The Only Stranger Things Season 4 Preview You Need

Photo: Netflix

It’s finally here. After almost three years since Season 3 debuted, Stranger Things Season 4 is back. And to say it looks to be bigger and better than ever is a massive understatement. 

Stranger Things is not only a love letter to the 1980s, it’s an homage to some of the best films of all time that came out during the decade. Through the first three seasons, we’ve gotten homages to classic films such as:

It’s also heavily influenced by Dungeons and Dragons, and another character from the game becomes the primary focus of the fourth season. 

In this preview for Stranger Things season 4, we’ll recap everything that went down in season 3, look at what we know so far for the new season, a look at what the trailers have shown us, a new commercial crossover that picks up from season 3, and wrap it up with some theories and predictions.  

Season 3 Recap

If you want to go back and read my original breakdown of season 3, you can read my article here, but let’s do a quick recap. 

But can you believe that it’s been nearly three years since Season 3 debuted? That’s right, the season dropped on July 4th, 2019. It feels like a lifetime ago. It started with “Suzie, Do You Copy,” and we find out Dustin has been away at camp and apparently has a girlfriend. He’s also picked up the HAM radio and seems to intercept some bizarre Russian Signals. At the same time, Will feels that something is wrong.

Eleven has grown up, and with her newfound friendship with Max is discovering teenage life. Hopper has also hated how close Eleven has gotten with Mike. A lot of this season revolves around the Starfield Mall where Steve and newcomer Robin work. Fearful of Russian Spies, they and Dustin try to track them down. Meanwhile, Nancy and Jonathan are working for the local paper and investigate some strange occurrences involving rats.

In the meantime, Billy is working at a pool but has become infected with something, and has visions of the upside-down. Speaking of Hopper, he and Joyce are in the middle of their own will-they-won’t-they situation. 

Eleven realizes Billy can sense her, and he’s gone missing. Steve, Dustin, and Robin decode a Russian message and find out shipments are being made to the mall. Something is still going on at the old lab, and Will realizes the Mind Flayer is still alive.

People in Hawkins have started to go missing, and it turns out there is a secret Russian lab under the Starcourt Mall. In this lab is a portal to the Upside Down. Joyce and Hopper kidnap a Russian named Alexi while the Russians capture Steve and Robin. Eleven defeats an early form of the Mind Flayer sending it to the Mill. The Mind Flayer is trying to kill Eleven for opening the gate. 

Billy is still possessed by the Mind Flayer and it leads to a showdown in Starcourt Mall. Billy sacrifices himself to save Eleven and Max. They destroy the Mind Flayer while Joyce and Hopper blow up the machine below the mall, which seemingly kills Hopper in the process. We later learn that Hopper has been transported to Russia while Joyce, Will, and Eleven–who has lost her powers completely–leave Hawkins. 

What Do We Know?

Because of the pandemic, the creators of the show were given more time to flesh out the script as much as possible, and I think this is only going to benefit the show. That’s the thing with entertainment. Movies and TV shows usually have deadlines, and what we get is the best possible version they could get out in time.

Sometimes, it seems like we don’t get the best version and the series or movie could have vastly benefited if they had another few months to tighten things up. Sometimes, too much time isn’t beneficial as the creators start to overthink things too much and it results in a bloated mess. 

But with Stranger Things, the Duffer brothers say that extra time allowed them to polish the script to a point that wouldn’t have been possible given the original deadline. We also know that Netflix has sunk A LOT of money into this thing. And that’s not surprising.

It’s become very public that Netflix has experienced a serious setback. Subscribers were down over 200,000 compared to this time last year. More people are sharing account passwords and there are many more streaming options available. 

Just 5 years ago, we didn’t have Disney+, HBO Max, Prime Video, and many of the options we have now. Netflix is in trouble and Stranger Things could not have come at a better time. This show is truly one of the backbones of the entire platform and the company has reportedly spent $30 million per episode. That is pretty outstanding.

I think the interest in the series will bring back many people who may have stepped away from Netflix over the last few years and also bring fresh eyes to them. 

This means the CGI and production on season 4 will be at a level we haven’t seen yet. It’s funny, but when you look back now at the first season, it really is a low-Fi TV show. The budget wasn’t anything to write home about and everything was pretty low-tech. They relied on costumes, practical effects, and lighting to create a lot of the tone and atmosphere of the show. And that’s what makes it even more remarkable.

It really was a low-tech show, and it was the script, acting, and tone that made it so engaging and scary. Sometimes the idea of the monster is scarier than the monster itself, and that was at the essence of Stranger Things. 

This is the same approach that was used in Jaws–a massive influence on Stranger Things. The original Jaws was going to feature a lot more shark, but when they realized how terrible the mechanical shark was, Steven Spielberg made the tough decision to limit footage of it, and focus on the anticipation, dread, and terror of Jaws. It was that anticipation that made it so dramatic and scary. Same thing with Jurassic Park. Stranger Things remains an homage to this style of filmmaking and storytelling. 

Speaking of Jaws, the way Stranger Things was first pitched to Netflix was with three different movie combinations:: The kids are the Goonies and set in E.T., the adults are in Jaws and Close Encounters, and the teenagers are in Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween. 

But now they have a huge budget, so how will that affect things in season 4?

We know that the main monster in season 4, Vecna, continues the usage of characters from Dungeons and Dragons. Vecna is a skeletal humanoid who is one of the few truly original characters from the D&D world. Does he/it actually control the Upside Down? Are Vecna and the Upside Down one and the same? 

 We know this season will be more horror-based, which seems intense as there has been quite a bit of horror in the last few seasons. But it comes back to that original premise, especially the kids are the Goonies and set in E.T., but the kids are no longer in the Goonie age range, so the Duffer Brothers have said they are transitioning to a more horror-based tone. 

We also now know that there are 9 episodes split into two volumes. And it’s a pretty interesting split. Part 1 will contain 7 of the 9 episodes. The Duffer brothers have said that season 4 is twice as long as the previous seasons. With over 800 pages of script, it’s supposed to be a much deeper story requiring a longer time to tell. It is reportedly five hours longer than season 3. 

Episodes 7 and 9, specifically, are supposed to be full movies. Episode 9 is reportedly already nearly two and a half hours long–and not even completely finished yet, apparently. Each episode is apparently at least 75 minutes long. Even despite pandemic restrictions, this season has taken 2 years to film. We know Volume 1 will debut on May 27, and Volume 2 will be released on July 1. 

I like this split as opposed to dumping all the episodes at once. Honestly, I hate the binge style of series releases. I find there is no way to build a collective viewing experience when you dump them all out at once.

I find that I now prefer an old-school weekly release like Disney+ does with Marvel and Star Wars series. Since no one can get ahead, it creates more of a real-time experience and we can share it together compared to the person who watches them all in one night and releases spoilers to the world.

But at least with this split, no one can get ahead and find out what happens. We will all have to wait, and people who can’t watch right away can catch up through June. Speaking of getting ahead, the Stranger Things YouTube channel has released the first 8 minutes of episode one to watch. I won’t spoil it, but it takes place in 1979 at the Hawkins Lab and it is bloody intense. The keyword being bloody…

If the first eight minutes are this intense, god knows what the rest of the series will be like. 

Trailer Breakdowns

I’ll be honest, when I saw the first teaser trailer, I wasn’t as pumped as I had been for the previous two seasons. I wasn’t sure about the direction they were taking and I was worried pandemic production restrictions could affect it.

It’s been pretty obvious to see what productions were affected by pandemic restrictions. Isolated shooting locations, minimal cast members in a shot, etc. You could see it in the Boba Fett series when it was just two people in a scene separated by ten or more feet. But that’s just an observation and I have no right to complain, as it’s astonishing and commendable how ‌these productions continued to press on and find a way to adapt. 

That was a concern I had with Stranger Things Season 4, but it was more the trailer didn’t blow me away. But that was the first one, and in the past month or so, my excitement has come back. The main trailer was a masterpiece, and we’ve been getting some great hints and sneak peeks along the way. 

*Potential spoiler warnings in case anything discovered from the trailers comes true.

By this point, there have been some great trailer breakdowns by some of the top YouTube channels, such as New Rockstars. 

One thing featured in both trailers and posters for season 4 is a ticking grandfather clock. Does this refer to some form of time travel? Is the ticking clock representative of the passing of time? The trailers feature the grandfather clock in a room that reminds me of the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Will there be some form of wardrobe to return the characters to various points in time? We know the series features a return back to Eleven as we first saw her in season 1.

The trailer shows the destroyed machine under the Starcourt mall. The entrance into the Upside-Down appears to still be glowing and we know Hopper made it through all the way to the other side to Russia. Is the portal not totally closed? What other portals are out there, especially in Russia? Has one of the portals created enough energy that it may have resulted in a significant disaster? 

We know the series in the spring of 1986. This would be right after April 1986, and the time of the Chernobyl disaster… Was this the result of the Russians trying to access the Upside Down and things went terribly wrong? Did they cover it up under the guise of a nuclear accident? Will we see more of the Cold War? Is that what Eleven–and the other numbered kids–was actually created for? 

Paul Reiser is back as Dr. Sam Owens and lets the crew in California know everyone in Hawkins is again in deep trouble. We see the kids visiting the Creel house, which in the story is a house where in the 1950s, a man named Victor Creel murdered his whole family. The modern Victor Creel is played by Freddy Kruger himself: Robert Englund. Is this house another key area to access the Upside Down?

Let’s look at a few more things in the trailer and some ‌theories connected to them:

  • In the trailer, there is a split-second frame that has time codes and superimposed light flashes. When you line up the superimposed part at the timestamp, the scene connected to each time reveals four words: “Hi I am Master Hell.” It also may say: “I am the Hell Master.”
  • Are the Russians testing Demogorgons to use in some form of combat?
  • There’s a new character named Eddie. Was he another test number along with Eleven? Is the Upside Down we are seeing his projections? Was he the first test number?
  • Max is floating above Billy’s grave. We also see her running toward a portal in the Upside Down. Is Max the key to defeating Vecna? Is Billy able to still harness some power to her? We know Eleven has lost her powers, so will Max be instrumental in their journey?
  • It looks like Joyce and Murray may be on a rescue mission to find Hopper in Russia

Commercial Crossover

Season 3 brilliantly used a real-life product and included it in the show, while also releasing a modern version. This, of course, was the infamous New Coke which came out in 1985 when season 3 was set. The disastrous story of New Coke is one of my all-time favorite 1980s-related topics, and the show and company released a limited-edition Stranger Things New Coke release.

I was able to secure one of the novelty packs when they released it but they wouldn’t ship to Canada, which was heartbreaking. This season, the crossover is with Dominos. I’m not sure if everyone saw it, but there is a great commercial/Stranger Things clip that shows Dustin and Lucas picking up an order at Dominos.

At the lab, mind control techniques are being used on kids to make them able to send an order to dominos with their minds. The power flickers in the store and an order comes through.

 It seems stupid, but I thought this was effectively done. It’s an obvious cross-promotion but still encompasses the spirit of the show, the tone of the 80s, and seems to hint at potential plot points. 

Fun Fact: the three dots of the Domino’s logo represent the first three locations. Like New Coke, I think the inclusion of Dominoes is a pretty good one. Yes, it’s obvious product placement, but Domino’s had really exploded by this point in the 80s.

They first went international (here in Canada in 1983) and started opening their first locations outside of North America. In 1978, the company had just 200 stores. Less than ten years later, they were now over 1,000. By 1986, Domino’s was now a huge part of the fast-food landscape and at the height of the “30 minutes or its free” era (that would end in 1987). So I think it’s a pretty natural inclusion in the show. 

Wrapping it Up

I can’t wait. I honestly don’t care if this season is mind-blowing, crap, or just average–I’m just happy to have Stranger Things back. This series caught the world by storm when it first debuted and he fully cemented itself into pop culture–despite being a gateway to pop culture of the past.