Caleb McLaughlin and Noah Schnapp were flying off the cliff of their little-kid years

In the first season of Stranger Things, being 12 years old was a moment of suspension in air. Mike and Dustin and Lucas and Will (Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin and Noah Schnapp) were flying off the cliff of their little-kid years, feeling the ground no longer under them. They were old enough to be alone together, young enough to want their parents, old enough to keep secrets, and young enough to fear straying too far. They were children until they saw monsters, and the monsters were the gravity that knocked them to the ground.

It's a hard kind of beauty to maintain. That weightlessness, for those who are ever fortunate enough to experience it, is temporary, especially for kids who love fiercely and care about everything, the way these kids do. And despite the show's insistence that the events of its fourth season are taking place three years or so after the events of its first (and six months after its third), the actors have aged almost six years since the show began. They're six of the really wild years, too, when shoulders broaden and voices drop and limbs seem to narrow and stretch past the ends of sleeves and pant legs in the space of a single day. It is written on their bodies that they have hit the ground and been changed.

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This fourth season is divided into an uneven heap of long and longer episodes; the seven dropping this week range from 63 to 98 minutes, then two more will drop in July clocking in at nearly 1.5 and 2.5 hours – the latter longer than most feature films. The first season, back in the summer of 2016, had a quaintness of both story and format (despite the gore). It was so reminiscent of the Stev(ph)ens Spielberg and King, but it also was a delicious and taut set of hour-ish chapters that felt like addictive, unmissable, old-fashioned TV. It might have been the zenith of the binge-watch and the best use to which Netflix ever put the "just let it roll to the next episode" brilliant-slash-diabolical technical flourish.

Stranger Things is ungainly now, bulked up by more extravagant and ambitious "wowza" effects sequences. Even if it weren't, just as you can sometimes watch a successful author's books get fatter and more deferentially edited, this show has entered the sphere in which, if there were ever any rails to fly off of, they're likely long gone. The budget has ballooned, the running time has ballooned, and there is more-more-more of everything. There is underwear. There are Funko Pops and Mad Libs and makeup palettes ("Try on every bright and subversive hue now"). The Duffer Brothers could probably make the season into two six-hour movies, a comic book, and three View-Master reels, and nobody would say "boo" now that the show has its own entire section at Hot Topic.

Some things have not changed. There are four stories, which began with the fracture at the end of season 3, but they're separated by geography, which makes the divisions stricter than usual. There is an Eleven story, there is a Joyce-and-maybe-Hopper story, and there is a Mike/Will/Jonathan story, and all of those are located in different places outside the main part of Hawkins.

Back in Hawkins, there is a terrifically scary, sometimes funny, and pretty extravagantly gross Scooby-Doo-style monster adventure for Dustin, Steve, Nancy, Robin, Lucas, Max and Erica. If the '80s phenomenon that was highlighted in the third season was mall culture, what's highlighted in this one is the very real panic that grew up around Dungeons & Dragons and the belief that it had some connection to the occult and to real-world evil. Hawkins, with its string of tragedies, is rich soil in which that panic can grow.

As for Eleven, it is, as always, complicated. Millie Bobby Brown is still skilled at handling the wide variety of trials El is asked to endure. This season concerns itself (again) with unraveling her history of trauma at the hands of Brenner (Matthew Modine). It is less that this story is not good than that it is much too long – the same problem that haunts, in particular, the story of what became of Hopper after Joyce closed the gate at the end of season 3. Both of these stories spend the entire season on what could have been accomplished in an episode or maybe two. And while 75-minute episodes are not definitionally "too long," they are too long when three out of your four stories drag through the middle section of the season. (Regrettably, the Mike/Will/Jonathan story never really works at all.)

For those who may not remember, Season 3 took place around the mid 80s, where a new mall called the Starcourt Mall is all the rage with the residents of Hawkins. However, as the events of the third season unfold, our lead characters learn that the mall is essentially a front for a Russian lab that operates underground by the Soviets. This was due to them experimenting with the Upside Down world and opening a gate to the place. The Season 3 finale sees all the leading characters assemble and fight the Russian soldiers as well as the Mind Flayer together.

The Mind Flayer who is the big bad of the Stranger Things universe and is the being that sends Demogorgons from the Upside Down to the world above, is able to finally confront all the heroes in Hawkins. In Season 3, he makes his biggest moves yet, taking over Max (Sadie Sink)’s brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery). Using Billy as a conduit, the Mind Flayer kills several residents of Hawkins to become even stronger. However, he is ultimately stopped by Eleven (Milly Bobby Brown) who gets inside Billy’s mind and frees him from the being. This enrages the Mind Flayer who then kills Billy and is pushed back into the Upside Down by Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) who has closed the gate that the Russians had opened. This comes about during the Season 3 finale when Police Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce go undercover as Russian officers to infiltrate a secret Soviet base underneath the Starcourt Mall. Hopper and Beyers successfully destroy the laser the Soviets operated to keep open a portal to the Upside Down, thus destroying the Mind Flayer monster the kids are battling upstairs. We don't know if the Mind Flayer is gone for good or if he will evolve and strike back, given how powerful he seems but here's hoping Season 4 answers that sooner than later.

Stranger Things Season 4 Full Series Online
Stranger Things Season 4 Premiere
Stranger Things Season 4 Download Full Series

Finally, it’s vital to remember that the upcoming Season 4 will be split into two sections. Part One comes out May 27 and the remaining four episodes will be released July 1. The fourth season is set to start tying up all the loose threads from early seasons, such as the mystery of Eleven's origin and how exactly she helped bring the Upside Down creatures to the main world. We've had some information given to us in the early seasons of the show, but the third largely chose to focus on the Russians. It seems that Season 4 will be a return to form and may finally give us some long awaited answers. The creators of the show, The Duffer Brothers have also promised a fifth and final season of the series that is set to kickoff following the events of the upcoming season. There’s no date yet on when the series will be released, but the creators have already begun teasing multiple spin-offs, and with a cast this expansive, it certainly makes sense why they would choose to continue the series. Of course this does leave the question of which characters will get the spin-off treatment and whether Season 4 will offer any indication of that.

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