What’s really at stake in Stranger Things after the season 4 finale?

spoiler alert

If you’ve spent a lot of time in the last month hypothesizing what the last two episodes are stranger things Season 4 might bring you probably consumed by a single question: who would die?

In the meantime between the release of the first seven episodes of the season on Memorial Day weekend and the release of the last two episodes on Friday, stranger things Detectives focused on the fate of Steve Harrington (​​Joe Keery), whose limp-haired and reformed evil boyfriend days many expected to be numbered after his encounter with giant bats. Were their bites poisonous? Is there rabies in the Upside Down? Would Steve ever get a chance to reconcile with Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer)?

As episode eight began, the Duffer brothers seemed eager to tug at our hearts. There was Steve telling Nancy about his dreams for the future, laughing at childhood memories and thanking her for helping make him a better person. There was Dustin Henderson (Gate Matarazzo), Steve’s longtime counterpart, paired with Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) instead. The stage seemed set for Steve’s heartbreaking departure.

But everyone’s favorite babysitter made it out of season 4 alive. So does the rest of the core characters of the series. The most notable deaths in the last two episodes have included Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine), aka Papa, the longtime head of Hawkins National Laboratory, who fell in a dramatic shootout between government operatives in a helicopter and Netflix’s per-episode budget; Jason Carver (Mason Dye), this season’s fear-inducing antagonist, who landed on the wrong side – er, sides – of a newly opened gateway to the Upside Down; and beloved Eddie, who died in Dustin’s arms after taking on a colony of bats alone. (Rest in power, my mate; we always will totally awesome Metallica solo on the roof.)

Eddie’s death was the most tragic of all, but it came as no shock: As a newcomer with a limited storyline, his fate seemed in jeopardy before the finale, much like that of Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery) in Season 3’s most breathtaking and devastating loss of an episode 9 seemed to come when the kids couldn’t save Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) in time from Vecna’s curse. As Moby’s “When It’s Cold I’d Like to Die” swells, Max shudders in Lucas Sinclair’s (Caleb McLaughlin) lap, her arms and legs broken and blood covering her face, before finally falling silent.

Only, well, then she immediately comes back to life. Just two scenes after Lucas is screaming and crying for help over Max’s body — a feat by McLaughlin in a season often plagued by the growing pains of a group of senile children — we see Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) work a miracle . “No,” she says before bringing Max back to life. “We make our own rules.”

Herein lies the problem: from season 4 it is no longer clear what death means stranger things. If Eleven can magically revive people, what’s at stake in the show’s near-constant life-and-death situations? And if a character can be brought back to life at any time, how seriously should audiences take the ending of a regular series?

After all, Max is not the first stranger things Figure to come back from beyond the veil. Among the marginal figures, take the burner; He only died in Episode 8 because he reappeared in the fifth episode of that season, having previously been presumed dead since the Season 1 finale. Among the headliners is Jim Hopper (David Harbour). In the season 3 finale, he disappears as an upside down gate closes, leaving his sparring partner Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) in tatters. But then Hopper reappears, seemingly alive, in a not-so-subtle post-credits scene.

Even Eleven pulled a similar ruse, disappearing at the end of Season 1, being mourned by Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) and the gang, and then emerging safe, healthy, and hungry for Eggos at the Season 2 peak. stranger things also used the same narrative device with villains. This season culminates with big villain Vecna ​​falling from the attic of his house after two Molotov cocktails and a round of shotgun blasts from Steve, Nancy and Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke)…only he’s gone when the trio arrives, to look for his body downstairs (itself a homage to Michael Myers’ Post-Fall Vanishing Act in the 1978s Halloween).

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What’s remarkable here isn’t just that stranger things seems reluctant to kill any of its main characters; It’s not unique in that regard, and Resurrection is a staple of the genre. Notably, the series is reluctant to admit the audience think it might dare to ditch every member of the core cast, despite the premise underlying the show.

In Hopper’s case, only 20 minutes of running time elapses between Joyce noticing that he’s gone and the post-credits scene where a Soviet prison guard points to a closed cell and says, “No, not the American” – a unequivocal indication that Hawkins Police Chief survived. This season, the gap between Max and the moment El begins reviving her is only two minutes and 10 seconds.

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That’s not even stranger things‘s shortest presumption of death. That honor goes to Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), who seems doomed when Joyce and Hopper finally catch up with him in Upside Down in Season 1. How long before Joyce yells, “He’s not breathing!” that our somber king sits up with a gasp? One minute and 21 seconds.

On the one hand, the showrunners clearly understand the emotional resonance that the death of a mainstay of the series would have. The grieving characters are featured throughout, from Lucas’ touching performance this season to Joyce finally being reunited with Hopper and telling him she grieved for eight months, believing him dead. “We had a burial‘ she says quietly. On the other hand, there are only so many times that the show can play a version of the back-from-the-dead map. By playing it again to complete Season 4, stranger things raises questions about both the plot of the show and what is expected of a fifth and final season.

As for the first part of it: Elf suddenly showing that she can revive the dead raises a long list of follow-up questions. Could she always do that? Is there a time limit on their powers? Even if this is a new skill she developed this season while training in an underground Nevada bunker, why didn’t she try to save Eddie? (She hadn’t met Eddie as a result of the Byers family’s move to California, but surely her friends from Hawkins could have taken his case.) And is it still possible that El could undo the deaths of other characters like Billy? Bob Newby and Barb?

Yet it’s the latter concern – what this means for Season 5 – that feels more central to determining if stranger things can ultimately deliver a satisfactory conclusion to the series. With the barrier to the Upside Down now broken and Vecna ​​revealed as the show’s ultimate villain, Hawkinsites’ ragtag crew will no doubt once again face mortal peril. In the next season, fans will once again study the tea leaves and fret over the survival of characters like Steve, Max and Hopper. But with stranger things For example, would a scene where this rabies variant Upside Down finally sets in would have the same set-up as it repeatedly reverses the course of death? When a fan favorite falls in excruciating fashion, what reason is there to believe it’s forever?

At this point, I know what I’m going to do the next time a main character seems doomed: sit still and wait for the miracle in a few minutes.

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