Warning: Spoilers for previous seasons of Stranger Things ahead.
The fourth season of Stranger Things is finally here -- mostly -- and fans have literally waited years to see what happens to Eleven, Hopper, Joyce and the rest. Season 3 ended in 2019, in those pre-pandemic days that now seem hard to recall. Before the pandemic hit, Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer signed a multiyear film and series deal with Netflix, and have promised two more seasons of the show. (If you just can't wait, our spoiler-free review of season 4 is here.)
There are still two more episodes coming, on July 1. And the Duffers have revealed that the season finale is more than two hours long, so prep for it like you would a feature film. And there's one more season coming, though no one knows how long we'll have to wait for that satisfying and sad moment of farewell.
Stranger Things captivated the streaming world when it debuted in 2016. Set in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, in the 1980s, the show begins with the disappearance of a kid named Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). Researchers at Hawkins National Laboratory have opened a gate to the creepy alternate dimension known as the Upside Down and are experimenting on a group of special children, one of whom, known as Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), escapes and befriends Will's group. Part of the show's charm is its varied young cast, who feel like real friends, and its nostalgic setting.
Where we left off
At the end of the third season, Eleven and the Byers family left Indiana for California. So the new season will have to show the two groups of friends living far apart, and how they stay in touch. Remember, the 1980s were pre-cell-phone and internet days. And a spooky trailer released in April shows life in California isn't all sunshine and lollipops.
Police Chief Hopper (David Harbour) appeared to be dead at the end of the third season, but video clips showed him being held at a creepy labor camp in Russia that's not against feeding prisoners to the monsters from the Upside Down.
Early reviews are in
Breathe a sigh of relief, Stranger Things fans. Season 4 is earning raves.
Best season yet
In my CNET review, I call season 4 the best one yet, and praise the creators, the Duffer brothers, for managing to balance all the various settings, develop the spooky plot, and keep the characters as lively and likable as they've always been.
"Though the show ping-pongs between California, Hawkins, Russia and Eleven's laboratory days, not one of those settings drags," the review says. "You'll have to hit the pause button for any needed bathroom or snack breaks, because once this season starts rolling, it doesn't let up."
Jolt of joyful energy
Entertainment Weekly's review echoes ours. "Fresh locales, appealing new characters and a rewarding expansion of the mythology give the new season of Stranger Things a jolt of joyful energy, just when the series needed it most," writes critic Kristen Baldwin.
The AV Club critic likes the new season, but felt some episodes were bloated.
"Volume 1's finale is almost 100 minutes long," writes Saloni Gajjar. "The show continues to demand patience from its audience after a three-freaking-year wait."
'Stranger Things' Stars Then and Now: Wow, They've Really Grown UpSee all photos
When is the rest of season 4 coming?
The first seven episodes of Stranger Things' fourth season were released on Netflix on Friday, May 27. Two additional episodes will arrive on Netflix on July 1, giving fans a few weeks to mull over the first-half events. That season 4 finale is over two hours long.
Yes, we're still in the 1980s, as season 4 appears to take place in the spring of 1986, over spring break, in part. And there are plenty of 1980s icons present, from Family Video, where Steve and Robin work, to the satanic panic that rolls over Hawkins when parents think Dungeons & Dragons is turning their kids into devil-worshipping murderers. I dive deeper into some of the 1980s moments in this story.
How to watch
Get yourself a Netflix subscription to ensure you get all the new episodes plus access to the first three seasons.
The service offers a free one-month trial, so if you wait to sign up until after the entire fourth season is uploaded on July 1, you can soak it up with previous years' seasons, then cancel your membership without cost. But then you're going to have to get a kind friend with Netflix to let you watch the fifth season, whenever that comes around.
Cast: Who's who?
The biggest casting question was answered early: A scene in the third-season finale mentioning an imprisoned American all but gave away the fact that Hopper survived the bleak events of that episode.
Here's a look at the cast.
- Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven
- David Harbour as Jim Hopper
- Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler
- Noah Schnapp as Will Byers
- Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair
- Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson
- Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers
- Natalia Dyer as Nancy Wheeler
- Charlie Heaton as Jonathan Byers
- Maya Hawke as Robin
- Joe Keery as Steve Harrington
- Sadie Sink as Max Mayfield
- Priah Ferguson as Erica Sinclair
- Cara Buono as Karen Wheeler
New cast members for season 4
- Eduardo Franco as Argyle, a cheerful California pizza-delivery dude and new friend of Jonathan
- Tom Wlaschiha as Enzo, a Russian who plays an important role in Hopper's story
- Grace Van Dien as Chrissy, a troubled Hawkins cheerleader
- Joseph Quinn as Eddie Munson, leader of Hawkins High's Dungeons & Dragons club
- Audrey Holcomb as Eden, who meets up with the Hawkins gang in Utah
- Amybeth McNulty as Vickie, a band member and friend of Robin
- Myles Truitt as Patrick, a Hawkins High basketball player
- Robert Englund as Victor Creel, a Hawkins man who lost his family to tragedy. (Yes, played by the actor who played Freddy Krueger!)