So, all caught up with Stranger Things now (all the way up to the end of Stranger Things 4 Volume 1 Subsection 12 Yes-We-Caught-Giant-Book-Syndrome-From-GRRM-And-They-Need-To-Cut-Our-Stories-Into_Chunks-Now edition), so a final thoughts on the thing so far:
Firstly, and overall: I think Stranger Things only really works if you accept that it’s 90% a mechanism for the Duffer Brothers to make references to all the 80s movies they loved, and only 10% a mechanism for telling new stories or anything. Or in other words - it’s fun, but if you try to hold it to standards above those you’d hold an 80s B-Movie to, then you’re disappointed more often than you get payoffs.
Like a lot of narratives like this, the real problems come in later seasons - we get sequel escalation, continuity issues, and an increasingly sloppiness in design because it’s clear that the architects of the whole edifice only had a general sketch of where they wanted to go with all of this, and the weight of past decisions increasingly begins to buckle their narrative supports.
(This is especially true in Season 3, which suffers from the fact that 80s depictions of Russians as bad guys were basically extremely silly and nationalistic (and, indeed, gets weirdly Good Old Uncle Sam will save us at the end, which is kinda contrary to the previous seasons, and the one following); and across Season 4, which has a number of retcons (most notably - apparently every single numbered-child-experiment under Dr Brenner’s control, except Eight/Kali, has exactly the same psychic power set, but also apparently Nancy did see what happened to Barb explicitly in the Upside-Down in Season 1, rather than just being told what happened to her by Eleven, and weird simplifications/reifications (it’s a cool effect, but the Upside Down being the “underside of the game board” was a metaphor in Season 1, you don’t have to make it literally true in Season 4, guys).
I could list a number of just obvious other examples of sloppiness in Season 4 in particular - (like the way in which “Vecna” apparently always does his psychic Freddy Krueger-impersonation kills from his attic; but the bulb in the corresponding place in our dimension only bursts the third time he does it, so that it can simultaneously be around to clue up the team that he’s up there, but also give them a jump scare when he does the deed, or how Hop’s feet apparently never get gangrene after he drives and runs barefoot through snow for at least 2 hours…) but to be fair, this is just escalation from Season 3 (where Steve determines that the Russian Transmission is coming from the Starcourt Mall by noticing that the music in the background is from the mechanical ride… except that that can’t possibly be the source of the music, as the transmission room is tens of metres underground in a sealed complex…; which corresponds to the similarly silly “revelation” in Season 4, that because Victor Creed heard some music and then didn’t die, that music must be how you save people from Vecna’s modern day rampage - despite the fact that back in the 1950s, it was One doing his Psychokinetic thing in person, not via a mental link from the Upside-Down, so it’s just a lucky coincidence that music happens to actually work in the modern day).
There’s a number of other weirdly off things - like the apparent obsession with having the teens all get paired up in relationships, (which is one of the least realistic things in the entire show arguably! - most of the people I knew at age 15 or so didn’t have relationships, especially the less-cool-kids, let alone by a year or two earlier for Season 2 and 3) - and the way in which the only way Will is going to end up being “alone” is going to be because he’s obviously being set up to be both actually gay and in love with Mike.
And the references to D&D continue to be off (in S4’s case, I don’t think the whole Cult of Vecna thing happens in D&D until around 2nd Edition time, several years in the future - in 1e there’s a lot less about him, so either Eddie miraculously invented the same plotline as TSR would use themselves, or…) as are basically all the hacking stuff (All the Suzie stuff is massively anachronous, with the code scrolling on the screen being HTML… which isn’t invented until 1989/90 (if they cared about accurate 80s tech references, media of the time tended to show scrolling C source code to stuff like floppy disk controllers and things, or just sequences of binary numbers), a top-secret minicomputer run strictly off the books has an IP address, which… would make it very non-top-secret to the people in the Pentagon who are looking for it at this point in time, given how small the Internet was in 1986… and which wouldn’t help geolocate it at this point in time either, and the term “data mining”, which is very much a 1990s term of art (it’s also not what Suzie is doing, she’s just looking up an address in a database).
All that said: when Stranger Things gets things right, it’s good at a certain feel.
The perfectly synced walkie-talkie conversation between Dustin and Mike scored by the Back To the Future soundtrack in the cinema is great; the NeverEnding Story bit is… okay, weirdly out of place, but also kinda cool. And, generally, Murray, Dustin and Robin (despite her personality change between S3 and S4) are worth watching for, as is Eleven once she gets taken out of her boring relationship with the increasingly petty Mike and put into her flashback sequence).
Hey, I didn’t think this would be the case, but also Steve’s increasingly one of the better things about the show.
And for all it’s somewhat over done, the satanic panic theme of Season 4 actually works well as well.
(Also: did anyone else notice that they seem to be doing the sequence of settings in the Alien films for Demogorgon appearances? Season 1 - Alien (one demogorgon, mostly in the shadows hunting, killed by lone shaven-haired female), Season 2 - Aliens (lots of squishier demogorgons, more automatic weapons and military feel, “nuclear option”, Season 4 - Alien3 (one demogorgon again, in a prison, weirdly back to being almost indestructible)?)
That also feeds into the writers rescuing Hopper from the parody character he’d become in most of Season 3, which was to his detriment