Editorial: Should ‘Stranger Things’ Season 4 Stick or Twist?
We recently got a new trailer for Stranger Things Season 4, teasing a long-awaited reunion for Eleven, Mike, and all the other kids from Hawkins, Indiana. While it shows our protagonists in quite a happy place, it also teases more dark sci-fi/horror developments on the horizon.
we’re gonna have the best spring break ever. pic.twitter.com/D6Xyx9VquE
— Stranger Things (@Stranger_Things) November 6, 2021
While the trailer did plenty to build hype for the new season, it also gave very little away. The only major plot detail that’s been revealed so far is that Jim Hopper is somehow still alive and being held captive in a Russian gulag. That first teaser was also accompanied by a cryptic message on Twitter stating “we’re not in Hawkins anymore”.
This suggests that Season 4 will be expanding the scope of Stranger Things, a move that could make or break the show. It is a risky decision to make: should the showrunners expand its scope, or stay rooted in the small backwater town that everyone knows and loves?
Fans of the series may remember that Season 2 similarly tried to expand its world by having Eleven leave Hawkins for a single episode and meet up with some other teens and young adults with powers. These powered people had also been experimented on by the same organization that did so to Eleven, and it could have been an interesting step into a larger world where we followed several kids with superpowers fighting against shady corporations and the monsters of the Upside Down.
Except that episode turned out to be one of the most widely shunned installments of the entire series. It certainly didn’t help that the kids were a bit too “edgy” and unlikeable, nor that the episode took the momentum away from the overall story at a point when tensions were ramping up, but fans and critics particularly seemed to reject the notion of taking Stranger Things out of Hawkins, Indiana.
Stranger Things made its name as a throwback to classic sci-fi/horror stories from the 1980s, and the small town setting of Hawkins was a vital part of that nostalgia. Many fans felt that by cutting out Hawkins, the show lost a large part of its identity. The reaction to that episode was so strong that the showrunners made sure that the third season never left Indiana and retained the small town horror vibe that fans loved. Eleven’s one-off friends have never been mentioned since.
The third season of Stranger Things was received very well and was considered a return to form, so it’s interesting to see the show look beyond the setting of Hawkins once again ahead of the new season. Would it be a mistake to leave the town behind for new horizons?
It would probably be a mistake to leave Hawkins behind entirely. As has already been pointed out, that town and its loveable residents are key parts of the show’s identity. If it moved on from that setting, it could risk turning Stranger Things into a show that is barely recognizable from its past seasons. It’s important that the series doesn’t forget where it came from.
Yet, it can’t stay there forever. Keeping our protagonists in the same small town fighting a slightly different monster every year threatens to get old and stale. Stranger Things needs to evolve with each season and give audiences something different; the trick is finding the balance between telling stories that feel fresh and exciting, while remembering what it was that made the show great in the first place. If the showrunners feel that they need to go to California or Russia to advance the story and do something new, then that’s what they should do.
The problem with that Season 2 episode was that, after spending most of the season inside Hawkins, the focus was suddenly pulled away from our heroes and we were introduced to a bunch of unlikeable characters who were poorly written, with goals that we didn’t care about. Audiences were never going to get on board with that. But take our well developed protagonists and take them on a journey to far flung locations beyond the borders of their home town, and that spawns opportunities to tell interesting new stories.
In the end, as it so often does, it comes down to the quality of the writing. I’m sure Hawkins will continue to be involved in Stranger Things in some fashion, but if the creators wants us to invest in stories beyond those borders, they just need to make sure that they’re well-written and don’t feel like a subplot of the larger story — doing that will avoid the pitfalls of Season 2.
Pushing forward to tell new stories should always be celebrated with any property, especially Stranger Things. However, the show will have a delicate balance to pull off to make sure people don’t end up wishing they were back in Hawkins.