Be warned, there are Stranger Things' spoilers here from get-go, so if you've not seen the series and want to be surprised, look away now...
If it feels like we’ve been waiting ages for Stranger Things season 4, that’s because we have. It’s been nearly three years since the third season landed in July 2019, changing the landscape of Hawkins, Indiana, significantly. Not only has Eleven lost her telekinetic powers and moved to California, her surrogate dad, Chief Hopper, is locked up in a Soviet prison after being presumed dead in the Battle of Starcourt Mall.
Luckily, however, we won’t have wait too much later to see where the story goes next. In February 2022, brothers Ross and Matt Duffer (the show's creators) announced that Stranger Things season 4 will debut on Netflix in two volumes later this year – the first on May 27, the second on July 1. They also described it as “the beginning of the end”, with the show’s fifth season now confirmed to be its last.
As the world gets ready to return to Hawkins for the penultimate time, we’ve put together 11 things (what other number could it be?) we want to see in the eagerly anticipated, 1986-set Stranger Things season 4. So grab yourself a box of Eggos, and follow us back to the ’80s...
1. Don’t over-stretch the story
Netflix’s Stranger Things 4 release date announcement not only revealed that the nine-episode run will be split into two volumes, it confirmed this will be the longest season yet – by some distance.
As the Duffer brothers explained, “With nine scripts, over eight-hundred pages, almost two years of filming, thousands of visual effects shots and a runtime nearly twice the length of any previous season, season 4 was the most challenging season yet, but also the most rewarding one.”
Stranger Things 2 also ran to nine parts, so it’s safe to assume the new season 4 episodes will be considerably longer than their predecessors, most of which clocked in between 45 and 55 minutes. That presumably takes the new episodes into feature-length territory, an expansion that will undoubtedly alter the rhythm of the show. Fingers are firmly crossed, then, that the Duffers have enough story to fill the extra running time, without sacrificing the pacey storytelling and brilliant cliffhangers that have made previous seasons so bingeable.
2. Take the adventure outside Hawkins
We already know that the Byers family have moved to California with Eleven, and that Chief Hopper is incarcerated in Kamchatka in Russia. But now that both the Soviet and American authorities are aware of the Upside Down, it makes sense to take the storytelling outside Hawkins’ city limits.
Maybe conspiracy theorist Murray Bauman will embrace the opportunity to spread the word about a major government cover-up, or – as the picture below may tease – head to Russia with Joyce to rescue Hopper. Perhaps we’ll also get to see high-ranking US military officials briefing the president on potential Soviet incursions from the Upside Down. Introducing the commander-in-chief and the spookiest new front in the Cold War would certainly be in keeping with the ’80s movies that inspired the show.
3. Keep the focus on the existing characters
The ’80s was the era of the all-action shoot-’em-up – see Commando, Rambo, Predator – but Stranger Things season 4 should resist the opportunity to send in the troops, even though Paul Reiser’s Dr Owens assembled the cavalry for the season 3 finale.
The show’s success is built around the fact that a loveable Scooby gang of kids (and their parents) have been the ones uncovering a major supernatural threat, rather than a bunch of highly trained soldiers. Even if the authorities do get more involved, Eleven, Mike and the rest need to stay at the forefront of the investigations – otherwise it wouldn’t be Stranger Things.
4. Make sure things have moved on since season 3
Characters in TV shows shouldn’t be preserved in amber between seasons. We know that around six months have elapsed since season 3’s “three months later” coda – that’s an eternity when you’re a teenager, so it’s important that Stranger Things season 4 shows that things have been happening in Hawkins (and beyond) while we’ve been away. There’s no reason to assume, for example, that Mike and Eleven’s relationship will survive long-distance. And who knows, Steve may even have boned up his movie knowledge now he’s working at the video shop…
5. Go more John Hughes
As the kids get older, the influences on the show should grow up too. After leaning heavily on Steven Spielberg/Amblin movies in its earlier years, Stranger Things can now embrace the filmography of John Hughes, the king of the teen movie. Season 3 being set around July 4 meant that high school scenes weren’t an option, but – as the ‘Welcome to California’ teaser (below) suggests – this new run is in an ideal place to homage the likes of The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
6. Embrace the horror
Spawning iconic scarefests like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser and The Evil Dead, the ’80s were also a vintage era for horror movies. Frights have always been integral to Stranger Things’ alchemy, but this could be time to take things to some even darker and brutal places. Indeed, the presence of the very spooky Creel House in the trailer below suggests the show could be making a welcome shift into bump-in-the-night haunted house territory…
7. Ensure there’s a memorable human antagonist
Whether it’s Dr Brenner experimenting on kids or Mayor Kline colluding with the Soviets to build Starcourt Mall, the show has repeatedly shown that humans can be every bit as dangerous as the creatures who call the Upside Down home. That seems set to continue in Stranger Things season 4, with former Freddy Krueger Robert Englund (the latest in a long line of ’80s legends recruited for the show) joining the cast as Victor Creel, currently held in Pennhurst Mental Hospital for the 1959 murder of his family.
8. Show us something new from the Upside Down
In the tradition of Alien and Aliens, Stranger Things has always tried to evolve the threat from the Upside Down between seasons. Having already introduced Demogorgons, the string-pulling Mind Flayer, and a legion of zombie-like humans under its control, the Duffers have set the bar pretty high, but we’re optimistic they can create another icky creature to torment the residents of Hawkins in season 4.
9. Don’t rush to give Eleven her powers back
Eleven is a different character without her telekinetic powers but that doesn’t mean the Duffers should rush to give them back. Some of the best superhero stories (see Spider-Man 2, Superman 2 and Iron Man 3) have stripped their heroes of their abilities so – as well as curing her nosebleeds – turning Eleven into a normal human may reveal new sides to her personality. It’s also good for storytelling if Eleven can’t save the day with her powerful mind.
10. Kill off a major character
The first three seasons saw the deaths of Barb, Bob and Billy, proving that Hawkins is not a safe place to be if your name begins with B). The show is yet to bump off a lead character, however, after rumors of Eleven and Chief Hopper’s deaths (in season 1 and season 3, respectively) rapidly proved to be unfounded.
But as the threat from the Upside Down grows, it’s becoming increasingly implausible that every one of the ensemble will make it out alive. Ahead of the fifth and final season, losing a regular would show that there are real consequences to the incursions from the Upside Down.
11. Don’t save all the answers until season 5
If Lost taught us anything, it’s that you don’t want to leave your big reveals for your final year. The Duffers have already teased that this penultimate season is “the beginning of the end”, so it’s time to start answering questions about the nature of the Upside Down, the Mind Flayer’s motives, the experiments that created Eleven, and how they all tie together.
Confirmed episode titles such as ‘The Massacre at Hawkins Lab’ and ‘Papa’ (the name Eleven used for Dr Brenner, the scientist who experimented on her) – not to mention the ‘Eleven, Are You Listening?’ teaser below – suggest Stranger Things season 4 will reveal more about her early childhood. Hopefully the answers will be the equal of some genuinely intriguing mysteries…
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Richard is a freelance journalist specialising in movies and TV, primarily of the sci-fi and fantasy variety. An early encounter with a certain galaxy far, far away started a lifelong love affair with outer space, and these days Richard's happiest geeking out about Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel and other long-running pop culture franchises. In a previous life he was editor of legendary sci-fi magazine SFX, where he got to interview many of the biggest names in the business – though he'll always have a soft spot for Jeff Goldblum who (somewhat bizarrely) thought Richard's name was Winter.