Stranger Things Season 4 Episode 1 Review: “The Hellfire Club”

image via Netflix

It’s finally back, and it’s terrifying af. The new season of Stranger Things comes out with a bang and introduces us to a horrifying new villain, a few new characters, and a higher-than-average body count.

It’s been nearly three years since we watched the Battle of Starcourt Mall and it honestly feels like a lifetime ago. If you want to get warmed up for the new season, you can check out my preview article right here

But the show is finally back, and In this review of Stranger Things Season 4 episode one: The Hellfire Club, we will break down the plot, look at some themes, and also point out some of the classic 1980s references throughout the episode.

Episode 1: The Hellfire Club Plot Summary

We start with a new Stranger Things-inspired Netflix card which was pretty cool to see. And then we open in 1979 at the Hawkins Lab. We see Dr. Brenner gets ready for work and then spends time with “10.” But all hell breaks loose and we see the demise of many other numbers only to reveal Eleven, and it looks like she caused all the carnage.

We are then set in March 1986. Eleven, Joyce, Jonathan, and Will are in California, and Eleven–who we now know as Jane–is writing to Mike. She talks about the passage of time and even time travel (a hint at where things are going?)

She tries to make things sound good, but life is pretty rocky for her. She’s tormented by a classic Vally/mean girl named Angela who she tries to attack, but it’s a reminder that her powers are gone. Back in Hawkins, Dustin and Suzie are trying to switch his grades in a scene very reminiscent of War Games. Dustin and Mike are still hardcore into Dungeons and Dragons and are part of the Hellfire D&D club led by Eddie Munson ( a play on Eddie Munster at all?)

It turns out Lucas is now on the basketball team, and the hellfire club, but plays in the championship game instead of the D&D campaign final. Steve and Robin are still friends and we meet a new character–the head cheerleader at Hawkins Highschool, Chrissy. She seems to make the lights flicker and have premonitions of terror as Will has.

Joyce receives a mysterious package from Russia letting her know Hopper is alive. Max is also having trouble dealing with her new life and the loss of Billy from season 3. The episode culminates in the basketball and D&D final perfectly mirroring each other. Both games require strategy, group huddles, and taking a risk to win it all.

When it comes to Chrissy, she also sees a grandfather clock in the woods while meeting with Eddie to score some drugs (there’s quite a lot of drug use in this episode.) Lucas ends up winning the game, while his sister, Erica, wins the D&D game. But then Chrissy is meeting with Eddie and is fully possessed by the new villain of Stranger Things Season 4: Vecna.

She has flashes to a house and her parents that have their eyes and mouths stitched up. Vecna is attacking her in her subconscious (?) very Freddy Kruger-like while Eddie can only helplessly look on. Vecna raises her up like we see with Max in the trailer, letting us know Vecna probably possesses her, too. Chrissy suffers a pretty awful demise to end an intense first episode.

Themes In The Hellfire Club

I noticed themes of feeling unsettled through episode four. There also seems to be ideas of being careful what you wish for and that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence.

The characters have made decisions they think will make them happy, but they remain unfulfilled. Sometimes what we think will make us happy doesn’t turn out to be the case. Joyce and the kids have gone west in hopes of a better life, but they all also seem unsettled and unfulfilled. The allure of the West hasn’t seemed to bring them the peace and closure they were looking for and they put up the illusion that they’re happy. Maybe things would have been better if they stayed in Hawkins–despite how many bad memories are there.

I noticed the same issue with Lucas. He thinks getting on the basketball team will lead to a better life. It will make him popular and get him away from the nerdy connections he has with the D&D crew. But he’s been a benchwarmer most of the season. The grass hasn’t been any greener.

When he makes the winning shot, it seems like it will be his passport to a new life of popularity and prestige, but as he leaves the game, he looks longingly at his friends leaving the D&D campaign. Maybe he was always happier as a nerd and what he thought he wanted wasn’t as great as it seems?

The characters—despite making changes they believe to benefit them—continue to have a sense of longing.

1980s References and Connections

The scene with Eddie and Chrissy in the woods gave me Breakfast Club vibes. Here is the metal-loving, dirtbag skid, with the most popular girl in school. It’s like Eddie was Bender and Chrissy was Claire. 

I also love seeing Eddie reading the copy of Newsweek that was putting the Dungeons and Dragons fear in the public. If you grew up in the 80s, you probably remember this all too well. D&D looked as if it was going to be the gateway to violence and satanic cults just because of a few articles. Parents were terrified (including mine) and this game was seen as Lucifer himself.

I love seeing Dustin continue to emerge as a leader in his Luke Skywalker/Joseph Campbell, hero’s journey. There’s also a great reference to Star Wars when Dustin repeats Han Solo’s line of “never tell me the odds.”

Not that it’s out-of-place considering it’s 1986, but I still loved seeing a classic Walkman on Max. (Read my article all about the history of the Walkman right here.)

Here are some of the 80s-related songs I caught throughout the episode:

  • “Running up that Hill” by Kate Bush
  • “Object of my desire” by Starpoint. 
  • “Fever” by the cramps
  • “Play with Me” by Extreme
  • “Detroit Rock City” by Kiss

Final Thoughts on Episode 1: The Hellfire Club

The Duffer Brothers have said that Stranger Things season 4 will be more horror-based, and if the first episode is anything to go by, they aren’t kidding. Season 4 looks to be a departure from more Goonies and E.T. tones of the previous seasons and more into a Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, The Thing, and other classic horror movies.

There is a surprising amount of death, blood, and drug use, but this is just a sign that the series–and the characters–are growing up and dealing with more serious issues. The days of dressing up like Ghostbusters are long gone and there is a real progression into even larger threats. (Not that they weren’t dealing with threats before).

The Hellfire Club was intense, and it doesn’t look like things are going to go too well for the characters we know so well. Are they all going to make it out of season 4 alive? We will find out…

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