“The Nina Project”
- 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 Nina Project” is the type of episode where the needle gets moved and noteworthy events unfold, but hardly any of it is all that interesting. It’s certainly not a time-waster in the way “Vecna’s Curse” felt. But I’m struggling to find any moments that stand out. Much of the episode deals with Eleven and her supposed training to regain her powers, though none of it was particularly revelatory. I don’t know what new information I’m supposed to glean from Eleven’s scenes at the secret base (which gives the episode its title), especially the bits with Brenner. There are elements here that work just fine and elements that feel like egregious filler.
At the top of the list of “why am I watching this happen?” is the subplot with Mike, Will, Jonathan, and Argyle in the desert. The agent who was shot during the shootout in the last episode dies in the pizza van as the gang makes their escape, but not before giving Mike a pen and mentions “Nina”. An astounding bit of runtime of this episode involves these four simply standing around in the middle of nowhere, burying the agent and wondering who Nina is and how they can call her. I understand the Duffer brothers were on the hook from the get-go with these actors, given their high billing statuses, but cut their segments out from the season as a whole and basically nothing changes. The end of their arc here sees them deciding to go to Utah and visit Dustin’s girlfriend so they can hack into whatever they believe Nina to be, which means they’ll be even further away from the action for at least one more episode.
Speaking of being far away from the action, another chunk of “The Nina Project” is spent aboard Yuri’s plane after Joyce and Murray are kidnapped and try to overtake him. Eventually they succeed, and crash the plane, though it’s unclear if they’re still in America or have made it to some remote part of Russia. I still don’t know how I feel about the Hopper-in-Russia storyline overall. David Harbour gets a great monologue recalling his past life with his wife and daughter and how much her death has wrecked him, a nice reminder that Hopper is more than just a loveable, wise-cracking, goofball bad-ass. I appreciate the Duffer brothers’ unwillingness to make Hopper’s Russian excursion a problem that can’t just be fixed in an episode, but now that Hopper has no way out of the gulag, I don’t know how much longer they can spin their wheels here as well.
At least we get some exciting developments back in Hawkins, as Dustin, Nancy, Robin, Steve, Max, and Lucas put the pieces together – literally – after Max’s vision from “Dear Billy”. There are a few callbacks to season one in this episode, but first among them is Max’s crayon drawings of what she saw. Nancy smartly puts them together and realizes they form a specific home, that of Victor Creel (which he must have described in excruciating detail somewhere off-screen, but whatever). They find the home, decrepit and abandoned, and explore. This is where I got particularly excited, as the gang splits up with Dustin and Steve, Max and Lucas, and Nancy and Robin pairing off. But the episode surprisingly doesn’t utilize this opportunity to explore these bubbling character dynamics, instead using it to advance the plot.
We’re technically entering the endgame of this part of season 4 now, though the next episode is 73 minutes long, and episode 7 is 100 minutes(!!!). It makes sense to complain that we’re spending so much time with seemingly insignificant plot threads like, for instance, the basketball team’s torment of Eddie. But at the same time, with such long episodes to come, things could change within a single installment. That doesn’t change the fact that “The Nina Project” is somewhere in the middle of the show’s spectrum, between the thrilling horror of “Dear Billy” and the dull tediousness of “Vecna’s Curse”.
7 Episodes of Stranger Things are available on Netflix now. Episodes 8 and 9 will premiere on July 1.