[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers through the Season 4 finale of Stranger Things, “The Piggyback.”]
The Pitch: This year’s super-sized season of Stranger Things felt, if anything, a confirmation of Netflix’s confidence in the series — marking it as their true blockbuster tentpole, the thing to keep people subscribing amid price hikes and a nagging sense of doubt in their catalog.
The first seven episodes (all nearly feature-length) set up our rapidly growing set of chess pieces along four branching storylines: Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and her attempts to get her powers back, Joyce’s (Winona Ryder) quest to get Hopper (David Harbour) back from Russia, Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and crew fleeing from the authorities in California, and the kids of Hawkins facing down a spooky new baddie named Vecna.
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When we left them all, the endgame was set: Eleven regained her powers, and discovered that Vecna was actually the Upside Down-ed form of One/Henry Creel (Jamie Campbell Bower), the first of Bremmer’s (Matthew Modine) psychic subjects. The kids successfully saved Max (Sadie Sink) from becoming Vecna’s latest victim, thanks to the soul-healing powers of Kate Bush.
Joyce and Hopper reunite in Russia, thanks in no small part to Murray’s (Brett Gelman) Spies Like Us-level plan, but still need to make their way out of the country. And Mike and the Byerses (Charlie Heaton and Noah Schnapp) set off to reunite with Eleven. And they all need to figure out how to vanquish Vecna once and for all, and make sure the apocalyptic visions Vecna gifted Nancy Wheeler (Natalie Dyer) — of the Upside Down coming to Hawkins — never come to pass.
So the stage is set for a rollicking blockbuster finale that Netflix sees fit to shape into two mega-sized episodes; one the length of Yellow Submarine (85 minutes), the other the length of Roman Polanski’s The Pianist (150 minutes). Of course, you need all that time, considering the Robert Altman-sized ensemble and the bevy of subplots you’ve got to resolve. And the results are largely satisfying, even as the season split makes the finale feel like all climax, no foreplay.