Has it really been nearly three years since we last visited Hawkins? After a long wait, the first part of Season 4 of Stranger Things has arrived. A lot has changed since the third season aired in July 2019. When the last season concluded our growing cast of heroes defeated the Mind-Flayer in the Battle of Starcourt Mall. Max’s jerk brother Billy sort of earned redemption as he sacrificed himself. Poor Hopper maybe died (but not really). Eleven seemingly lost her powers. And the Byers family left Hawkins for the California coast. Today Netflix dropped the first seven mammoth episodes with the next episodes expected in early July.
The Hellfire Club Flashes Back in a Pre-Credits Scene
Episode 1, The Hellfire Club, starts in jarring fashion by re-introducing us to Matthew Modine’s ‘Dr. Martin Brenner’ via a flashback to 1979. We’re back in the Hawkins lab where we see several kids in hospital gowns experimenting with telekinetic powers. While Dr. Brenner tests ‘Ten’, chaos explodes in the lab and the lab door blows in. Dr Brenner wakes up to find the walls smeared with blood and everyone dead – except a defiant looking Eleven. Behind Eleven there’s a familiar crack in the wall – is this the first time the doorway to the ‘Upside Down’ has appeared? The scene ends with Brenner asking, “What have you done?”
What have you done?
The Byers Family Struggles With Life Outside of Hawkins
A lot happens in The Hellfire Club, which clocks in at a whopping 76 minutes. Let’s start by catching up with the Byers family and Eleven. On the surface, everything looks and sounds good – at least based on Eleven’s letter to Mike. But poor Joyce is stuck at home selling encyclopedias at home. Jonathan is doing the long-distance thing with Nancy but her success and ambition has him hitting the reefer pretty hard. And Eleven and Will are struggling to fit in at their California high school. Most of the first episode focuses on Eleven’s loss of powers and her pain at losing Hopper. She’s also a complete outsider at school suffering a lot of abuse from her ‘Mean Girls’ peer, Angela.
Anyone who has looked at the promotional material for Season 4 knew this was coming.
Meanwhile Joyce receives a package from Russia. Immediately suspicious of the Russian doll inside the box, she contacts Hawkins conspiracy theorist Murray who advises her to smash it open – albeit from a safe distance. Inside the doll Joyce finds a letter made of up cut-out magazine letters that reads, ‘Hop is alive’. Anyone who has looked at the promotional material for Season 4 knew this was coming.
The Hellfire Club Introduces Us to the ‘Nightmares’ of High School
Back in Hawkins, The Hellfire Club catches up on the growing cast while introducing even more characters. Our three original Hawkins friends – Mike, Dustin, and Lucas – are navigating high school with varying success. Like Season 3, the newest Stranger Things season explores the pains of growing up. While Lucas is finding acceptance on the school basketball team, Mike and Dustin have joined the high school’s ‘Hellfire Club’ – the local Dungeon and Dragons chapter. However, no one is struggling quite as much as Max. Reeling from the loss of her brother and left alone by her mother’s drinking, Max has distanced herself from Lucas and the rest of the group. Lastly, Steve and Robin continue to be the cutest co-workers ever. Robin is crushing on another girl in the school’s marching band and Steve is back on the dating scene.
But the most significant events in The Hellfire Club happen to new characters.
But the most significant events in The Hellfire Club happen to new characters. The Hellfire Club introduces us to Eddie Munson, the president of the Hawkins Dungeons and Dragons club, who also doubles as the town drug dealer. In addition, we meet popular cheerleader Chrissy, who’s hiding a dark secret. Despite their differences on the high school social status spectrum, Eddie and Chrissy bond while she buys drugs to stave off waking nightmares of her domineering mother. Those nightmares take on a huge significance in the episode’s final moments. Unfortunately, Chrissy doesn’t last long. While visiting Eddie for some harder drugs, Chrissy falls into a trance-like state where the season’s ‘big bad’, Vecna, stalks her in a nightmarish sequence. In the real world, a horrified Eddie watches helplessly while Chrissy bleeds from her eyes and her limbs snap into hideous angles.
The Hellfire Club Gives a First Glance at What Promises to Be a Massive Fourth Season
Welcome back to Hawkins and Stranger Things. For diehard fans, The Hellfire Club represents a welcome return to the series and the beloved cast. As advertised, the episodes this season are … long. Though it may be off-putting for newer viewers, The Duffer Brothers are clearly catering to their established fanbase. And the fanbase should love what they see. Season 4 looks like it’s leaning into A Nightmare on Elm Street. That is, The Hellfire Club is invoking the same nightmare world as Craven’s classic. And we already know Robert Englund has a recurring role this season.
In addition, the introduction of Vecna promises a more prominent villain from prior seasons. There’s also allusions to the 80s Satanic Panic. It’s a jam-packed episode. Certainly, The Hellfire Club hints that this season may buckle under the weight of its growing cast and narrative. It’s going to be hard to ensure everyone gets a satisfying arc. But The Duffer Brothers also appear to be in fine form. Their juxtaposition of the Dungeons and Dragons game and basketball championship game is thrilling stuff. At the very least, it’s good to be back in Hawkins.