Stranger Things Season 4 May Still Have A Subplots Problem

Stranger Things Season 4 May Still Have A Subplots Problem

Stranger Things season 4’s footage indicates that the latest installment might suffer from the same subplot issues as its predecessor. While early Stranger Things season 4 teasers gave the impression that the new season would streamline its story to refocus on the Hawkins Lab and Dr. Brenner, the full trailer seems to indicate otherwise. In fact, Stranger Things season 4 looks more overstuffed than ever.

Combining coming-of-age dramedy, monster-movie thrills, and a whole host of homages to Stephen King and Steven Spielberg alike, Stranger Things is a nostalgia-fest with heart and a solid story at its core. The talented multi-generational cast helps, although it wasn’t until Stranger Things season 2 that emerging supporting stars like Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, and Joe Keery got a chance to shine. However, Stranger Things is not without its problems, and the series has run into a few narrative dead-ends, particularly when the plot grows too byzantine to follow, as was the case in season 3.


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Stranger Things season 3 brought a quicker pace and a lighter tone, two changes that were for the better in some ways. However, some critics complained that this faster pace left more plot threads dangling, and a handful of stories never received satisfying conclusions when season 3 reached its dramatic finale. Hopper’s season 3 character devolution, for example, was seen by some reviewers as the cost of a more broadly comic and less subtle tone. Evidence from early Stranger Things season 4 teasers looked set to learn from this mistake; the return of Matthew Modine’s villainous Dr. Brenner, and Hawkins Lab as a whole, hinted at the possibility that Stranger Things season 4 would return to its familiar small-town setting. However, once more footage became available, it revealed that this may not actually be the case.

Where Stranger Things Season 3 Went Wrong

Stranger Things Season 3 Suzie Dustin

From its opening scene introducing a Soviet version of Hawkins Lab to the Mind Flayer body-snatching storyline to the Mayor’s convoluted land-grab subplot, Stranger Things season 3 simply had too many story strands for viewers to become invested in any one story. At some points, this approach paid off handsomely, with the debut episode’s mention of Dustin’s presumably imaginary girlfriend Suzie setting up their eventual Never-ending Story singalong in the finale, one of Stranger Things season 3’s best scenes. However, Stranger Things is more of a drama than a comedy. While the setup/payoff approach worked in cases like this, the sheer number of plot threads left dangling made emotionally investing in any one story implausible.

While Hopper’s struggle with parenting Eleven was ultimately turned into a touching moment by his (short-lived) self-sacrifice, his explosive anger at Mike (and Mike’s unexplained newfound arrogance) was set up for a single scene and never addressed again. Similarly, Hopper’s sudden infatuation with Joyce Byers was obviously intended to make his (apparent) death more poignant. However, since Stranger Things season 3 was busy telling the tale of small-town bully/villain Billy’s possession, there was little time for this plot to pay off as anything more than Hopper boorishly asking Joyce out repetitively despite the recent death of her boyfriend, Bob Newby. None of the season’s subplots were notably weak by themselves. In fact, Dustin, Steve, and Robin’s pursuit of the Soviets was a refreshing comic relief subplot, but it didn’t truly fit into the bigger picture right away. Rather, season 3 of Stranger Things proved unable to keep all of the proverbial plates that it set up spinning early on in unison, and as a result, lost tension with meandering digressions.

Why Dr. Brenner’s Return Is Good News


In Stranger Things season 1, Hawkins Lab technicians led by Brenner were the show’s lone human antagonists, while the Demogorgon was the only monster in the series. Both were established early in the season’s pilot episode, and the threat they represented was clear. Season 2 of Stranger Things added more monsters with the Demodogs and more human villains via Billy, as well as beefing up the supporting cast and earning critical approval in the process. However, by season 3, there was the Mind Flayer’s blob-monster form, the possessed Billy and his deranged followers as monster antagonists and the Soviets, the corrupt mayor, the remnants of Hawkins Lab, and the Hawkins Post newspaper staff as human villains.

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Cutting back down to one memorable villain—particularly one like Dr. Brenner, who played a central role in the setup of Stranger Things as a whole and has an obvious, impactful emotional connection to the heroine, Eleven—could let Stranger Things season 4 streamline its storytelling. The human villain has a clear motive in getting Eleven back under his control and avenging his apparent season 1 death. His presence also represents an obvious threat, since viewers have already seen how lethal the denizens of Hawkins Lab can be when their test subjects escape.

Where Season 4 Could Still Falter

Who Speaks in Stranger Things Season 4 Trailer

Stranger Things has the opportunity to streamline its storytelling, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the series will take it. In fact, the Stranger Things season 4 official trailer seems to indicate quite the opposite, as it’s chock-full of content and seems to be drawing on just as many threads as season 3. From Hopper’s exile in Russia to the Byers’ new life in California, the haunted Creel House in Hawkins, the mysterious clock, the humanoid Upside Down figure, and the seeming return of Dr. Brenner and the Hawkins Lab, Stranger Things season 4 appears to be doing the exact opposite of streamlining its story. Likewise, the release of Stranger Things season 4 in two parts adds to its massive scale in a way that isn’t entirely promising. It could be that the series hasn’t learned from its season 3 slip-ups at all.

How Dr. Brenner Could Be Involved In The Penultimate Episode

Matthew Modine Papa Dr Brenner Stranger Things

Even with the apparent overstuffing in Stranger Things season 4’s story, there’s still hope that a Dr. Brenner storyline can re-ground the series and recapture some of season 1’s magic. As Stranger Things season 4’s episode titles spoiled already, there’s a strong likelihood that Brenner will appear in the penultimate episode, “Papa.” Whether this is in the present day, a flashback or some combination of the two thanks to time travel remains to be seen. However, it’s certain that Brenner could play a major role in hearkening back to what first made Stranger Things so compelling: the mystery of human lab experiments in a small town, and the threat posed by human scientists. Given the massive supernatural and international scope of Stranger Things season 3, such a refocusing would probably be exactly what season 4 needs.

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About The Author

Cathal Gunning
(1446 Articles Published)

Cathal Gunning has been writing about movies and TV online since 2020. His obsessions include The Simpsons, Stephen King, the Scream series, and the horror genre in general. He has spent more time thinking about Stranger Things than the writers of Stranger Things, and he has never seen a Star War.

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