The trajectory of both Netflix and Stranger Things will always feel inextricably linked to one another. While the streaming service had other substantial word-of-mouth hits prior to the debut of Stranger Things, the Duffer Brothers-created and helmed series became a mass-marketable franchise—complete with toys, merch, and spoiler-filled boardgames to match. But the reality of the streamer’s business model has all but turned Netflix, well, upside down, so the premiere of the hit show’s staggeringly expensive fourth season arrives at a critical juncture.
Stranger Things 4 opens in 1986, about a year or so after the battle of Starcourt, with vast swaths of characters scattered to the wind, Return of the Jedi style. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is struggling to fit in amongst bratty high school girls while living with the rest of the Byers clan—Joyce (Winona Ryder), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), and Will (Noah Schnapp). Those left behind in Hawkins are having challenges of their own; Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) are feeling left behind after Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) joins the Hawkins High basketball team but are enthralled by Dungeons and Dragons head Eddie (inspired new addition, Joseph Quinn) and the theatricality he brings as a Dungeon-master.
Nancy’s natural (Natalia Dyer) investigative instincts have landed her a spot at the Hawkins High school newspaper, while Robin (Maya Hawke) and Steve (Joe Kerry) continue their excellent rapport at the local video store. Doing less well is Max (Sadie Sink), who is still mourning the loss of her brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery), and has pulled away from the rest of the group significantly as she processes her grief. Meanwhile, the assumed dead Hopper tolls away in a prison camp behind the Soviet Union’s iron curtain, angling for a great escape. Stranger Things being Stranger Things, it’s only a matter of time before a new threat emerges from the Upside Down to terrorize Hawkins, causing everyone to rally together once more.