A war is coming to Hawkins.
Stranger Things season 4 episode 3: “The Monster and the Superhero” takes us on a journey where the fate of the world may hang in the balance–and Eleven may be the only hope.
This is an episode that seems to mirror movies like Poltergeist, The Exorcist, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, and even the Karate Kid. At the same time, it still feels like it’s telling its own unique story as Stranger Things has become just as significant as some of these classic horror films.
In this review, we will break down the plot of “The Monster and the Superhero,” look at some themes and observations, and all the best 1980s references I could catch.
If you haven’t read my reviews of the first two episodes, check them out here:
Episode 3 Review: “The Monster and the Hero”
We start in Nevada, where Lt. Sullivan pays a visit to Sam. I have to say Paul Reiser is so brilliant in this episode and the entire series. The authorities are concerned that Eleven is causing the deaths in Hawkins. The same eye-gouging is happening that she causes in past events.
Joyce and Murray head to Alaska under the guise of a business trip for Encyclopedia Britannica. Meanwhile, Vecna has holed up in the Creel house where various vines attach to him. Is this how he is powered via the Upside Down? Are the vines like lifelines where he can observe the souls that he tortures?
Also holding up is Eddie, who everyone believes killed Chrissy. Lucas has had to reluctantly join the basketball posse, and it all feels very Lost Boy-ish. The other kids realize to prove Eddie’s innocence, they have to find and kill Vecna. Fred Benson’s body has also been found and it, like Chrissy’s, is mangled in a very specific way.
But teenage life is still happening, despite this new threat. Mike and Eleven have a heart to heart and she just doesn’t know where they–and she–stand. But this is interrupted by her arrest. All the while, she has still been having flashbacks to the carnage she caused in 1979.
The Scooby-Doo gang asks why Fred and Chrissy were specifically attacked? Was it something to do with the trailer park? Is there a portal that connects that specific trailer and the Creel house? We see that Vecna can observe people, including Patrick, the basketball player who he gives a nosebleed–one symptom of those who end up dead.
Nancy and Robin investigate Victor Creel at the library, while Max steals a key to the school therapist’s office. Fred and Chrissy saw the same therapist and when she sees the notes, she has all the same symptoms. Back at the library, the girls find articles from the Watcher, which was a classic trashy tabloid. This gives them more insight into the supernatural aspect to Creels murderous rampage. Very Shining-ish.
We finish with an intense meeting between Sam and Eleven. Despite losing her powers, he has developed a training program to bring them back better than ever. Has a bit of a Karate Kid feel here. But it goes deeper than that.
Vecna may not only be a threat to Hawkins, but to the entire world. Eleven–like Luke Skywalker–may be their only hope. But as the episode winds down, the grandfather clock’s chimes become evident, and we know Max is also possessed by Vecna.
Themes and Observations
A big theme I picked up on in “The Monster and the Superhero” is that of loyalty. Despite how Mike may or may not feel, he is still loyal to Eleven. Everything they’ve been through means they will always be connected, and he is connected to her for life.
We also see this theme of loyalty with Lucas. Loyalty can be extremely difficult, but that’s what makes it such a redeeming trait. His newfound status is conflicting with his past life. But his loyalty still comes through as he leads the basketball team off the scent.
Then there are the simple themes of being misunderstood and not knowing your place in the world. This is most obvious with Eleven. She doesn’t know how she fits in, or where she stands–with both Mike and her place in the world. Robin is going through the same identity crisis as is Steve. Does he still feel his place in the world is with Nancy? Stranger Things is nothing but a coming-of-age story in the same mold as Stand by Me. All the kids are growing up and finding out who they are, how they fit in, and what their place in the world will be.
We all know that they are saving the world, but no one else knows that. They still have to find their own ways to fit in.
There is also the classic “how will they co-exist” storylines. We are seeing unique combinations of some of the main characters that we haven’t seen yet. Dustin and Steve are still a Batman and Robin pair, but now we get the Nancy/Robin dynamic. They don’t have much in common, and Steve appears to be a barrier between them. How can they co-exist while still fighting the good fight? Maybe this all comes back to loyalty. You have to put aside your own personal issues for the greater good.
I love some of the simple movie techniques such as the dissolve from the sun into the paper lantern, and the sound of the hammer hitting the chain morphing into the sound of the clock tower chiming.
I noticed a shift in musical tone throughout this season. The previous seasons were heavy on the synth-inspired soundtrack. That’s still here, but there’s more of a shift to some hard rock/metal music. I also love that some of the soundtrack features some creepy funhouse music.
Here are some of the most obvious ones I saw throughout this episode:
- Honey Combs cereal
- Police Academy 3
- The Ewoks Cartoon
- A great pair of classic Reeboks
- A sign for the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign
- Seeing people smoking on an airplane. I’m old enough to remember this absolutely senseless activity that was actually allowed on airplanes
It was great to see the Comcat-alog in the library. This was basically our first form of the internet: Microfiche, and you had to scroll through actual film to find articles.
So, which one is it? Is Eleven the monster or the superhero? Is she both? Can she be one or the other? This may play into the theme of “how will they co-exist?” How can Eleven co-exist with herself? She is both a superhero and a monster.
But which side is going to win? Can she suppress the monster within her and let the superhero out, or will the monster take control, the same way Vecna is with the residents of Hawkins….