Stranger Things Season 4, Chapter 3: The Monster and the Superhero

*Spoilers*

After the significant plot developments of Chapter Two, Chapter Three shifts into low gear once more. Considering how many hours are left in the season, it’s not a bad idea for the writers to pace themselves. Since Chapter Three strikes me as a “bridge” episode, it may be worthwhile to share some thoughts that didn’t make the previous reviews.

Director: Shawn Levy
Writers: Caitlin Schneiderhan, (Matt Duffer; Ross Duffer, creators)
Runtime: 63 minutes
US Release:  May 27, 2022; Netflix

As stated at the end of the write-up for “Vecna’s Curse”, there are a lot of plot lines. While they each maintain a distinct cohesion, you can’t help but favor some over others. For example, this reviewer has hardly mentioned anything about Hopper’s (David Harbour) Soviet escapades, Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Murray’s (Brett Gelman) unexpected teamwork, or Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and Argyle (Eduardo Franco) doing their best Cheech & Chong. The further I get into season four, the reasons for this become more apparent: I am not as deeply invested in these stories. Not because they’re not well done (they are), but because the horror story happening in Hawkins is that good.

As “The Monster and the Superhero” unfolds, you are reminded of this dichotomy. In Hawkins, the mystery reveals itself clue by clue with each half of the Scooby Doo gang having moments of revelation. Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Robin (Maya Hawke) unearth a pivotal discovery; they learn the institutionalized killer, Victor Creel, was committed for believing that a demon had slain his family. Naturally, the girls decide they need to speak to Victor directly. As for Steve (Joe Keery), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Max (Sadie Sink), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) (who has abandoned the basketball team and rejoined the fold), their stakes are gravely raised.

Now this is the spin-off we need.

Sadie Sink emerges in Chapter Three as the true standout of the season thus far. Unable to speak about the traumas of her life (including, but not limited to Billy’s death), she has placed herself in Vecna’s cross hairs. The demon, we learn, stalks those with just the kind of unresolved troubles as Max; by the end, she realizes this too.

With such eerie suspense developing, it’s hard to pull away for an obligatory scene with Jonathan and Argyle. They’re an entertaining duo, but let’s be honest, one we’re not here to watch. Even the action-adventure film Hopper, Joyce, and Murray find themselves in. As much as we love the characters (and as well done as the action-adventure is), it feels more like a spin-off than an integral element of season four.

The only side-quest that feels important is Eleven’s (Millie Bobby Brown). She displays true growth in the shedding of her wannabe-normal-girl facade, embracing the outcast superhero she is. When Eleven sits down with Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) at the diner and accepts his call to adventure, it’s a true fist-pump moment. Not only is she going to save the world, but she’s going to escape the mendacity of Lenora Hills.

El orders waffles and all is right with the world.

“The Monster and the Superhero” sets up important pieces, but not every piece feels like it moves the Hawkins story forward. I am sure each will converge by season-end, but the Vecna horror is compelling enough to render everything else mere distraction.

by Vincent S. Hannam

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