Stranger Things season 4, episode 2 review: ‘Vecnas Curse’

Warning: The following review contains spoilers for Stranger Things season 4 episode 2. Turn away now if you have not seen Netflix’s latest venture into the Upside Down…

The Stranger Things premiere brought us up to speed with Hawkins’ various residents, with the opener’s final moments truly kickstarting the season. And what a great mystery to introduce – I now have dozens upon dozens of questions about Vecna, the human/Demogorgon hybrid who seemingly wants revenge on this cursed American town.

The follow-up episode, however, does not immediately start with the aftermath of Chrissy’s death, but instead takes us back to season three, and spends a few moments revealing how Hopper somehow survived an explosion. As conspiracy theorist Murray says later on in the same episode, Hopper should have been vaporized, and seeing the former police chief being whipped around feels implausible, even for Stranger Things.

I’m not personally convinced The Duffer Brothers always intended for Hopper to survive. Let me explain: when the third season was released, David Harbour, who plays the character, was at a turning point in his career, having just portrayed Hellboy on the big screen. He had even landed a role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Surely, if Hellboy had been a success, might a sequel have meant that he could not appear in Stranger Things 4? As we know, Hellboy was not continued, and Harbour was free to return as Hopper. That’s only a theory… and reading that back, I can see that I’m turning into Murray…

The rest of Hopper’s story is linked to Joyce and Murray, as they receive messages from a Russian who claims Hopper is still alive. Their comedy-duo story has a mini-detective feel that revels in having Winona Ryder on-screen. She continues to be a blissful on-screen presence, and hopefully her journey to Alaska does not disappoint.

Back in California, Mike arrives to meet Eleven, Will, Jonathan, and their stoner friend Argyle. The high-school drama around Eleven already feels played out, and the only thing keeping this interesting is her newfound violent streak that harkens back to the mysterious opening scene of the season. I feel sorry for Will, who outgrew his bowl cut two seasons ago, but not sorry enough to be invested in him being the third wheel. Meanwhile, Mike seems careless to the point of being emotionally numb – could he really not see how uncomfortable his best friend and girlfriend were at the roller rink? Meanwhile, Jonathan pining after Nancy while wanting to live his own life just seems… pointless at the moment. And none of this is helped when the other main thread is so much more interesting.

Chrissy’s death has Hawkins on the defensive. The new chief of police is doing some investigative work, heading to Chrissy’s old boyfriend for some questioning. The boyfriend’s all amped up – and wants revenge on Eddie, the leader of the Hellfire Club. Lucas is caught in the middle, wanting to remain a cool kid on the basketball team, but also knowing that Eddie could never have murdered someone. It’s a tense piece of conflict – and I’m wagering there’s no way that Lucas chooses the Tigers over his best friends.

Speaking of, Dustin and Max quickly team up with Steve and Robin. These scenes have that old Stranger Things feeling – a bunch of teens teaming up to find out more about the dark mystery rocking Hawkins. It’s easily the best part of the episode and a reminder of exactly what makes the show so special. Dustin and Steve have superb chemistry – in fact, Joe Keery (Steve) seemingly has electricity with all his co-stars. He’s just so damn charming. And that hair! A special shout-out also to Sadie Sink, who’s doing the most with Max. She’s one of the best actors among the younger cast, and I highly recommend seeking out her Stranger Things-esque horror films Fear Street, also on Netflix.

Finally, we come to Nancy, who’s also looking into the Chrissy case with her new reporter. The episode ends with another murder, with Vecna taking another victim. A little more about the villain’s revealed. It looks like he’s hiding in someone’s attic, and Eddie’s father mentioned the name of a murderer who took people’s eyes – could the two be linked?

I should probably talk about the length of the episode quickly (a word you cannot associate with Stranger Things 4…). The second episode clocks in one minute longer than the premiere, standing at 77 minutes in length. While watching, around the 55-minute mark, I found myself looking at my watch and wondering how long was left – that’s perhaps just my natural body clock setting in after watching hundreds of dramas that are normally pegged to the 50-minute mark. And yet, like with the premiere, come the ending of this episode, I’m not finding myself reaching for the “next episode” button. Stranger Things is balancing a lot right now, and much of it doesn’t seem justified. Eleven’s storyline really is a cliche high-school story I’m just not interested in. The mystery of her past is so much more interesting – let’s hope we delve more into that and less into teen drama territory as the season continues.

Stranger Things season 4 “Vol 1” is out now. For more, check out the best Netflix shows streaming right now.

The Verdict


3.5 out of 5

Stranger Things season 4, episode 2 review: ‘Vecna’s Curse’

Dustin, Max, Steve, and Robin steal the show as Eleven struggles with high-school problems. We want more Vecna!

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