I recently went on a business trip and was able to observe the impact the latest season of the series has had on the world. At London airport I was met by a girl wearing “The Hellfire Club” T-shirt, in Portugal I bought the same T-shirt for myself, entering a local tattoo parlor, whose kind owner said that this was the last copy. We both agreed it was the most important T-shirt of the summer. The artists who came from all over the world nod in agreement when I point out that one of the artworks resembles this season’s main villain, Vekna. And, of course, I can’t help but mention that the group “Placebo” ended their concert in Sigulda with a cover version of Kate Bush’s song “Running Up That Hill”, known only to fans. Because it’s the most important song of the summer. And the fourth season of “Stranger Things” is the most important series of this summer.
If you suddenly have nothing to talk about with strangers, ask them which song they think would save them from Vekna?
Or what do they think of Eddie Mansen? And – believe me – it will work. If you’re lucky, you’ll also be able to sing along to the TikTok super hit “Chrissy wake up!”
I don’t think that I will be able to try to explain all the prerequisites that have made “Stranger Things” such a worldwide phenomenon (in addition, it has already been successfully analyzed by Aivars Madris on the portal “Delfi.lv”), but I want to write about what the series means to me, which the latest season takes place in the year I was born.
In Latvia, the end of the eighties is much different than in the small town of Hawkins in the USA. True, we also lived in a sense back then in a world that could be called “inverted” (The Upside Down – English) – In the Soviet Union.
And Latvian teenagers were also protected from the evil of the “Upside Down World” by audio cassettes with their favorite music – admittedly illegally obtained from abroad.
Of course, I don’t remember the end of the eighties myself, because I was too young. But I remember when I was a kid picking up my mom’s jewelry box or playing with her perms, just like Nancy Wheeler’s this season. I also remember lying in the living room of our communal apartment (just like the Soviet analogue of Eddie Mansen’s trailer?) and listening to the cassette player for the first time. The sponge-covered, wire-like headphones are exactly the same as Max’s. And I’m listening to the 1986 song “Wonderful Life” by the band “Black”. In my childhood, I could only dream of such walkie-talkies, board games, bicycles and clothes as the characters of the series “Stranger Things”. But I also spent most of my time watching horror movies on videocassettes and going on adventures with my friends. Okay, we didn’t fight creatures from another dimension, but our parents didn’t look after us much either. Because they had to work all the time to have something to eat in the harsh nineties. Instead of peanut butter and jam sandwiches, we had sour milk topped with sugar.
In that sense, the series “Stranger Things” is an opportunity to see the eighties, which our generation and our parents never had the opportunity to experience. And since this period is nevertheless sufficiently stylized and full of nostalgic romance, it must be said that most Americans certainly do not remember this decade like that either. And this is one of the biggest bonuses of the series – to create an illusory feeling of longing for a simpler time, when the Cold War and the fear of communists turned out to be just an inflated hoax, when children rode around on bicycles, did not look at “those phones” all the time and had enough time… fight scary demons from “The Upside Down”! But what the latest season of the series shows with poignant accuracy is the modern moral panic that arose in the eighties – the so-called “satanist panic“. Along with the increase in the popularity of metal music, a new “bubble” appeared for parents – satanists, who supposedly sacrifice children, performing bloody rituals. And within the series, the main victim of this “satanic panic” becomes the newcomer of the fourth season of the series (and very much loved by fans) hero Eddie Mansen, and with him – also the other already known heroes whose passion for the game “Dungeons and Dragons” is equated with worshiping Satan.
Moreover, as in all cases of moral panic, the Hawkins Township commune also turns against a fictional evil, oblivious to what is actually happening before their eyes. (Similar to how some Latvian politicians like to target the “wrong families” so as not to have to deal with real problems.)
But what happens in the end? Because at the end of the third season, it seemed that the evil of the Upside Down World was destroyed! Nothing. It turns out that something even more terrifying lives in the dark dimension – a demon named Vekna, who is able to drag people into the Upside Down World using their most painful memories, guilt and everything else that we usually try not to think about in our day-to-day life. When the first victim – the cheerleader Chrissy – falls into Vekna’s clutches, it is the metal player, the president of the “Dungeons and Dragons” club and, of course, the “Satanist” Eddy Mansen who is suspected. Of course, our main characters realize that this is no simple murder, and Ella (aka “Eleven”) must go back to the place she escaped from to find answers about her powers and how the Upside Down World came to be. Meanwhile, Will’s mom Joyce has gone to the Soviet Union because it turns out that Sheriff Jim Hopper is alive and imprisoned in a communist prison. In parallel, we follow Nancy and Jonathan’s relationship problems, which most couples face when high school is over and each is finding their own way in life. And there’s also some division in the tight-knit group of friends – Ella isn’t sure about Mike’s feelings for her, Steve is pining for Nancy, Lucas and Max have broken up, and Dustin… Dustin has a GIRLFRIEND!
So the appearance of Vekna is also a reason for our teenagers to find their way back to each other.
The fourth season of the series was touted as the most ambitious (and, of course, the most expensive) to date, and the streaming site Netflix, which is currently struggling, had high hopes for it. And it must be said that the expectations were justified, because the season is not only visually the most impressive so far, but also the most extensive in terms of content. This time, the action does not take place only in the small town of Hawkins – the Duffer brothers offer us several parallel storylines – Joyce and Jim’s escape from the communist prison, Jonathan and his new “ganja girlfriend” Argyle, as well as Mike and Will’s mission to find Ella, Ella’s own flashback scenes about time in a secret government organization, and of course the events in Hawkins, where Vekna has chosen Max as his victim.
I have to say that in the middle of the season, not all the storylines seem equally exciting and I found myself wanting to know more about the events in Hawkins, but in the two and a half hour finale they all come together in a very exciting way. And it’s clear that it was worth the wait. Although I have to agree critics, who emphasize that the strongest aspect of the Duffer brothers’ “Stranger Things” is precisely the placement of apocalyptic events in a small town, the fourth season shows that the series is also ready for a more global scale. What the last – fifth season of “Stranger Things” promises.
But we all know that impressive computer graphics and sharp plot twists are not always enough to create an emotional experience in the audience.
And in this sense, the latest season of “Stranger Things” wisely focuses on the inner world of the characters – since Vekna’s ability is to break into the minds of his victims, forcing them to relive their most painful experiences, then in a sense he himself becomes everyone’s biggest enemy.
Although Vekna is the one who physically breaks her victim, the process itself begins inside each character – the destruction is brought about by their deepest fears, guilt and insecurities. And in that sense, this is an impressive coming-of-age story – to defeat evil, you need to be able to look into the eyes of what terrifies you the most.
In conclusion, it should be mentioned that although it sometimes seems that the fourth season of “Stranger Things” is even too impressive and blown out, in a way it could be said that it is only a logical development trajectory for the series, which became a hundred times bigger than everyone initially expected. And I have to say, experiencing an epic guitar solo on the screen in Upside Down World… Yes, it was definitely one of the greatest experiences of my summer.