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The Big Thing Stranger Things 4 Needs To Fix

The Hawkins AV Club has defended the world from the forces of the Upside Down for three seasons of "Stranger Things," but that war is about to escalate. It's been a few years since Season 3, where the gang faces the behemoth threat of the Mind-Flayer, who finds its way out of the Upside Down into the real world — not to mention the battalion of Russian soldiers who infiltrate the town via the Starcourt Mall. The season ends with the apparent death of Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour), although it quickly becomes clear that he's actually being held prisoner in a Russian gulag.

The latest trailer for "Stranger Things" Season 4 Vol. 1 gives fans the best look yet at what's in store for Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and the gang, though they're all spread out this season. The trailer shows Hopper fighting Demogorgons in the gulag, and Eleven and Will (Noah Schaepp) living in California while Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Max (Sadie Sink) try to live normal lives in Hawkins.

There are a few new threats on the board, and it's obvious that the Duffer Brothers are going big as the show enters the beginning of the end. However, the previous two seasons failed to meet the highs of Season 1. Sure, they were still successful — though Season 3's Rotten Tomatoes score dipped to 89% — but they had some questionable sub-plots along the way.

So what does "Stranger Things" 4 need to fix? Well, it needs to lean into what made it so great in the first place, while also keeping its eye on the ball.

Let it be truly scary

"Stranger Things" Season 1 was refreshing when it first arrived on Netflix, as it pays homage to the horror genre and classic movies of the 1980s. It captures that Amblin sense of adventure from the likes of "The Goonies," and "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," while also being genuinely scary. The way the Duffer Brothers depict the monstrous Demogorgon in Episode 1 as it hunts Will in his own house is utterly terrifying. Season 1 keeps the scares coming, like Barb (Shannon Purser) being dragged to the Upside Down before Nancy (Natalia Dyer) finds her body, oozing with slime.

Although the series has its gross-out moments after that, they're not particularly frightening. "Stranger Things" needs to get back to its hair-raising scares and intense (but not gratuitous) violence to give it some teeth again. The latest trailer for the series is pretty promising, introducing legendary horror star Robert Englund — Freddy Krueger himself — as a disturbed patient in a mental institution, Victor Creel. He's got an intimidating look, with huge scars across his eyes and a disheveled appearance. Considering the Creel House is a key location for the gang this year, it's highly likely that Creel knows about what's ahead, so hopefully the Duffers make the most of having Englund onboard.

Then there's the haunting new villain — who looks like a cross between Pinhead and Freddy Krueger — with his stretched gray flesh and numerous tentacles. The show is obviously riffing on "A Nightmare on Elm Street" with Englund's arrival, so why not unleash this new creature as a full slasher villain?

Streamline the high stakes

One of the biggest problems in "Stranger Things" Seasons 2 and 3 is that it gets too ambitious. Yes, it's great that this world has plenty of possibilities and bigger things to explore, but it has a habit of getting in its own way — while also getting scattershot at times.

A real low-point in Season 2 sees Eleven go off on her own adventure with a random bunch of teenagers, one of which has similar telekinetic powers to the hero. The episode derailed the tension in the run-up to the finale, and felt completely nonsensical. It felt as if Netflix was trying to create a backdoor pilot episode for a brand new spin-off series, although the Duffer Brothers told CinemaBlend they were just trying to expand the universe while exploring Eleven's story a bit deeper. 

Basically, "Stranger Things" Season 4 needs to make sure it's telling a story that escalates the threat of the Upside Down while also being rich in character development. Obviously, that's easy for us to say sitting at a laptop, but the Duffers have proved they can do this already. Just look at the heartbreaking letter from Hopper to Eleven that plays out over the ending of Season 3 — it was a perfect way of showing how he's grown as a father, which gives Eleven some closure as she moves away with Will and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder). 

Now that Hopper is in the Russian gulag, they should make his journey home about wanting to get back to his newfound family, as well as following through on becoming a better man. Balanced with a horrific exploration of the Upside Down and the new villain, and we could be in for something truly great.