DUBAI: “Stranger Things” is back for its penultimate season. Once again, the sci-fi horror show’s main setting is the fictional town of Hawkins — unremarkable except for a laboratory the Ministry of Defense once used for some deeply unethical scientific experiments. One, involving children, resulted in Eleven — a girl with awesome psychokinetic powers. But they also opened a portal to a dangerous alternate dimension: The Upside-Down — where demonic entities dwell, posing a lethal threat to Hawkins and the wider world.
Last season’s finale laid fertile ground for showrunners the Duffer brothers to explore: Eleven vanquished (with bully-turned-hero Billy’s help) the Mindflayer in the Battle of Starcourt Mall, but at the cost of her superpowers; her adoptive father, Hawkins’ chief of police Jim Hopper, was (we thought) killed while destroying the Russian weapon responsible for reopening the portal to the underworld; and Joyce Byers and her sons Will and Jonathan (and the re-orphaned Eleven) moved to California to start a new life.
Six months on (but three actual years since the last season), the rest of the gang (El’s boyfriend Mike, his friends Dustin, Lucas, and Max, his sister Nancy, her ex-boyfriend Steve and his friend Robin) remain in Hawkins — a town in mourning following the Mindflayer’s decimation of its population — hopeful that the Upside-Down is now shut forever.
It isn’t. Obviously. And the new danger takes the show further into horror territory than ever before (although its trademark humor remains thankfully intact too). The humanoid demon and main antagonist, Vecna, is terrifying. Not just for his appearance — reminiscent of the undead in “Game of Thrones” — but for what he does to his victims. (No spoilers, so no descriptions, but it’s genuinely horrific.)
The adrenaline-inducing set-pieces are as slickly executed and powerful as ever, but it’s in the quieter moments that season four really excels (at least in the four episodes we’ve seen). There’s a new depth to the characters — Eleven struggling to adapt to her ‘powerless’ reality and getting bullied at her new school; Lucas hanging with the school jocks so he can be ‘cool’; Max dealing (or not) with her step-brother Billy’s death; Steve learning to be actual friends with a girl — that really adds to the show.
The Duffer brothers have ramped up the jeopardy too; every episode has you convinced something terrible is about to happen to one of the beloved main characters. Four seasons in, “Stranger Things” is only getting better.