Why the Ending of “Stranger Things 4” Is Irritatingly Disappointing
The second most-watched series in Netflix history ends with a "Game of Thrones"-like whimper, not with a bang.
[Spoiler alert: Key elements of the series ending are revealed.]
A few weeks ago on my Weekend Boost, I recommended Netflix’s blockbuster series Stranger Things 4, lauding its spooky, nostalgic fun despite a few incidental flaws. I stand by that endorsement. The final three episodes, released a week ago, amped up the action, suspense, and stakes. Every major character was on the brink of extinction seemingly with no way out. Gasp! Then they rallied, battled, and bled. It was magnificent.
Then came the last 20 minutes.
Instead of leaving the series satisfied and sated, eager for the fifth and final season (reported to be two years away), I was left frustrated and annoyed. It was like eating a great meal, only to end with a sweet dessert that’s turned sour. I’ll get to the reasons in a moment.
First, we need to pay homage to the show’s popularity. Since this season started on May 27th, viewers have watched over 1.15 billion hours of the nine episodes, numbers only surpassed by Squid Games. Last weekend, the show was in Netflix’s top ten in 93 different countries.
That’s a lot of viewers. While I believe that artists should always deliver their best work, regardless of the size of the audience, I recognize the pressure to meet audience’s heightened expectations when a show is this popular. It’s nearly impossible to please fans. Fans’ negative reactions to the series endings for Game of Thrones and The Sopranos is ample evidence. Those disappointed fans were like children whose parents promised to bring home ice cream sundaes but forgot and handed out Tik Tacs instead.
(I’m hungry, so it’s possible all my analogies will be food based.)
So, what goes wrong in those final 20 minutes out of 778 minutes? That’s about six full-length movies.
In general, the risky decision to have longer episodes paid off well. We have more time for characterization and for suspenseful build-up. There’s no need to rush the climax of each episode. Writer-directors the Duffer Brothers understand that much of the entertainment value for fans is the interaction of the characters’ personal dramas and they let that play out. But the final episode is 140 minutes (2 hours and 20 minutes) and the pacing in that episode is not conducive to the length. Especially the aftermath following the “defeat” of the villain Vecna.
Some of my gripes include:
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Too Many Unresolved Plotlines
I’m cool with having cliffhanger endings to a series’ season, but that is only effective if you’ve closed the door on other storylines, so I at least get some sort of satisfaction for all my invested time, emotion, and gnawed fingernails. But the ending here is mostly more open doors and questions. Specifically: