Season Four reveals its pattern with Chapter Five; beginning with the first episode, the season alternates between “set-up” and “pay-off” episodes. Just as Chapter Three gave us a chance to breathe after Vecna’s reveal in Chapter Two, so too does “The Nina Project” allow us to compose our thoughts following the emotional roller coaster of “Dear Billy”.
Director: Nimród Antal
Writers: Kate Trefry (Matt Duffer; Ross Duffer, creators)
Runtime: 76 minutes
US Release: May 27, 2022; Netflix
Much of “The Nina Project” surrounds Eleven’s (Millie Bobby Brown) journey back into the fluorescent psychic world of Papa (Matthew Modine) and Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser). This is truly the first El-centric episode and Bobby Brown delivers. Her performance in Stranger Things is often a blend of subtle and explosive dynamism that can be hard to keep from being overly dramatic; she is a skilled actor who continues to improve over the years. Her work in Chapter Five provides important propulsion to the overarching story.
Meanwhile, Hopper’s (David Harbor) story also take a significant leap forward. Following his failed prison break, Hopper now finds himself in another facility alongside his Soviet accomplice, Enzo (Tom Wlaschiha), who has also been imprisoned. Like Bobby Brown, Harbor is also given his first chance to shine dramatically; to Enzo he delivers a monologue recapping the fraught events of his life. “I wasn’t cursed… I am the curse”, he laments. It is a potentially melodramatic line that Harbor delivers with impressive earnestness. When he’s finished, the tone shifts to subdued horror; the two men realize their deadly predicament. They look down into the courtyard where human blood and body parts had been mysteriously cleaned up earlier.
Finally infusing Hopper and El’s stories with horror elements is welcomed; you can feel these disparate plot lines converging slowly with the Hawkins crew. Slowly the season is melding together (the way it was always destined to).
As for Hawkins, the gang find themselves exploring the abandoned house of Victor Creel. All boarded up after thirty years of neglect, it provides the perfect haunted house. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Max (Sadie Sink), Steve (Joe Keery), Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Robin (Maya Hawke) go traipsing up and down stairs looking for clues. Not only is the atmosphere delightfully spooky, but it provides dramatic opportunity for character investment. Joe and Nancy begin to slowly rekindle their flame, as does Lucas and Max. None of it is particularly thrilling, and that’s OK. Those thrills are provided with Eddie (Joseph Quinn) finally confronting the jocks, Jason (Mason Dye) and Patrick (Myles Truitt) at Reefer Rick’s boathouse. It’s all very Friday the 13th and ends in yet another victim of Vecna’s bloodlust.
Overall, “The Nina Project” is a perfectly solid bridge episode. Relationships are deepened, clues discovered, and individual stories pushed further along. As the halfway mark of the season, it is an effective fulcrum; we now teeter toward to a finale already shaping up to be a doozy.
by Vincent S. Hannam