in, the Upside Down’s dust begins falling all over Hawkins, the plant life is evidently dying, and Vecna’s takeover is just beginning.

Perfect isn’t a word I throw around a lot, but I can say with absolute certainty that this finale was absolutely perfect – resulting in what may be the series’ best season yet. It sets the stage for one of the most hyped final seasons of a TV series in recent years. Everything within this season worked together brilliantly. I loved all of the narrative arcs across Hawkins, California and Russia, with each one contributing to the narrative in different ways. These final two episodes left me an emotional wreck – so much so that I still haven’t recovered from the events. The incredible writing and smart misdirects executed by the Duffer brothers meant my death predictions were incorrect, leading to huge shocks and surprises that caught me very off guard.

In the end, the brilliant writing across Vol. 2 changes the way we view the events of this season and the entire series, stretching way back to season one. These two episodes are some of the series’ best, making me all the more excited for what’s to come in the fifth and final showdown.


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