By Terrance Turner
May 31, 2022
Social media is buzzing over the premiere of the fourth season of “Stranger Things”. As the season premiered this week, Netlfix debuted an immersive environment for fans of the show, and a contribution to the show’s soundtrack has a veteran singer discovering a brand new audience.
“Stranger Things” debuted in 2016. The Netflix series is set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, in 1983. In the pilot, a young boy named Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) disappears after an encounter with a mysterious beast outside of the Hawkins National Laboratory. Scientists at the Laboratory inadvertently open a portal into the “Upside Down”, an alternate dimension that essentially equals a parallel world.
Will’s mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) and the town’s police chief Jeff Hopper (David Harbour) begin a search for the boy. So do Will’s friends, Mike Wheeler, Dustin Henderson, and Lucas Sinclair. While searching they encounter a telekinetic young girl (Millie Bobby Brown) named Eleven, who helps them in their search.
Hopper seemingly met his end in the season 3 finale, but he’s back for season 4! “We’re excited to officially confirm that production on Stranger Things 4 is now underway — and even more excited to announce the return of Hopper!” series creators Matt and Ross Duffer said in a statement. “Although it’s not all good news for our ‘American’; he is imprisoned far from home in the snowy wasteland of Kamchatka, where he will face dangers both human… and other. Meanwhile, back in the states, a new horror is beginning to surface, something long buried, something that connects everything… Season 4 is shaping up to be the biggest and most frightening season yet, and we cannot wait for everyone to see more. In the meantime — pray for the American.”
Harbour said viewers will see a different side of Hopper this season. “He’s in a brutal environment,” actor David Harbour said in an interview. “He’s going through some brutal external things and also some brutal internal things.” He added: “He’s in Russia; he’s being beat up by prison guards. He’s isolated; he’s alone; there’s a monster in this prison. And also, he’s got these secrets that have kept him from being the father, the man, that he wants to be. And he needs to purge those secrets to move forward.”
“Things take a wild turn, as they do on this show,” teased Winona Ryder.
“The Duffers and I have been working alongside the brilliant Netflix team for months to pull off this surprise,” Shawn Levy, the show’s executive producer and director, said in a statement provided to Entertainment Weekly. “All the hard work was worth it, however, to bring our fans — the greatest fans in the world — this epic reveal they’ve been hoping and waiting for. And this is only the beginning.”
It seems that his new season will take viewers far beyond the town of Hawkins, Indiana. And there are new dimensions for its central character, too. As Variety noted: “With 16 main characters, at least a dozen new characters, and five major locations — including a prison in Soviet-era Russia and a converted underground missile silo somewhere in the American West — it’s frankly surprising that Season 4 of “Stranger Things” has any time to explore quiet moments of personal growth. But anyone tracking the journey of Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) over the course of the show has noticed that the kid who survived the Upside Down has struggled to reconnect with his old Dungeons and Dragons buddies for reasons that don’t seem to have much to do with being captured by a demogorgon from an alternate dimension.”
Entertainment writer Adam B. Vary states: “In the first episode, Will and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) have to give a presentation in their new California high school on a hero they look up to; Will chooses Alan Turing, the gay mathematician who was prosecuted in the 1950s for his sexuality and forced to undergo chemical castration. Will also physically recoils from a girl who shows interest in him. And when Mike (Finn Wolfhard) visits from Hawkins in Episode 2 over spring break, Will appears heartbroken that Mike has been so indifferent to him in favor of his girlfriend, Eleven. Later, in Episode 4, when Mike confides in Will that he wishes he’d expressed his feelings for Eleven more plainly to her, Will offers insight that could easily apply to anyone working up the courage to come out to a best friend.”
“Sometimes, I think it’s just scary, to open up like that — to say how you really feel, especially to people you care about the most,” Will says. “Because what if — what if they don’t like the truth?”
What is the truth?
In an interview with Variety, Schnapp and Brown were ambiguous about Will’s sexuality. “I feel like they never really address it or blatantly say how Will is,” Schapp said. “I think that’s the beauty of it, that it’s just up to the audience’s interpretation, if it’s Will kind of just refusing to grow up and growing up slower than his friends, or if he is really gay.”
At this point, Brown chimed in. “Can I just say, it’s 2022 and we don’t have to label things,” she said. “I think what’s really nice about Will’s character is that he’s just a human being going through his own personal demons and issues. So many kids out there don’t know, and that’s OK. That’s OK to not know. And that’s OK not to label things.”
Schnapp agreed. “I find that people do reach to put a label on him and just want to know, so badly, like, ‘Oh, and this is it,’” he said. “He’s just confused and growing up. And that’s what it is to be a kid.”
Harbour was more direct. “If you’ve been watching the show, you should know that Will is not interested in El,” Harbour said. “He’s interested in someone else in the group.” Later, Harbour added, “Will wants to be in the basement with Mike playing D&D for the rest of his life.”
In the lead-up to the fourth season premiere, Netflix staged a series of unusual promotional events for the show. AdWeek reports: “In London, fans could enter a live recreation of the Upside Down, the home of the monsters called Demogorgons.
But first, they had to find the secret portal. In the week leading up to the launch, Netflix teased fans with an outdoor campaign in London that held cryptic clues to the hidden location of the Upside Down.”
A pizza restaurant led Londners into the Upside Down.
In New York, the Empire State Building turned into a showcase for the pictures. According to NJ.com, “Starting at 8:30 p.m. ET May 26, the building glowed red like the show’s title sequence and a countdown clock signaled the arrival of a light show.”
Beginning at 8:45, “rifts” or gates into the Upside Down were projected on the front of the building.
Now that the show has premiered, a song featured in the series has climbed up the charts.
In the premiere, Max (Sadie Sank) is visiting a friend’s grave when she finds herself in a battle. According to Elle, her opponent is “a new evil from the Upside Down. Named Vecna, this villain preys on people who have suffered some sort of trauma; he infiltrates their minds, haunts and entrances them, then brutally kills them. There seems to be no escape for his targets at first, but our favorite Hawkins teens discover that music therapy can surprisingly help: Playing a song the victim loves can wake them and break them free from Vecna’s trance before he can destroy them.”
In a frightening sequence, Max becomes ensnared in Vecna’s tentacles. As Vecna is choking her, the vision causes Max to levitate above the ground. Her friends scramble to save her by playing her favorite song: “Running Up That Hill,” by English singer-songwriter Kate Bush. As the song plays, the Upside Down portal appears, offering Max a chance to escape. Max breaks free of Vecna’s grasp and runs for her life, narrowly dodging the falling debris around her. She makes it to the portal and back to real life, crashing to the ground and into the arms of her friends.
After being featured in the episode, “Running UP That Hill” has hit No. 1 on iTunes.