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Stranger Things' Season 4 Finale Should Have Delivered More

Commentary: With a runtime of 150 minutes, Stranger Things' finale was legitimately epic. But it was also a letdown.

A battered but unbowed Eleven stands in the desert in Netflix series Stranger Things.
Eleven fights back in Stranger Things season 4 finale.
Netflix

Spoiler warning: Stranger Things Season 4 spoilers abound.

What a difference 150 minutes can make. Before Netflix's logo crackled on my TV screen ahead of the show's finale, Stranger Things had me in the palm of its hand. I wondered, as the final episode opened, whether the nightmarish season 4 would be Stranger Things' best yet. But when I rose from my couch at midnight, two and a half hours later, another question was on my mind.

Is that it?

The episode's final stretch begins with Eleven battling Vecna within the subconscious of Max – a super normal sentence if you've watched the show. Eleven deals a painful but indecisive blow to Vecna, who dissipates into evil dust while promising revenge. This is important: Vecna, the big baddie, is unambiguously not defeated. At that point, 30 minutes remained. More than enough time, I reassured myself, for a final battle to pop off. 

See also: 'Stranger Things' Season 5: Everything We Know About the Upcoming Final Season

Following his showdown with Eleven, Vecna opens a gate to the Upside Down at the center of Hawkins, which causes a massive fissure through the town. The perfect precursor to one more clash! Local chumps chalk it up to an earthquake, but we the viewers know what's behind the ruptures. We see touching scenes of Hopper reuniting with Eleven and Max resting in hospital after narrowly avoiding death at Vecna's grotesque hands. Wouldn't it be unfortunate if these scenes were spoiled by a certain returning bad guy? 

Alas, no. The Stranger Things theme begins to play as ash begins to fall on Hawkins like snow. The gang investigates, and sees hellfire erupting from Vecna's Upside Down gate. The screen flicks to black. 

OK.

The ending didn't feel like a cliffhanger. It felt like a truncated episode. And remember, the finale was over two hours long! The finales for season one, two and three were all 60 minutes, and all featured decisive endings. In season four's finale, it took more time for less to be achieved.

It's not that all season finales need to see the bad guy perish for good. Vecna is the central force of evil in Stranger Things, and it's easy to justify his saga taking more that one season. But the scale of an episode needs to be justified by the story it tells. Instead of an epic story requiring a long runtime, it felt more like Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer decided on a 150-minute episode first and then figured out how to fill the time. 

A photo of Vecna, Stranger Things season 4's villain.

It makes sense that Vecna's saga would take place over two seasons. But if that's the case, why have a 2.5-hour finale for season four?

Netflix

The season's ambition was enormous. Netflix boasted that subscribers have collectively spent over a billion hours binging the horror-tinged season. I believe that: the nine episodes ran so long you'd only need a few dozen people watching them all to hit that lofty milestone.

I kid. Stranger Things season four's runtime of 13 hours is appreciably longer than the eight hours season three took up, but it was mostly time well spent. We got several worthwhile new characters in Argyle, Yuri, Dmitri and Eddie. Splitting the cast into four different locales was bold, and largely paid off. Vecna is the show's most gnarly villain ever, and was a harrowing boogeyman, particularly in the opening episodes. The saga of Eleven's efforts to regain her powers dawdled, but Stranger Things season four was mostly good shit.

And frankly, most of the finale was, too. Distracting satanic bats by playing Master of Puppets atop a broken-down trailer amid the apocalypse? Hell yes

But it all served as buildup for a dazzling finish -- a finish we didn't get. 

What's next for Stranger Things?

Now we wait for Season 5. The Duffer Brothers have promised the wait for the next season will be shorter than the two years that separated seasons 3 and 4. David Harbour, who played Hopper, reckons it'll hit Netflix in mid-2024.

There are already a few things we know about the next season. For starters, it's slated to be the last one. The Duffer brothers have also said that, to bridge the age gap between the on-screen characters and the actors that play them, it'll involve a time skip of some sort. And finally, the last episode is going to be really long.

Appearing on the Happy Sad Confused podcast, the Duffer brothers said that an issue in typical series is that the second-to-last episode is the gripping one because the finale has to include an emotional "wind-down." A movie-length ending is their preferred way to solve that issue.

"We're more likely to do what we did here, which is to just have a two-and-a-half-hour episode," Ross Duffer said of season 5's finale. "The wind-down is just part of a two-and-a-half-hour episode. I would expect the finale to be at least two hours," Matt Duffer added.  

That's no bad news. Two hours to cap off one of the decade's biggest shows? That makes sense. But it also highlights how little sense the scale of season 4's finale made. Because, as overused as the word is, Stranger Things' season four finale was epic. But, without a memorable ending, it was also a letdown.