- 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.
The great thing about reviewing individual episodes versus an overarching summary of the season is that I can focus on smaller details within an episode. For instance, the shoot-out at the Byers’ home is one of the most thrilling action set-pieces the show has done this season. Not only does it come as a total surprise, but director Shawn Levy stages it in such an energetic fashion, with most of it unfolding over a single take.
As I mentioned in “The Hellfire Club”, Netflix made headlines when it was announced that each episode of this season cost an approximate $30 million to produce. I had begun to wonder where that money was being spent, as the first three episodes didn’t exactly distinguish themselves visually from previous seasons. But “Dear Billy” is something else entirely. Besides the aforementioned shoot-out, the episode features an extended sequence in this season’s version of the Upside-Down, which we’ll get to in a bit. “Dear Billy” is all about Max, as she discloses that she’s been experiencing the same symptoms that Chrissy and Fred had before their deaths (headaches, nightmares, trouble sleeping, etc.), which all occurred six days after they were reported. Believing she has little time left before Vecna comes for her, she sets out to essentially say her goodbyes to her friends and family, leaving them heartfelt letters to open in case of the unimaginable.
Stranger Things is not a show that calls attention to its performances, but Sadie Sink does admirable work here as she tries to comprehend her own doom. Her monologue at Billy’s grave as she reads the letter to him is an emotional standout of the season so far. Would the Duffer brothers be bold enough to make her the first series regular to die this season? It’s hard to argue that Max wasn’t wearing plot armor during her fateful encounter with Vecna; it feels like she was given several minutes to escape him, whereas Chrissy and Fred had mere seconds. I suppose her survival will provide vital information that will help the others to beat him, since she is the first to see him and live.
But not the first to experience these horrific scenes firsthand. Nancy and Robin pick up where they left off at the end of the last episode, as they seek out Victor Creel (Robert Englund), the mentally insane person who was accused of murdering his family in the same style as Fred and Chrissy were. They create fake IDs and pose as college students in order to gain access to Creel, where an effectively creepy interview – with an expensive-looking reenactment – awaits. Was Creel’s family cursed from the get-go? Was their fairy-tale home built on haunted ground? Unfortunately those questions go unanswered, but we do learn that, corny as it is, music essentially negates the demon.
The other exciting turn of events in “Dear Billy” takes place in Alaska and Russia, where all is set for Hopper to be freed from the gulag. Hopper’s man on the inside, Enzo, stages a rather thrilling escape where any pretense of stealth goes out the window rather quickly. Unfortunately, back in Nome, Hopper’s lifeline and escape pilot Yuri, double crosses him and Enzo, drugging Joyce and Murray (Brett Gelman). I’ve been unsure of the need for the Hopper piece of the puzzle to be dragged out for so long, but this is an intriguing twist of events. If Yuri’s plan comes to fruition, all three of them will be stuck in Russia for the foreseeable future, with no currently evident way out.
The Duffer brothers have become incredibly adept at ending their episodes in true Netflix fashion, with some sort of big event or set piece in the final minutes to hook you to watch one more. This episode is no exception, but at least the rest of the episode contains enough exciting material to go along with it.
7 Episodes of Stranger Things are available on Netflix now. Episodes 8 and 9 will premiere on July 1.