Obviously, this show could only get stranger in its fourth season, right? Wrong! It’s actually the opposite, which is why its official name is now Less Strange Things 4. But why do we say that, and does it mean this season is worse than what’s come before? Good news: we answer those questions on this week’s podcast, plus a whole thesis presentation on why Hopper should have stayed dead.
Generously transcribed by Raillery. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.
You’re listening to the Mythcreants podcast with your hosts Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock, and Chris Winkle
Wes: I’m your host, Wes, and with me today is…
Wes: And I guess spoilers, because if you thought Stranger Things would get even stranger and more mysterious, you’re dead wrong because everything is now all the whims of just some guy!
Oren: Way Less Strange Things.
Wes: Less Stranger Things Five. Coming next year, maybe.
Oren: Un-strange Things? What’s the opposite of stranger?
Wes: I think opening with that big spoiler and bit of criticism is fair. It is the second-best season. I think we’ll all agree to that.
Oren: Yeah. It’s way better than season two and a little better than season three.
Chris: Personally, I can’t think of it as one season because it’s so fractured.
Wes: Yeah, that’s true.
Chris: I really liked the Hawkins plot line, better than anything since season one. I thought it was really good. But the rest… season three was better.
Oren: Yeah. Oh, wow. Hot take.
Wes: You’re not wrong with that.
Chris: So many pointless filler arcs!
Wes: There’s just too many characters and they want all the characters to be doing something.
Chris: So many characters! And then they keep adding more! What are you doing? You already had too much.
Wes: And they’re not letting the ones that should be dead stay dead either.
Chris: I kinda knew they were not going to just leave Hopper dead. I wish they had left Hopper dead. I do support them diversifying, but maybe kill off more white dudes. If you really want to have them just ride off into the sunset, say, ‘Jonathan’s away at college. He’s just not here.’
Oren: We can very clearly order these by their tier in terms of how important they were to the actual story. First we have Team Hawkins, which is basically the actual show. This is Dustin, Lucas, Max, Steve, Nancy, Eddie and Robin. And Lucas’s younger sister to a certain extent. I forget her name, the one who loves money.
Chris: That’s already a pretty big team right there.
Oren: Yeah, that’s a fair number of characters. And the show does a decent job. Unlike in the first season, they’re all in one group, as opposed to three different groups all working on the same mystery. They don’t do that this time. That’s fine. I enjoy those sections quite a bit. I get why people like Eddie. There’s a whole bunch of stuff in there I like.
Then we have tier two, which is Eleven and her whole thing because she’s got superpowers. So presumably she’ll be important at some point and she’s spending her time training to go and be part of the Hawkins storyline.
And we have tier three, which is the Road Trip Crew. They’re trying to find Eleven, at which point they will do… something, presumably.
And then we have Hopper and his Team Hopper and they’re the worst.
Chris: They have nothing to do with anything. They’re just off on their own side-quests in Russia. I think Oren pointed out in a post, ‘Hey, maybe we should just get rid of these adult characters.’ And normally I would say, ‘Wait a second. What about Winona Rider? Can’t get rid of Winona Rider!’ But the Russian plot was a horrible waste of her. She just stands around and they don’t give her any agency and it’s just so painful that at that point. Maybe just give her a check so she still gets paid. Or just have her occasionally make a phone call to the kids and show her off on like a tropical beach somewhere, finally relaxing and calling and have her kids like, ‘Oh no, no, we’re totally fine. You need to worry about us, mom.’ That would be better than what happened.
Wes: That would’ve been much better. With the Hopper one, we knew that they weren’t going to let Hopper die, but apparently, he survives because he jumped out of the way of the blast that destroyed everything?
Oren: *cackling laughter*
Wes: And then somehow more Russians showed up?
Oren: I would love to have seen what the operation was for the Russians to get him out of the country. We saw right after the explosion that the US Army was there because Owens called them. And apparently these are really talented Russians, is all I can say.
Wes: And the other thing is at the end of season three, I kinda thought maybe the blast portaled him somewhere in Russia or something like that. I now think, because all of this is just the machinations of some guy, that the Upside Down only exists In Hawkins? Because I think the Russians took things from there. I’m worried that there is no Upside Down aside from what this guy decided to make.
Chris: The Upside Down is actually the size of a small town?
Wes: I think so, yeah. I don’t think there’s a Russian Upside Down. They made a very big point about it being stuck in time. It’s weird.
Oren: None of that makes any sense. The whole thing of it being stuck in time. Originally I thought the idea was that the Upside Down was just another earth that the Mind Flayer had come to. But no, it’s apparently not. It is very specifically our Earth that stops at the first episode of Stranger Things. I cannot think of a reason why that would be the case. If we’re to believe that Vecna created the Upside Down, why would he create it at exactly that day? What was special about that day to him? And the answer is nothing.
Wes: The first Demogorgon portals into our reality because of Eleven or whatever, and so the other dimension, acquires all the fine details of Hawkins in that moment? I don’t buy it. They very clearly say that Vecna’s in charge of everything and whatever we see of that other dimension is just, I don’t know, rocks and nice vistas and Demogorgons probably just having a nice time until they get mind controlled by somebody.
Chris: Yeah, I was really hoping for the idea that this was an alternate universe that had all of the same characters, all the same features that was overtaken by the Mind Flayer. So all that happened to the alternate universe can happen to our universe. Very creepy. But it doesn’t look like that now.
Oren: The choice to make ‘It was Vecna the whole time!’ is just, on its face, kinda baffling because that doesn’t make any sense. There are just so many obvious points at which things would’ve been different if there was actually a human controlling the Upside Down, which we’re told is what he was doing now.
But from a dramatic standpoint, that’s just a letdown. That’s like Cthulhu being the big bad for the first three seasons and then having it actually not be Cthulhu. It’s this cultist guy who is good at casting spells.
Chris: I have a theory as to why they decided to do this: because they know what season five is. They clearly set up season four to be the penultimate season. And so they were looking towards how this could end and they felt they were in a position where they didn’t know how the stories could stop.
This is actually somewhat similar to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, believe it or not, where we have a hero that is fighting ongoing problems that are constantly popping up from this hell mouth. The first time Buffy had a finale, it was ended just by killing her. Maybe there will still be problems, but another Slayer will rise, and so now we can feel that there’s actually resolution when Buffy’s story is over. And then when it got two more seasons, we had to totally tear up the hell mouth, huge army, everybody knows and just collapse the whole thing eventually. When you have that situation where there is a source of problems that keeps happening, it’s hard to imagine how the protagonist is ever going to turn that around.
With Stranger Things, all of the characters are just regular people. They don’t have super powers and the Mind Flayer is Cthulhu and the Upside Down is an entire alternate universe. And when it was just Eleven poking holes in the universes, it might be possible to close them all, but that also doesn’t really allow problems to keep happening and it doesn’t allow enough threat.
So when we add Vecna, who can then poke his own holes between the universe, now we know that the Upside Down doesn’t need to wait for Eleven to create a portal. It can just create its own holes and get through. So how could we ever create an end point where we could say that this story is done now and walk away feeling like everything is resolved? I think they decided to downgrade the Mind Flayer into a dude so that dude can be defeated and then we can say it’s all done.
Oren: Yeah, we can just stab him. He’s apparently vulnerable to stabbing.
Chris: I was fine with the idea of him as a season villain or as a minion, but once he becomes the creator of the Mind Flayer, it’s like, ‘Really? We’re doing that?’ He already has Team Rockets Syndrome.
Oren: I was actually pretty into the idea of a thinking villain that can be the Mind Flayer’s cultist. That’s his job. And they even describe him as the Mind Flayer’s general, which was a cool idea. Then of course it’s like, ‘It was me! I was behind it all!” Um, okay. And then they just beat him up at the end of the season and toss him out a window and he has to slink off in defeat.
Chris: They had to set him on fire and shoot him a bunch of times.
Oren: It’s one of the few bad guys who was actually defenestrated! I would think they would know better than to have their villain literally slink away, off screen, as it seems like a bad move.
Chris: And it feels like the only reason that he survived was because the writer decided he survived. It’s like, ‘No, no, you don’t understand. After watching him get set on fire and shot a bunch and thrown through a window and all of those things, he’s still alive just because.’ This is the villain that we’re supposed to believe is threatening enough to be the big bad for the whole series.
Oren: Now that Eleven has her groove back, right?
Chris: You can open up some big earthquakes that are glowing over Hawkins, but that’s just not enough. How much did Vecna even do that?
Oren: Although this season did really double down on the idea that Demogorgons are immune to bullets. Okay. I preferred it when you just use sleight of hand to make it seem that it wasn’t possible to really shoot them. But no, apparently they cannot be injured. You can unload thousands of rounds into them from assault rifles. And they shrug that right off.
Chris: I would’ve been more okay with it if they’d shown some sort of mental model for how that could be possible. For instance, we shoot a Demogorgon and part of them becomes dust and then that dust recoalesces. Because we’ve established that the dust is a big part of the Upside Down, the power of the Upside Down. We’d have to understand them as not entirely solid for that to work. But if they’re just solid, bullets have a lot of force, so how are you not full of holes?
Oren: Especially since apparently Hopper cut its head off with a sword. Maybe the explanation we’re going for here is that they have some kind of outer impenetrable armor layer, which can be burned and that’s what happened?
Chris: But shouldn’t, we see the bullets bounce off of it, at least?
Oren: Who knows?
Chris: And then how do you stab it if a bullet can’t even get though?
Oren: Also, why are the Demodogs specifically vulnerable to bullets, but the Degogorgon is invulnerable to all bullets? Are they not made of the same stuff?
Wes: Well, the Demogorgon has immunity to piercing damage, obviously, but it only has resistance to slashing damage.
Oren: Yeah, that’s fair. It’s all coming together.
Chris: I would’ve just gone with the idea that cutting or bashing damage doesn’t really work, but you can use chemical damage so you can use acid. That would’ve worked better. Again, give us some mental model for why this is happening and how this is possible.
The other thing about Vecna that really got me: what’s with the spiders? Was that just to explain why he made the Mind Flayer look like a giant spider? Was the spider stuff just to explain that?
Oren: That is exactly what it’s for.
Chris: It was so random! I don’t think we needed to explain that. It’s like, ‘Look, giant spider.’ His random spider rant was just… wow! Okay. This is happening.
Oren: Then he started going on about how we live in a society and I was like, ‘Oh, okay. I guess. Good job Joker.’ What is happening with this guy? I could kinda tell where the story was going, that the son from the flashbacks was going to end up being the bad guy. And then I don’t remember if I figured this out on my own or if it was spoiled for me, but that was going to end up being who Vecna was. But I don’t know what I expected as like a reason for him to be evil, but it wasn’t, ‘Our world is impure and must burn because taxes, I guess.’
Chris: I mean, you’re kinda cartoonishly evil at this point.
Wes: He saw like his parents being dishonest or something like that, so that’s an extreme reaction.
Oren: No, that’s the character from Sandman! Stop it, Vecna. That’s copyrighted!
Wes: You brought up like a good point. We were all excited for a thinking villain, but then we got a talking one in the second half. He won’t shut up and they won’t take the camera off of him. It’s initially creepy in the first episode appearance. Great subtitle work and stuff like that.
Chris, Oren: *laughs*
Wes: And then we’re just staring at him the whole time. ‘Okay, I’m over it. Stop talking!’
Oren: No, he’s got more to tell you!
Chris: I actually really liked Number One. I thought he was really sympathetic because his existence had been erased, and he was a prisoner, and he was also really nice to Eleven. So he seemed pretty selfless because he was trying to protect her. I would’ve been perfectly happy if he ended up being villainous or hero/villain, like that suspicious ally, or even a mentor who’s up to no good. But once he becomes Vecna, now he’s basically just gone. He’s a completely different person who’s just cartoonishly evil. That was really disappointing because I actually really liked that character.
Wes: He did a phenomenal job. He was a great character for quite a while.
Chris: Again, it does not seem like the same person anymore, which always annoys me. When you reveal a character is evil or is a villain, and then suddenly it’s like flipping a switch. They’re not even close to the same character anymore. I think it really takes away a lot of the novelty that you could get from seeing the same character traits portrayed in a way that’s more villainous.
Oren: It removes a lot of the wow-factor from the reveal. ‘I’m that guy!’ Are you though? You don’t seem like it. Although, I wasn’t expecting that I am now shipping Steve and Nancy.
Oren: I now support that relationship.
Chris: Yeah, me too.
Oren: I didn’t expect to, at the end of season one. I figured I was never going to be into that again. But they convinced me. Steve’s a new man! He’s changed!
Wes: Yeah. And Jonathan is just a giant nothing.
Oren: Uh, yep. He’s definitely there.
Wes: The best part of Jonathan in season four is Argyle. Argo’s amazing.
Oren: I love Argyle. I’m amazed Argyle didn’t die.
Wes: I really thought he was going to be the one they knocked off, not Eddie. Because the Eddie death doesn’t make any sense. It’s not a meaningful sacrifice at all.
Chris: Oh gosh, that was so frustrating because it was clear that they wanted to present it like he was doing a selfless sacrifice. But they just couldn’t come up with a reason why he would need to sacrifice himself. So he just suddenly runs out and dies for no reason.
Oren: It’s like, ‘They need more time!’ Do they? How can you tell? And then at the end of it, did they? Did that actually help? I have no idea.
Wes: Especially with the setup for the final season, it could have been ambiguous with Eddie. We didn’t have to see him actually die. It was disappointing.
Oren: Next season it’s going to be revealed that actually Eddie was behind it all! He created the Mind Flayer!
Chris: Ya know, I’ll take it since I know the alternative is Vecna. Let’s do that. Eddie, he died, he stayed in the upside down, Vecna turned him into a minion, but then as a minion he managed to overpower Vecna.
Oren: Now the bad guys are all heavy metal themed? I’m into it. Really into it now.
Chris: I loved the heavy metal scene.
Wes: It was really good.
Chris: Just think: what’s scarier than a Mind Flayer or Vecna the sorceror or a Demogorgon? It’s obviously the GM. The only thing more powerful than all of those in a D&D game is the GM. So honestly, if anybody’s going to be controlling all of the Upside Down, it really should be him.
Oren: My hot take on season four regarding D&D is that Eddie’s either not as good a GM as we think, or he had some kind of secret plan for what to do if they failed their roll against Vecna. I refuse to believe that a good GM would run a super-long campaign and then just have the entire party wipe in the final combat.
Chris: I just have to believe that he has tricks up his sleeves, where he makes all his players think they’re going to die at any time. But really he has plans upon plans to keep that from happening. And he just wants to give his players the experience of having an epic battle where they could die and then just barely don’t and he’s really good at sleight of hand.
Oren: You have to feel like you have a 50% chance of dying, but that you live 50% of the time 100% of the time. That’s how RPGs work. It’s actually not that fun if you start having your party get wiped out 40% of the time because that’s what the dice say should happen. It’s not really very entertaining.
Chris: If you have a good GM and you accidentally die because the system tends that way, then they’ll bring you back and make you haunted, like a certain GM I know who has done that in games.
Oren: I have done that a few times. This is why in all of my games that I’ve made, I’ve just made it impossible for characters to randomly die. Because, man, that is a lot of work. The rules say you’re dead, but funny thing: you go through a hell dimension and now you have dark hair and you’re broody. It’s just easier to not have to deal with that.
I am so confused why Brenner is still alive. I don’t understand. Is it just to give Eleven something to do? Is that the only reason?
Wes: Otherwise, would Owen have just taken her to that facility and been like, ‘Okay, here’s your memories. Welcome back to your power.’
Chris: Maybe they felt they needed an antagonist for Eleven. I still think they definitely set themselves up to fail. We really didn’t need the other characters to rescue her so that they had some purpose in the season. They made that bunker so fortified that it was really impossible for the other characters to play a significant role in helping her get free. Not that she needs to be completely damselled, but she can make her own efforts to escape and then they can make efforts to rescue her and they could synergize.
I just think they wanted an antagonist. He does, again, know the history so if they were really into this idea of somebody like Eleven Number One being Vecna, I think that’s probably what they were going for. It was an annoying retcon, was to see him alive.
Wes: Especially since the Demogorgon really like owns him in that first season.
Oren: Yeah, but he’s got a little scar now.
Wes: Oh, you’re right.
Chris: But don’t worry. He’s actually died this time. We swear. Really, he’s dead. Maybe.
Oren: Totally dead.
Chris: Maybe kind of okay. He could come back.
Oren: I felt like that arc was resolved. I didn’t think we needed more of that. I was really worried that they were going to redeem him and have him be actually a good guy and they didn’t do that.
Chris: Thankfully! He’s so irritating.
Wes: They came way too close. I was really worried.
Chris: He’s just clearly extremely abusive. Eleven stayed silent, so that’s something, but I really would’ve appreciated a stronger condemnation of this behavior.
Oren: Yeah. He’s like, ‘I’m your Papa.’ She’s like, ‘Eat dirt!’ and then crushes his head or something.
Chris: That death felt like it was framed to be tragic.
Oren: It definitely was.
Chris: It’s long and drawn out and we have all these looks at him and he has his last words. Ugh, we just have him a fall in a vat of acid and then slowly dissolve or something?
Oren: His death in the first season was the right death. Y’all made the right call, Stranger Things team. Don’t second-guess yourself so much.
Chris: Considering that we had all those other agents hovering around who were obsessed with Eleven – which honestly felt like a little much – I feel like if we, again, introduce somebody new, it would’ve been okay. It wouldn’t have been any worse anyway than retconning Brenner’s death. Maybe Eleven uncovers some memories and be like, ‘Oh, and you were there too!’
Oren: ‘And you were also there!’
Chris: It would’ve been a little much, but again, since the standard we’re judging against is retconning Brenner’s death, I think it would’ve been okay.
Oren: The more I think about it, the weirder it is that we had a bunch of the characters leave Hawkins at the end of season three because I don’t really see the purpose of that now. We already had a bunch of characters in Hawkins. Would it have been too crowded if Jonathan, Will, and Eleven were also there?
Chris: That was a very strange thing that they did the end of the last season. Why are we having characters move away from the plot? I’m wondering if they realized they had too many characters and so they were trying to preemptively place and split them into different groups. But you think it would have occurred to them that they can’t get those characters involved in the plot if they’re that far apart.
Oren: I can’t think of a good reason why we couldn’t just have Eleven getting her powers back in Hawkins, as Vecna is doing Vecna stuff. If it’s really important to explore Eleven’s backstory, we could have her do some flashback stuff as she does her sensory deprivation. That’s basically what they did anyway, but in a fancy tank. Have her try to work through that while everyone else is doing the investigating, if that’s what was needed. It just seems like that would be way more streamlined than creating this entire other plot.
Chris: The other characters could have helped her find a tank and then done something like that without a lot of the other things that they added to it.
Oren: Or maybe the idea there was that they felt they needed somewhere to point the government. They’ve always been a little unclear what to do with the government since season one, where the government was just the bad guys. Logically speaking, the government and the military don’t want the Upside Down to take over America, so what are they doing during all this? I guess they could be chasing Eleven. That keeps them out of Hawkins because, realistically, they would just overwhelm the Mind Flayer if you send in like a battalion of Marines. ‘Oh look, we have a bunch of bats to distract, or we could just shoot them all with guns.’
Chris: Honestly, if they were the ones that prevented Team California from actually doing anything, except for Eleven, I don’t think that was a good trade-off. Just don’t think about the government this season.
Oren: They’ve decided that Upside Down stuff is not for them. The funding’s been cut.
Wes: ‘We’re not doing this research anymore. We’re on to other things.’
Chris: One thing that’s been really interesting about Stranger Things from season to season is how the Duffer bothers obviously listen and improve a lot of things, particularly representation and problematic things. People were not happy with the way that Eleven and Max were set up as competition for each other in season two, so they changed that in season three. I had a whole article on how people, including me, were not happy how sexist the dudes were in season three, so they changed that for season four.
It’s interesting to have showrunners listen that way. We do see improvements from it. One of the interesting things that potentially came out of that is, in season four, Robin is definitely autistic. Apparently, that was a time period where she would not have been diagnosed and they would’ve not used the word autistic. It would be nice to get outside canonical clarification from the Duffer brothers on that. There’s definitely a big trend of including more neuro-divergent characters, but then never acknowledging their neuro-divergent, which again is better than nothing, but also why not? Does it make you feel like they are ready to stand by their representation here?
Oren: I have one more question. What was up with the Mormon theater house?
Wes: They’re like, ‘We are going to take them to Dustin’s girlfriend’s house and we’re going to make it some – I don’t know! There are just too many kids. Why?
Oren: It’s a big family. I confirmed that. At first, I thought maybe this was supposed to be some kind of orphanage, but no. Why are they all theater kids? Even the ones who were cooking were cooking theatrically! And the rest of them were just straight up doing performance pieces! What is happening in this house?
Chris: The thing that really bothered me about that sequence was the fact that the older sister is just clearly exhausting herself looking after all these kids. And she wants Dustin’s girlfriend to help her. She wants her younger-but-still-older-than-the-kids sister to help her and she’s refusing to and just doing her hacking stuff, which is still great.
And we have Argyle who sees the older sister and it’s love at first sight. ‘She’s so cool.’ Okay, well, why don’t you offer to help her with the kids? That’s clearly what she cares about right now. She’s really stressed out. and he’s like, ‘No.’ And then he just doesn’t. Dude, offer to help her with the kids, seriously. And he never offers while she’s running around, stressed out, trying to look after these kids. And he’s like yearning for her, never just offers to help her with the kids. Finally, I guess I got high in the truck together, which is fine, but would she want to do that when she’s supposed to be looking after the kids? That’s the part that bothered me. Is it so inconceivable that a dude would help with children?
Oren: Well, maybe the Duffer brothers can listen to that critique and incorporate it into season five. Because they do that sometimes.
Chris: And they’ll probably add a special plot tangent where the characters then go out of their way again for no reason, dust so we can have scene of Argyle helping with children.
Oren: ‘This is the Susie’s house plot.’ So with that, I think we’ll go ahead and call this episode, the end of season four of the podcast, baby! Actually, that’s next episode. Next episode is our 400th, so that’ll be the end of our season four. Well, that was timed one off.
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