In episode two of season four, titled ‘Vecna’s Curse’, written and directed once again by The Duffer Brothers, we see Mike reunite with Eleven, Will Byers once again pushed to the sideline, and Hawkins’ reaction to Chrissy’s brutal murder from the end of last episode.
At this point, everyone’s back in the thick of it. After a long, grueling wait, the thirst for more Stranger Things content is being satiated. This is especially true after the 60+ minute premiere that boasted a true return to form following the shakiness of seasons two and three.
Right off the bat, Mike and Eleven are reunited, immediately delegating poor Will Byers to the dreaded third wheel. This has been discussed by many fans all over social media, but it seems either the writers or the characters completely forgot about Will’s birthday: March 22nd. All of this feels very odd, being how it was such a focal point in season one. However, it brings up something I’ve wanted to talk about: the gradual negligence of Will Byers. In season one, as everybody remembers, Will is the catalyst for everything. He is our introduction into the Upside Down. The show banked on a tease, at the end of season one, that Will wasn’t completely ‘out of it’ yet, spitting up a slug into the sink. However, as the show’s gone on, the focus has been put more onto the pairings of Eleven/Mike, Steve/Dustin or Robin and, this makes sense. It’s clear that there’s more to explore with characters such as Eleven, being how she’s a literal superhero, or Steve Harrington, who’s undergone arguably the best character development out of the entire ensemble (especially since the writers paired him up with Dustin). However, that isn’t to say that Will is…boring. Sure, we don’t know much about him. Yet, that’s what the writers are for. Give us something to learn about him. Something to uncover. As of right now, in the case of ‘Vecna’s Curse’, we get the show heavily winking at us that yes, Will is simply the third wheel for now. In episode one, Eleven establishes that Will has begun to paint, possibly for a girl (or, as fans have speculated, a boy) he likes. This could go somewhere. I’m not counting any development out just yet. However, in the case of the right-here-right-now, Will deserves better.
The entire roller-rink sequence is hard to watch. Even if you haven’t been bullied, I’d go as far as to say that Angela and her band of cronies anger me more than the creature that killed Chrissy ever could. The humiliating scene is elevated by a truly heartbreaking performance by Millie Bobby Brown, who has shown her incredible ability to cry and make you feel it. She’s able to let out a tear or two, while conveying a reflex barely holding back from a sob. It’s subtle up until the climax of the entire debacle, when El can’t help but let it out. Angela is truly incorrigible and gets what’s coming soon after.
I hate to say it, but Millie’s pairings this season (with Mike and Will, for the most part), show how impressive she is in comparison. In a scene where Mike and El have a heart-to-heart, she unleashes pent up frustration over his inability to say he loves her. I can’t help but notice how much more dedicated and passionate Millie performs when opposite Finn Wolfhard.
Another major standout is Sadie Sink, who, as I mentioned in my review for episode one, has seemingly mastered the art of subtlety. Audiences underestimate how important subtlety is. The tone of a scene, at times, relies entirely on the way the actor portrays it. Writing can only do so much. Sink has a way of conveying a distant but nonetheless present hesitancy towards opening up. She clearly loves her friends, but doesn’t know how to start the conversation. In episode two, she somewhat breaks her silence to let Dustin and Lucas in on what she witnessed in regards to Chrissy’s murder.
When the trio realize the tragedy may have been inflicted by an other-wordly threat, as is common in Hawkins, we see some of the gang get back together. Max, Dustin, and Lucas rendezvous with Steve and Robin and begin a search for Eddie. It truly is a delight once again being subjected to the insurmountable charm of the Dustin/Steve dynamic, which really shines in this episode. What this season introduces, which hadn’t been prevalent in the past, is the introduction of Robin into their clique. Robin’s endearing cynicism adds so much. Her character almost acts as an avatar for the audience, speaking her mind on what everyone’s already thinking. In their first scene together, they search for leads on Eddie’s whereabouts.
Overall, the logic to it all seems a bit…ridiculous. Sifting through the retro-analog records to find Reefer Rick? Would that ever happen? Of course not, even in the already-established logic of Hawkins. However, this got me thinking: what makes Stranger Things such a fun watch? Because, the thing that makes a show like Stranger Things alluring as a piece of entertainment is certainly not the same from a show like Squid Game or Bojack Horseman (similarly acclaimed Netflix Original series’). Is it the nostalgia? I’d assume that at first. The vibe of the show is so indescribably comfortable. That’s certainly part of what makes it so watchable. However, looking at the current crowd of fans active on apps such as twitter or TikTok, it’s apparent that target demographics aged from as young as 8 or 9 up to the upper echelon of Gen Z/Millennials enjoy the show the most. These are people who weren’t even alive during the 80s. How could people who didn’t exist during the 80s feel nostalgic for it? Being a member of Gen Z myself, I sat on this question for a while, and what I realized is: these characters could do almost anything and, as long as they stayed true to how they’ve been written thus far, it’d be an entertaining watch. It’s a great example of good and effective character writing.
In addition to brilliant character writing, ‘Vecna’s Curse’ gives us a detective drama (the search for Eddie), a true-crime thriller (Nancy’s investigation) AND a stoner, summer comedy. We jump back and forth as Steve, Robin, Max, and Dustin search for Eddie at the infamous Reefer Rick residence, Nancy and Fred Benson (Logan Riley Bruner) gather leads on the brutal murder, and Eleven, Mike, Will, and Jonathan deal with Eleven’s arrest, after her assault on Angela at the rink. Just as much as the editing acts as something living and breathing, ebbing and flowing throughout the course of each episode, this season’s subplots leap from one genre to the next, all while retaining the Stranger Things DNA. In the case of these first two episodes, the pacing is so airtight and quick that, while watching, it goes unnoticed how impressive it truly is. When you take into account the fact that every second of this show has been planned out from the start (seriously, Netflix ordered the Duffers to write a 25-page document on the lore of the show before season one) it truly blows your mind and leaves you asking: could it even get better at this point?
Oh, another thing: they keep up the horror in this episode as well. Especially in regards to Vecna’s second murder victim: Fred Benson, who meets a similar fate to Chrissy. Currently, they haven’t strayed far in terms of body horror (even though the state of Vecna’s victims are a sight to behold), though, the mystery of it all ensures that the audience are in for more. Stranger Things meshed with some true, gruesome horror is something I never expected, nor was it something I necessarily asked for. However, the result sustains me with something I keep coming back for and – more importantly – hope for.
Stranger Things season 4: volume 1 debuted on Netflix on May 27, 2022. Volume 2 debuts on July 1, 2022. Read David’s previous recap here.