BETH NETHERCOTT’s world has been turned upside down since she started watching Stranger Things all those years ago.
When Season Four dropped, she decided to review each episode before watching the next
Here’s her review of Chapter One: The Hellfire Club
It goes without saying that this article contains many spoilers for Stranger Things Season 4 Episode 1… proceed at your own risk!
For three years we have been anticipating a Season Four of the astonishing hit supernatural drama Stranger Things. The Hellfire Club sets us up for an exciting, frightening, and comedic yet emotional season. It is certainly worth watching and sets the bar high for the rest of the season.
As the first episode, the main goals are clearly to establish how the characters have evolved since we saw them last and to introduce us to this season’s villain, Vecna! The writers strike the balance between making sure we know what the characters have been up to between seasons, whilst moving the story forward with emotional, comedic, and scary moments.
Eleven, Will, Jonathan, and Joyce have moved to California while the rest of the gang are still in Hawkins. We learn that Eleven is being bullied, Will is painting something, Jonathan is getting stoned with his new friend Argyle, and Joyce is enjoying working from home. Back in Hawkins, Max is struggling with grief, Lucas is playing basketball, Steve and Robin’s friendship continues, and Mike and Dustin are in the Hellfire Club with their new older friend Eddie.
Eleven has made a “visual aid” about her adopted hero father, Hopper, and we see her presenting this in school. High-school bully Angela trips her and destroys the project, leaving Eleven distraught. Now that she doesn’t have any powers, it appears she is struggling with how to fit in. Will watches the bullies destroy her project, yet never makes any attempt to stand up for her… annoying, but not entirely surprising! Will seems to be preoccupied with his own worries, leading to much real world online speculation and coyness from the series creators, the Duffer brothers. It’s easy to forget also, that Will is likely traumatised from his disappearance into the Upside Down and everyone moving on without him. Maybe he is feeling left behind and lonely? My curiosity has been piqued!
Max is on her way to talk to the school councillor, headphones in, listening to Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)’ [now Number 1 in the UK charts, 37 years after its release!]. Despite constantly reliving the shocking death of stepbrother Billy, she denies she is struggling, blocking out her suffering with music. In Season Three she was dating Lucas, but a lot has changed since then. Lucas reaches out to Max sensing her pain, but she keeps her friends at arm’s length. This left me itching for Max to open up about her mental turmoil. I have to commend the writers for constructing more mature storylines, which I’m sure will develop during the season.
Despite its deep and emotional side, the first episode never failed to make me laugh. One of the funniest scenes is the exchange between Erica (Lucas’s younger sister) and Eddie. Mike and Dustin recruit Erica to join their Dungeons & Dragons game. After exclaiming “this is hellfire club not babysitting club!”, role-playing game leader Eddie is unceremoniously slapped down by Erica’s “I’m eleven you long haired freak!” There’s added comedy value with Steve’s banter with best buddy Robin: “I like boobies, you like boobies, Vicky likes boobies.” Amongst stoned Jonathan’s great one-liners is the claim that “plants are super safe because they are from the earth.”
I couldn’t finish without mentioning the scary new villain, Vecna. The first time we actually see this monstrous form is at the very end of the episode … we all love a classic cliff-hanger! Well, the writers didn’t fail to build the suspense, because without a shadow of a doubt, I’ll be tuning into Episode Two. Vecna’s first victim is Chrissy – a high school cheerleader. Earlier scenes show Chrissy hallucinating, either frightened or upset. Her coping mechanism is drugs, and she visits Eddie’s caravan for supplies. Stranger Things is brilliant at ramping the tension up to…. Eleven? Eventually Chrissy looks almost possessed. Eddie witnesses all of this, but can’t see Chrissy’s terrifying visions, including a spooky grandfather clock and ultimately a deathly encounter with Vecna. I suspect the grandfather clock is significant since it's not the first time we’ve seen it in this episode. Chrissy meets a rather bone-scrunching end - an obvious but very successful way to finish Episode One, leaving me with an abundance of questions.
There are some characters that didn’t get much screen-time, but it’s only the first episode and these are longer than the average. I have theories about the relationship between Vecna and previous seasons’ Mind Flayer. If you’re a Stranger Things fan, then you know anything is possible. This season seems to be pulling out all the stops so I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Next Monday…. Chapter two: Vecna’s Curse.
Written by Beth Nethercott