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The Stranger Things Season 4 Finale Leaves Hawkins in a Dark Place

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The season’s final two very long episodes contain an immense melancholy in addition to the blockbuster experience.

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tranger Things has always worn its love for the movies on its sleeve, with its blizzard of 80s cinematic references.

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On a visual level, the season’s second volume delivers a blockbuster experience, full of epic special effects, though it’s moved much closer to a gory horror movie than to the ET and Goonies-style adventures of its early years.

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The show also upped the expectations of fans who devoured the first part and began projecting all of their fantasies and theories onto these remaining episodes.

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Some theories felt like an attempt to cushion an anticipated blow: Stranger Things has made a habit of killing off characters, from Barb to Billy, so fans have been anxiously speculating on who it might be this season.

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Would the increasingly charming Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) bite the dust, or perhaps Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), who seemed to fade into the background with every passing episode this season? Then there was quick-witted Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke),

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who was quoted in the trailer saying, “I have this terrible feeling it might not work out for us this time.” In the build-up to the finale, it seemed like any member of the cast could get mind-flayed and neck-snapped.

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The quip-heavy first half of the season gives way to an extended battle that results in the death of a few major characters, not to mention the emotional trouble that’s been brewing.

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Plucky Max (Sadie Sink) continues dealing with the trauma that’s been haunting her all season (cue “Running Up That Hill”), while Will gets the long-awaited reveal of his sexual longings— sort of.

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It’s a a moment so subtle you might miss it, hidden in a heartfelt conversation with best friend Mike (Finn Wolfhard) about a canvas he's painted featuring Mike as the heart of their gang.

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Pretending to speak for El (Millie Bobby Brown), Will says tremulously, "Sometimes when you’re different you feel like a mistake.”  Will has been suffering so silently all season that his rush of tears is startling

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Mike remains clueless and so there is no real catharsis for Will, but at least the show is creating room for him to finally come out in the next season.

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Meanwhile, Steve is the show’s poster boy for emotional transformation, and he’s damn proud of of his journey from doofus jock to sensitive doofus. Having a heart to heart with ex-sweetheart Nancy on a dangerous journey to the Upside Down

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he tells her that he crawled backwards as a baby. “Right out of the gate I’m superconfident but I’m also like an idiot. It’s a brutal combination,” he admits. “But the good news is, if I get a big enough bump on my head I can change.”

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Steve is joined in his unlikely valor this season by Eddie Munson (Joe Quinn), a lovable metalhead and D&D master who becomes a mentor to Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo).

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Vecna tells El that when she banished him to the void, “I became an explorer of a realm unspoiled by mankind”—commander of a hive of sentient particles and monsters that absorb its victims’ memories and essences.

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It also means that survivors of his wrath can feel him. “I can still remember what he thinks and how he thinks,” says Will mournfully. “And he’s not going to stop, ever, until he’s taken everything.

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That leaves the inhabitants of Hawkins—and us—in a very bleak place, evil particles leaking out of the Upside Down, waiting for the apocalypse that lies ahead.