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I will need to resubscribe to watch the season. My plan had been to wait until early June to do that, so I could see both parts of the season in a one-month-then-cancel-again term. However, I watched episode one with a friend last night and am curious enough about what's next that I may change that plan.

I didn't think it was bad, but there was certainly an element of the Duffer Brothers being high on their own supply. Most of the reviews have mentioned how unnecessarily long the episodes are, and I indeed thought this one could have been trimmed by at least ten minutes and lost nothing. Also a lot of jump cuts and sound effects turned up to 11.

I'm curious what characters you didn't know. The only brand new character -- which is to say, new person in the show who clearly will have a plot line of his own, vs. supporting/background filler -- is the dungeon master guy. Everyone else, I believe, are characters we already knew from past seasons.

One thing I found distracting is how much the kids have grown up. Not anybody's fault, obviously; but with all of them having gone through puberty in the three years since the show last aired, but this season being set only six months after the last, the difference is jarring. I wish the Duffers had opted to retool their story so the season could be set at least a year or two after the last. It make it a lot easier to accept that characters like Jonathan, who looks like he should have a mortgage and two kids, are still in high school. (Charlie Heaton is 26 or 27.) Or, for that matter, that the dungeon master guy is. (At least for him, the show suggested that he's on his third try at being a senior.)

Sadie Sink's Max has been my favorite character for a while, and I think Sink may be the best actor among the kids on the show. I have a feeling they're going to be leaning on her dramatic chops this season.

Vecna? Not scared yet, although the cheerleader's death was definitely gruesome. Yowch.
 

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I wanted more Winona. :)
Wound up hanging out with the same friend tonight and she wanted to watch episode two, so we've started that. About 20 minutes in and are taking a break for her to attend to kids.

Looks like you are getting more Winona in this one. :)

Also, very early in this episode was a scene that is exactly the reason I watch the show. Max goes to see Dustin and tell him who it was that died, and also suggest that maybe she was killed by... "something else". Of course Dustin is immediately on her wavelength and they head out to find Eddie and confirm what actually happened. The shared history of these kids, and how much they know that almost no one else does -- and their resoluteness in confronting it -- is awesome. I sort of chuckled as they headed out the door and Dustin's mom cried out, "It's not safe!" Those two kids may be the safest two in town.
 

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My thoughts after the first two... not sure when I will be able to watch more:

Not especially interested in anything happening in California or Russia. Murray and the Russians were my least favorite part of season three and here we have more of each. Seems pretty clear Joyce (with Murray) is going to be off on her own most of this season rescuing Hopper, which... eh. Maybe there will be some payoff in the end, but the season is going to have to convince me that keeping Hopper alive was for more reasons that just giving Joyce something to do. We do know there is a demigorgon at the prison camp so maybe that will lead to something interesting.

Elsewhere in CA, it's completely believable that El wouldn't fit in at school, maybe even be picked on, but cranking the Mean Girl bullying up to (heh) eleven, as has happened so far, is too cartoony. They could make the same point with more pathos by underplaying that a lot more. Will isn't much of a "brother" to her as he mostly stands around and watches things happen. We ended up 30-second skipping through a lot of these scenes because they were too long and too much.

I like more the Hawkins plot lines. As I mentioned above, I get jazzed by the kids grimly taking on the mantle of saving the world again, so I'm glad the show immediately got Steve and Robin involved with Dustin and Max, and they all went and found Eddie. I assume they will flange in with Nancy at some point, who is coming to some realizations from another direction but on the same trail. I like her confidence this season. Meanwhile Lucas is going through a relatable struggle between wanting to be one of the cool kids and actually being himself. Who knows how long that will keep him on the outside of things but I wouldn't mind the show pulling him in quickly now since I've had about enough of the basketball team and their star player. Unfortunately he seems like he will be around for a while to stir up trouble for our heroes.
 

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My thoughts after the first two... not sure when I will be able to watch more:
I gave in and re-upped to keep going.

I've now watched through six. Will get to seven in the next couple of days. Some thoughts on 3-6:

The way season three ended was completely logical: of course Joyce would take custody of El, and of course she'd want to get her family the heck out of Hawkins. The problem is that Stranger Things Stuff happens in Hawkins, which means that season four is going to involve bringing them right back. Or, bringing them slowly back, which is the option the Duffers have chosen. Is that what people want from Stranger Things? There have been a few enjoyments in this plot thread -- the single-take shootout at the Byers house was well done, and the scene where the boys realized they needed to get back and help save the day is the sort of the thing the show does so well -- but is what we want to watch Mike, Will, and Charlie road-tripping to Salt Lake to visit Susie, a character that wasn't beloved enough from the last season to really need a curtain call? And once there, of course having a wacky side-adventure inside her house? All of this is basically no worse than pleasant, and even fitfully entertaining, but it's filler. As I keep saying, one of the great pleasures of the show is the characters it has created, and the show has earned the right to luxuriate in their presence even if it means creating side arcs to do so. But this one, so far at least, could be almost entirely skipped and the entire plot of the season would still make perfect sense. Given how much time we've spent with the California arc, that seems like a problem.

Eleven. It's a bit the same with Eleven. It feels a bit like the Duffers don't know how to write for this character anymore, so they've gone back to the well of the lab. El will get her powers back, and will we have learned anything along the way? Will she? It doesn't feel like it. Again, the snow has earned the right to tell its story the way it wants to tell it, but shouldn't more stuff feel like it will end up mattering?

Now that we're closer to a Demogorgon in the Russian jail, I'm feeling better about the Hopper side of things. And while I'm still happy that the show continues to give Joyce agency instead of making her a victim, I still roll my eyes at most of her misadventures with Murray. And now they're going to walk into the prison and free Hopper? We'll see how that plays out, but it feels, um, improbable.

I've done some griping about all the above, but while that mostly represents impatience, I haven't actively disliked any of that. The vengeful jocks arc, meanwhile, I find outright bad.

Going back an episode or two:

Great stuff with Max being possessed by Vecna and the other kids saving her. Again, the strength of the show. I think one accidental effect, though, of Max spending that time in the Upside Down, and Vecna talking to her so much, is that he has stated to seem kind of ridiculous. The demogorgon in season one was way scarier than Vecna is at this point, no? Steve getting pulled into the Upside Down and attacked by those bat things was much scarier than if instead, Vecna had walked up and gone "Steeeeeve..."

After Freddie was killed, when Nancy was talking to the police, Steve, Robin, Dustin, and Max pulled up in Steve's car and got out, looking at her. Nancy saw them and Natalia Dyer let a relieved smile cross her face: "Here are the people I really need." Loved that.

As far as the Hawkins side of things goes generally, I think these episodes have done a good job of the kids logically figuring out what is going on and uncovering clues. That part has been well=plotted.
 

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There are only two episodes left? Then why split the season into two parts? Also, the episodes ran 20 - 30 minutes longer than most shows' 40-ish minute lengths. They could have just shifted that extra episode length into extra episodes.
There are two answers to these questions, and both of them are money. As others have said, splitting off the last two episodes means an extra month of subscriber revenue from viewers (like me) who were just re-upping to watch. (There is probably a secondary benefit of giving post-production on the last two episodes a bit of extra time.)

As for the episode lengths, yes, they could have been edited more tightly and I think lost nothing. But if the Duffers insisted on keeping all that footage in the show, we got these long episodes because the actors are paid per episode. It would have cost them more in salary to split the exact same footage into, say, twelve somewhat shorter episodes than it does to have nine longer ones.
 

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Anyway, I finally finished through episode seven. I have thoughts but too tired to post them tonight. Well, except for these two things about the very end of #7:
  • Pretty solid bit of world-building with showing that #1 is Vecna, how the portal was opened to begin with, how the Creel family stuff fit in, why that house, and so on. This does seem to suggest that Dustin is wrong, in that his theory was that the Mind Flayer is the ultimate Big Bad and Vecna is his "general". This conclusion pretty clearly seems to say that Vecna/#1 is the final boss, no?
  • Roger Ebert used to call out a trope he called "The Fallacy of the Talking Killer". This was the sort of scene at the end of a movie where the killer had the hero dead to rights, and instead of killing them straightaway, goes into a monologue about what their evil plan was. This inevitably gave the hero time to work out a way to get the upper hand and defeat the killer. #1's monologue here wasn't exactly the same thing, but boy did he talk for a long time, and quite unnecessarily to the context of the situation, in what became a blatant extended plot dump. I actually was tempted to skip ahead a couple of times. Again, good world building, but pretty awkwardly arrived at.
 

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Actually, one more episode seven thought for tonight, before I forget about it. The rest later.

It was kind of damning that a 90-minute episode didn't spend one minute on the Byers boys and Will's road trip adventure. It was essentially an acknowledgment that there is not enough going on there to need to check in on. So on the one hand I was happy not to have the episode padded out further with their arc, but on the other, it might have been good to move them along a bit so we don't have to spend more time down the stretch moving their chess pieces around. That thought got me wondering about the point of their arc, other than giving them something to do. Presumably they'll get to El and get her back to Hawkins -- but Brenner and Owens want to get her back to Hawkins too, so what's the point? She doesn't need rescuing. Then I remembered that the military now knows where El is thanks to the agent's tortured confession. So presumably those three threads will collide in the last two episodes with the military arriving at Nina to wipe it out and the boys getting there in time to, yes, rescue El.
 

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Max really has the acting chops for someone I only remembered as being the annoying girl and sister to Billy.
Max may be my favorite character now thanks largely to Sadie Sink. They put a lot on her shoulders in these episodes and she was up to the task.

I'm also trying to decide who I think will live to the end. No way the entire cast does. I really think it's gotta be either Steve or Jonathon. Especially since we have that Steve and Nancy twew lurv out of nowhere again. It's probably going to be him. I really thought he was a goner when the hell bats were attacking him. I was like "oh so this is how he's going to go, not cool" but no. Anyone else have thoughts on it?
My guess is that no one dies this season. As for next season, the final one? Maybe then. They didn't have the guts to kill Hopper before, in what would have been a really affecting death. That makes me think they won't have the guts to kill someone later, either. Or maybe that's when he really does get it. :)
 

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Then I remembered that the military now knows where El is thanks to the agent's tortured confession. So presumably those three threads will collide in the last two episodes with the military arriving at Nina to wipe it out and the boys getting there in time to, yes, rescue El.
Internet points to me for calling this. Not that it was particularly hard to work out.

I've watched chapter eight but not nine yet, so will wait to post any detailed reaction about the end of the season after I've seen it all. A couple of quick-hitters about eight, though:

The ninety-minute runtime didn't really bother me, but it was a bit surprising about how little happened during it. Except for the action set-piece showdown at Nina, there was almost no development of anything. Again, didn't really bother me, and I'll need to see chapter nine to evaluate, but it feels like there is a way tighter version of this season that would be just as effective as what we are getting. Although I am enjoying what we are getting for the most part, and its Netflix's money not mine, so that is more of an academic thought.

Eleven taking down the helicopter was pretty cool. Well-staged. Millie Bobby Brown gives good intensity when they need it.

I had some issues with the military invading Nina and just gunning down other Americans soldiers. And then the helicopter sniper outright murdering Papa. We're supposed to look at Sullivan as a bad guy and otherwise not think too hard about stuff like that, I guess, but I don't think it plays well.

I wonder if Papa's death was intended to be poignant. The way it was shot and scored suggested the Duffers wanted us to feel something -- or maybe, something other than happiness -- at his death. I did not. I was quite glad that when he asked Eleven for absolution at the end, she refused to give it to him.
 

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I do still think the basketball team vengeance thing was unnecessary and didn't add a thing to the story. If it wasn't there it would have made zero difference.
I just finished it as well. Too late for a long post, which I hope to get to tomorrow. But I wanted to respond to this. I had saved episode nine for this evening, and in doing some leisure surfing today I browsed by ew.com to see if any interesting entertainment news had happened over the weekend. Their top headline announced an interview with Sadie Sink on what she called the "heartbreaking" season ender. I thought sure that had spoiled that Max died.

During the day I made my peace with that possibility; it helps if this show has stakes, and killing off one of the best characters in the ensemble is high stakes indeed. But as the episode played out, and it appeared Max's death might have been more or less directly caused (I mean, directly other than Henry, of course), by the vengeful jock, I was furious in the moment. The vengeful jock storyline might the worst thing the show has ever done. If it had been in there more or less so Max could die, I might have been done. Fortunately, that was a feint and Max isn't dead*, and the jock got burned in half. But I was beside myself there for a couple of minutes.

*I assume ST5 will bring Max's mind back from oblivion, although it'll be a bummer if it doesn't happen until late and we don't get much of Sadie Sink next season.

ETA: Here's the EW interview with Sink:

'Stranger Things' MVP Sadie Sink on 'heartbreaking' season 4 ending
 

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Wondering if this was supposed to say "unnecessary." Otherwise, it seems you're agreeing with nobody else, and if so, I'm curious to hear your thoughts on why that plot line was needed. I feel like they could have completely cut out the jocks and the "Hellfire is a satanic cult" bits and it wouldn't have lessened the story one bit. In fact, it may have made it even better, since once Jason saw his buddy get lifted up out of the lake and killed in the same way Chrissy was, and saw that it couldn't have been Eddie that did it, the rest of his scenes where he's still pissed at Eddie for no reason just made him look really stubborn and stupid and constantly took me out of the show.
I think he was being sarcastic.

I agree that having the jocks see their buddy killed was a misstep inside a misstep. It's one thing if you believe people are in a Satanic cult and are the ones harming other people ritualistically as part of their practice. It's quite another if you actually see "Satanic" phenomena. Are you actually going to blame the people at that point, like, oh OK, demons are actually real, who knew, but I'm still mad at you for summoning them? Or is your entire worldview going to be completely blown? Eddie saw Chrissy die and could barely function afterwards. Jason saw his friend die the same way and... blamed Eddie? No way.
 

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I just finished it as well. Too late for a long post, which I hope to get to tomorrow.
Don't know if it will be long. but here are my other thoughts on the final two episodes/four hours/

I hate to lead with a criticism, as though my net opinion is negative. It's not. But's closer to neutral than I would like -- I'm a fan of this show -- because this was just too long. This isn't a complaint about the runtime per se, but what the show did with it. The last episode should have felt propulsive, and parts of it were, but the momentum kept being interrupted by long stretches of other things. As Alan Sepinwall wrote, for example, did we really need a redemption arc for the peanut butter smuggler? The pacing issues and overstuffing of the finale are emblematic of the season as a whole. As much as I appreciate Netflix for spending the money, and the Duffers and cast and crew putting in the work, this season and finale would have been more if it had been less. I found myself tapping the scrubber several times during episode nine and thinking, "I can't believe there are still ninety minutes left!" I should not be thinking about how long a finale is during the finale.

I am also somewhat disappointed that the show hasn't evolved much in the story it is telling. Every season: life is normal, something weird happens, it's the Upside Down!, the kids and Eleven band together to save the world. There was a lot that seemed new here that really wasn't; it was just dressed up in new locations and side quests and other distractions that contributed to the season being high calorie and lower in nutrition. I think the fundamental repetition isn't really an issue, because it's such a pleasure to watch this cast work together, but tighter storytelling would have made the potential problem fade int the background if all the extra stuff hadn't made me really think about the central story being told.

And: was it actually scary? Think back to season one. That season featured a single demogorgon and that one single thing filled the entire season with danger and suspense. Now demogorgons seem kind of like angry dogs. Sure, we and the characters are all now demogorgon veterans and so won't think of them the same way, but how often did this season really seem to feature danger?

OK, enough criticisms. For all that, I did like the season. But now I have to make that the subject of a different post, probably tomorrow.
 

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While the jock storyline likely would have felt like fat on the bone no matter what, I think my main issue with it is how cartoonish it was, even for this show. I mean, the introduction was completely believable: Lucas wanting be seen as a cool kid and not a nerd in high school, so he takes up with the athletes, deals with their peer pressure, and eventually re-learns who his friends really are. All very real and relatable. And from Jason's side, his girlfriend is killed, and he wants to do something because he feels like adults aren't doing enough. I mean, that's what our heroes do every single season, so why not him and his friends too? None of that is particularly problematic, and could have been leveraged to exactly the same effect as we got, but less outlandishly. Jason and co. showing up at inopportune times to disrupt our heroes' plans, socially bullying Lucas for information, whatever. Jason could have even ended up at the Creel house just as he did, but without the gun, and seeing Max, he would try to wake her and cause Lucas to attack him so the plan could proceed. There was a way to do it all.

Instead the whole thing became a cartoon. Think about the three things that ended that whole plot: Jason's friend body-tackling an adolescent girl at full speed as she tried to run away from him, Jason himself standing on the football practice field casually blowing the heads off tackling dummies with an enormous gun completely undisturbed, and then Jason threatening (apparently seriously) to murder Lucas with that same gun. It's absurd.
 
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