At its height, Stranger Things fails to get off the ground

Netflix and the Duffer brothers took a risk releasing the final two episodes of Stranger Things season four over a month after the first half of the season and it's a risk that hasn't quite paid off.

Stranger things season four volume two has been released and it misses the mark promotional image netflix

After a 35-day wait, Stranger Things Season four Volume two is out, with the final two episodes combining for a marathon runtime of three hours and 49 minutes.

With over a month to sufficiently build hype, giving fans time to come up with every possible theory, what was delivered was never going to meet the expectations of fans.

Which begs the question has Stranger Things failed to learn the lessons of Game of Thrones three years ago?

Spoiler warning for Stranger Things Season four Volume two ahead.

The episode runtimes are out of control

The Netflix model of writing creates binge-able television, which makes you want to keep hitting next episode when the credits roll.

It's a tool to keep you engaged as to a small extent you're actively choosing to move on to the next episode even if it is 2 am because it's only one more episode it's not that long.

With the latest season of Stranger Things that is not the case. Season four clocks in at a whopping 778 minutes across nine episodes, with episodes ranging from one hour and four minutes to two hours and 22 minutes.

Because of this, the episodes are often movie-length but without the level of progression that a movie has, as a result, the pacing is slow and episodes seem to drag on.

At times, especially in the final episode, there's a need to pause, go to the bathroom or just sit back and process what is going on. Because when you do pause you discover there's still an hour left in the episode even though this is supposed to be the final boss fight.

Structurally the season and plot would have been paced better if we'd gotten 13 60-minute episodes with the final two episodes getting expanded into five episodes.

There is even a moment in the final episode with just under 48 minutes to go where things are looking bleak for our heroes and the screen fades to black.

It was the perfect moment to end a penultimate episode and make what follows the opening of the finale but instead, it keeps on going.

Additionally, the conclusion of season four which is set two days after the climax lasts 32 minutes. While it sets up how season five will open and places all of the main players in Hawkins it has none of the charms that the previous seasons have.

One of the failures in this final 32 minutes is an attempt at resolving Robin's (Maya Hawke) romantic plotline with Vickie (Annabeth McNulty), despite Robin declaring to Steve (Joe Keery) that considering everything they were going through it didn't matter.

The sheer amount of time-wasting across the season, not just in the final two episodes, on characters that ultimately could have been written out of this season and would have changed little to the plot is one of the biggest failures of season four.

With a 35-day wait, the big twist became the most obvious direction

Netflix and the Duffer brothers were trying something different by releasing Season four of Stranger Things in two parts. As far as promoting the show and building hype around the final two episodes it was a genius move.

As far as storytelling goes and surprising the audience, it was a terrible move.

Even if you aren't someone that engages with fandom you likely had theories about what was going to happen and considering you had 35 days to think about what might happen you were probably right.

We all saw the direction the season was going and what tropes the Duffer brothers use to write the show. Being able to sit on the first seven episodes, theories were always going to fly around but because of that the theories that would have been a surprise and a shock ended up feeling like the most obvious direction the show was going.

There are two parts of the climax specifically that fall into this trap.

In the penultimate season of a series, the good guys often take a major loss in the final battle to set up the final season. Going into volume two it was expected that Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) was going to lose to Vecna/001/Henry Creel (Jamie Campbell Bower).

The delivery of said loss could be declared a twist because Eleven and the team did win the fight but ultimately still lost but even that was predicted online.

Season four was always a set-up for season five rather than being a season that could potentially stand as a final season if the show was cancelled, something that even weaker seasons of the show were able to do.

Then there is once again the death of a fan favourite character that was introduced at the start of the season. Whether you cared about Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) as a character or not, you probably assumed that he was going to die by the end of this season because that has what has happened every season.

However, unlike in previous seasons where the new character's death offers something different this one doesn't.

In fact, Eddie's death follows a ridiculously similar formula to Bob's death in season two. So much so that it's annoying because the death could have been written differently and had a better impact.

The formula is a simple one too, in that a loveable weirdo ingratiates themselves into the group and learns about the upside-down and what is really happening in Hawkins, in Bob's case with the adults and the Byers and Eddie's with the kids and the teens.

The character establishes that they are a coward and has a heartwarming conversation with one of the kids, for Bob that conversation is with Will (Noah Schnapp) and Eddie with Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo).

In a moment of danger the character decides to engage and does something which ultimately helps save the rest of the group but the person they were closest to in the main cast witnesses the death at the hands of the monsters they're fighting. Joyce (Winona Ryder) witnesses Bob's last moments, while Eddie dies in Dustin's arms.

Both Barb and Alexei's deaths in seasons one and three respectively were unique as were many of the other deaths of new characters we've seen in season four. However, when it came to Eddie's death the writing was lazy and didn't bother to make even the smallest of changes to the core formula to make it unique.

In a way, it's killing a character off for the sake of killing them off, to add some shock value and remind the viewer of the stakes, despite the main characters from season one are still kicking.

It lowers the stakes when there's a guarantee that the mainstays are going to be fine, perhaps looking worse for wear but they are alive.

The Game of Thrones-ification of Stranger Things

There's a lot in season four of Stranger Things that is fantastic, the acting performances, the set design and the cinematography, but the same thing could be said about the later seasons of Game of Thrones.

All the warning signs have been there since the start of the season, the increased episode runtimes, years between seasons, making fans wait longer for new episodes, bizarre writing choices and as mentioned above killing off characters without doing anything for the central plot while the main heroes are always going to be fine.

It could be argued that some of these decisions are due to Covid restrictions, having fewer of the main players together all at once avoids production getting shut down in the event someone tests positive and that would explain why there are four plot lines when two of them aren't necessary.

However, other shows have executed splitting their main cast up and only having five or six characters in a scene far better.

It spells a bad end for the series where we already know that Hawkins won't be dealing with a new problem connected to the Upside Down but will be dealing with the problem that is the Upside Down.

We won't have any of the same 80s nostalgia we've had in the previous seasons we're we're thrown into a new year with new time-specific pop-culture references, like early showings of Back to the Future because Hawkins is now divorced from reality, thus removing some of the charm that keeps what can be a pretty dark show light.

While it's foolish to say the Duffer brothers are going to make the same mistake of killing the final boss off in episode three of the final season, they can, and potentially will, repeat many of the same mistakes that David Benioff and D. B. Weiss made a few years ago.