“The Monster and the Superhero”
- Creator: The Duffer Brothers
- Starring: Millie Bobbie Brown, Finn Wolfhard, David Harbour, Winona Ryder, Noah Schnapp, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Sadie Sink, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Joe Keery
Warning: Reviews of Stranger Things season 4 will contain spoilers.
Three episodes in, and we’re finally getting more insights into whatever Vecna’s plan is, though it’s really just a brief sequence. Perhaps because it’s been so long, I had forgotten how much of Stranger Things’ overall ethos is kids doing their own investigating of a supernatural mystery, mixed with some teenage drama. This is what takes up the bulk of the action in “The Monster and the Superhero”, and it at least provides some interesting, if a little fruitless, dynamics between its stars.
I had also forgotten that Eleven was presumed dead at the end of season 3 (for specific reasons that I still can’t recall), hence the name change and the move to California. This imbues the incident at the roller rink during the last episode with some extra drama, which plays out nicely here. Rightfully so, Angela presses charges and Eleven is processed and arrested. She’s transferred to a juvenile detention facility (seemingly in the middle of nowhere?) when she’s intercepted by Paul Reiser’s Dr. Sam Owens. He warns that “a war is coming to Hawkins”, who likens the demons of the Upside-Down to a virus, which only comes back stronger and fiercer after it’s defeated. He recruits her to come back to Hawkins and reveals he somehow has been developing a way to bring her powers back and make them stronger than ever. Which leaves Mike, Will, and the gang left behind in California to… hang out?
I find the Hawkins side of things much more dramatically interesting, and not just because a psychic demon is involved. It is revealed that the Vecna has some sort of link to people that have experienced abuse or trauma. What this says about its master plan is unclear, though it looks like Max, and one basketball team member whose name escapes me, may be next on the chopping block. Both Fred and Chrissy saw a vision of a creepy grandfather clock before they met their demise, and this episode’s stinger sees Max experience that same vision. Stranger Things has never been a show that concerns itself with a grand statement on grief or trauma as too many horror films and shows seem intent to do today, so I remain intrigued on how much the Duffer brothers will explore with this angle.
The rest of the gang investigates the deaths of Fred and Chrissy, believing there could be some connection to a murderous psychopath named Victor Creel who’s been locked up for years. This gives us more patented Steve-Dustin scenes, though they don’t exactly live up to the highs of their scenes together in season 2. It’s heavily implied here, and in Nancy’s scenes with Robin as they search the library, that Steve and Nancy are headed for a romantic reunion. It’s hard to get invested in this, as the pair have spent hardly any time together since season one. But it’s pretty evident that the Duffer brothers are clearing the runway for this to happen, so we’ll see how much of the remaining time this season will be dedicated to justifying it.
I haven’t touched much on Lucas’ arc so far, but I’ve found it to be surprisingly compelling, especially in this episode. Unlike his friends, he’s technically now one of the popular kids, and when they set out to find Eddie, he’s forced to pick a side. We all know which side he’ll eventually choose, but it’s teased out well enough, and Caleb McLaughlin does solid work portraying Lucas’s torment.
“The Monster and the Superhero” is the shortest episode this season, at a paltry 63 minutes, but it’s probably my favorite of the season so far. I was worried that, given the show’s penchant for teasing out its horror, that this season would be more of the same. Three episodes in, and it feels like that attitude hasn’t changed yet, despite the extended runtimes and the dwindling amount of time left for the season. This is the Duffer brothers’ big chance to go all out, perhaps kill off a character or two, or at least sprinkle in an action set piece – rather than save it all for the end. I admire them sticking to their guns, and if it means we get more decently-scripted character work, I can let it slide.
7 Episodes of Stranger Things are available on Netflix now. Episodes 8 and 9 will premiere on July 1.