Stranger Things season 4 is a solid, if uneven, entry that delivers more of the escapism and thrills that made it such a success. Its plot threads may be a bit scattered and its reliance on explicit and graphic violence occasionally feels like grasping, but there's enough passion from everyone involved here to keep it all together.
Across its seven episodes, this latest outing finds the kids in troubled times. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) has trouble fitting in at school, while Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) are battling their respective issues with the bullies. Nancy (Natalia Dyer) still misses her brother and Joyce (David Harbour) is struggling to come to terms with Hopper's death.
But it's the introduction of a new horrifying threat that truly ups the stakes for this gang of misfits. Vecna, a vicious and mysterious creature from the Upside Down world, is a worthy adversary that gives the Mind Flayer a run for its money. His grisly death scenes and the response of the town to him tap into real-life 1980's Satanic Panic (especially the fire-and-brimstone mob mentality around Dungeons and Dragons), and is truly unsettling.
Season four also benefits from a few inspired new characters, especially Eddie Munson (an inspired Joseph Quinn) and the flamboyant theatricality that he brings to his role as founder of the high school role playing society Hellfire Club. He's not a reskinning of Billy from seasons 2 and 3, but he's an impressive addition to the cast.