Thursday, July 4, 2019

REVIEW: 'Stranger Things' - The Gang Learns That the Mind Flayer Has Returned in 'Chapter Four: The Sauna Test'

Netflix's Stranger Things - Episode 3.04 "Chapter Four: The Sauna Test"

A code red brings the gang back together to face a frighteningly familiar evil. Karen urges Nancy to keep digging, and Robin finds a useful map.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the next episode of Netflix's Stranger Things.

"Chapter Four: The Sauna Test" was written by Kate Trefey and directed by Shawn Levy

The show certainly has a problem when it comes to how it uses El and Will's supernatural abilities. Most of the time they are used as convenient plot devices that allow the narrative to increase its tension. It can come at the cost of their personal character development though. Will's personal story of just wanting to play D&D with his best friends has been so devastating this season so far because he is so removed from what Mike and Lucas are now concerned about. He feels left behind and betrayed. And yet, all of that is quickly swept under the rug because the troops have to rally once more in order to save the world. It's a familiar pattern. One where Will is suddenly seen with authority on the subject because he can warn the team when the Mind Flayer is near and what it is capable of doing. That runs the risk of being his only plot function in the narrative though. That could reduce him into being a less interesting character. That's not what is necessary in order to make this story work. Yes, the action eventually has to increase because of some supernatural happenings in this world. Those threats have to present in a different way than they have before. It just shouldn't come at the expense of the main characters and their development. Meanwhile, El's powers can open so much of the world up to her. She can understand and sense that things are not alright while also just spying on her friends. She uses that in order to hold personal grudges. She's still just a teenage girl trying to understand the world after being removed from it for so long. Any information she receives is absolutely life-changing. She takes things very personally. Any betrayal no matter how small can lead to epic consequences. But again, her powers are used in order to assure the audience that the teenagers are safe despite these otherworldly threats they are now encountering. They don't have to be scared of Billy doing any kind of serious damage. That does lesson the impact of that final showdown. It mostly just serves as confirmation that the Mind Flayer has found a new host. He has abandoned Will in service of someone new. Someone who also wants no part of this murderous rampage for vague and cryptic reasons. The show puts in the effort to explain how the Mind Flayer could possibly still exist in this world. And yet, it has not quite provided a strong reason for understanding what it is exactly trying to do. It mostly exists as a terrifying creature that attacks people. It wishes to disrupt this world in a way with lasting repercussions. As such, everyone has to rally together to fight off this attack once more. It just continues to highlight the patterns that have emerged over the course of the series. Each season has something to prove about this show still being compelling and necessary to watch. This season has introduced the Russian agents and their roles in all of this. However, that has mostly isolated certain characters in subplots where they make only incremental progress. That certainly gives Erica more agency in the narrative. She has been obnoxious and unnecessary up until this point. But it's also easy to agree that what she's asked to do for Dustin, Steve and Robin is child endangerment. She is right to negotiate free ice cream for life as a result. In fact, she may also be in the right to renegotiate those terms after they are trapped in their circumstances by whatever is truly going on at the Starcourt Mall. That is ominous. But Hopper and Joyce may be closing in on a lead that could help disrupt the Russians' plans even though they don't know this foreign threat is also endangering their worlds.