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Stranger Things has to deal with its biggest problem in season 5

The Duffers need to take some real risks in the final season – and yes, that means doing the unthinkable...

Sadie Sink as Max Mayfield in Stranger Things
Netflix
Published: Thursday, 7th July 2022 at 5:24 pm
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Note: This article contains Stranger Things season 4 spoilers.

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After three long years, Stranger Things finally returned to our screens with quite possibly our darkest visit to the town of Hawkins yet. Taking clear inspiration from '70s and '80s horrors like Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street, it’s undeniable that the show wasn’t pulling its horrific punches – but it certainly seemed to be conveniently missing a lot of potential targets.

While the likes of Chrissy, Fred, Jason and fan-favourite Eddie all perished, conveniently Nancy, Robin, Steve and Dustin all faced certain death and came out on top. There’s certainly a connection here, and it’s one that has repeated since season 2.

The death of Eddie Munson showcases Stranger Things’ biggest problem – the Duffer Brothers just can’t kill (or at least maim) their darlings. The pair have fallen into a comfortably predictable pattern that even the most diehard fan must be growing tired of: a new character is introduced at the beginning of the season (Bob in season 2, Sergei season 3, Eddie season 4), they form a strong relationship with another character (Bob/Joyce, Sergei/Murray, Eddie/Dustin), and finally, that new character is killed off for a quick superficial hit of pathos.

There is a disappointing lack of risk-taking in the Duffers’ approach to shocking the audience for the sake of protecting their favourites – when you realise that Eddie and Steve suffer remarkably similar attacks, and yet one survives while the other perishes, it threatens to undermine the dramatic tension of some of the show’s most nail-biting moments.

Some may be asking, 'Well, what about Max?' Well, Max is also integral to this problem. Season 4 is undeniably ‘Max’s season’, with Sink’s impressive performance as a sister tormented by grief, but the Duffer Brothers fail to create a compelling ending for her story. Max’s ‘death’ and the consequential blinding – an unexpectedly shocking development given her status as a core member – is quickly undermined by an all-too-convenient comatose status.

Stranger Things cast gather round Max (Sadie Sink) in hospital
Max (Sadie Sink) ended up in a bad way in season 4 part 2 Netflix

Following through with Max’s survival, at the severe cost to her sight, would have encapsulated the powerful consequences of facing Vecna without having to outright sacrifice one of the gang. Likewise, this sudden but fundamental alteration of Max would have proved a fascinating challenge for Sink – but I fear that this sudden coma is an easy out for the Duffer Brothers to resolve quickly when the time comes.

There are, of course, exceptions to this issue that plagues the show – Dr Brenner was (seemingly) outright devoured by a Demogorgon at the end of season 1, only to inexplicably return unscathed (without even a scratch!) to finally die on-screen for us. Likewise, there are characters like Billy whose arcs are mapped from their arrival to their final scene, giving them time to make a strong impact in the show and create rippling consequences, like Max’s torment in season 4.

It would also be remiss not to mention the habitual implications of Steve Harrington’s potential demise on the horizon every season, with this latest his closest brush with death – his honest admissions to Nancy of their potential future certainly felt like the Duffer Brothers are setting him up for the most almighty of falls, though.

Joe Keery as Steve Harrington in Stranger Things
Joe Keery's Steve Harrington has escaped death so far Netflix

Ultimately, the Duffer Brothers need to change their attitude toward the central cast’s mortality if they hope to truly elevate their storytelling. No one needs to be gruesomely murdered by a Demogorgon or shot by the government, but there must be consequences to facing beings like Vecna and venturing into the Upside Down to truly bring the show to another level.

Max’s struggle to adjust to a life without vision or Dustin sacrificing himself to save Eddie are narrative developments that are incredibly shocking – but also feel earned, powerful, and most importantly, meaningful. Killing off your new character for the third time in a row and performing death fake-outs for the central character of your latest season feels like nothing but a mechanical extraction of superficial pathos.

In season 5, the gloves need to come off and the central cast needs to be in the crosshairs. With it being the final season, one hopes that the Duffer Brothers will take up this mindset and give us some truly impactful, meaningful storytelling – but considering how broken up the world is over the death of Eddie Munson, there is that old saying: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Read more:

Stranger Things 4 part 2 is now streaming on Netflix. Check out our guides to the best series on Netflix and the best movies on Netflix. If you’re looking for more to watch, check out our TV Guide.

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