It is time! Netflix’s highly awaited fourth season of its science-fiction phenomenon, Stranger Things, is finally here. Matt and Ross Duffer have had us on the edge of our seats these last few weeks with new trailers, posters, and just a few peeks into what we are heading into. And in the season premiere episode, “Chapter One: The Hellfire Club,” we jump right into the action. El (Millie Bobby Brown) faces new school bullies while back in Hawkins, a scrappy D&D player shakes up game night. We are sure you have waited long enough, so let’s dive right in!

DISCLAIMER: This is a recap and, by definition, contains spoilers. More spoilers than times Will (Noah Schnapp) will ask to play D&D. So; we highly suggest checking out season four first and then coming back and catching up with our recaps!

SECOND DISCLAIMER: In the wake of the tragic school shooting in Texas earlier this week, Netflix has placed a content warning on the beginning of this episode which contains violence against children. If you wish to skip that portion of our recap, please skip paragraphs two and three.

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“Chapter One: The Hellfire Club” opens on a quiet street before a young kid rides into the frame delivering newspapers. A faceless man picks one up, and we watch as he times himself to complete the crossword puzzle, take care of his bonsai tree, shave and get ready for the day. But this isn’t just any man. It’s Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine), alive and kicking.

We jump back to September 8, 1979, to Hawkins National Laboratories, where we spot a much younger El and family spending time in the Rainbow Room. These aren’t fun games but ways to hone their abilities. Dr. Brenner arrives and chats with a boy labeled 010 (Christian Ganiere). He takes him to conduct some more lessons and passes by El’s door. 010’s lessons start easy before Dr. Brenner asks him to find Dr. Ellis. The search starts well until 010 realizes that something is wrong, and within moments the alarms sound, and we hear gunshots.

010 warns Dr. Brenner that both Ellis and 006 are dead before something rips the door off its hinges, sending it directly at Dr. Brenner. He awakens a while later to find himself alone in the lab and 010 dead next to him. We can hear screaming in the distance, and Dr. Brenner heads out after it. As he passes by the rooms, he finds the other children and fellow staff dead. He finally reaches the Rainbow Room, where a young El (Martie Blair) is left standing, refusing to tell him what she has done.

Cue the opening sequence! Give us your best Hopper (David Harbour) shimmy!

“Chapter One: The Hellfire Club” returns to the present day as El narrates her letter to Mike (Finn Wolfhard) while working on a school project. She is busy with school while Joyce (Winona Ryder) has a new job, Will is painting and acting weird, and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) is acting even weirder while waiting to hear about college. Outside, the Surfer Boy Pizza truck comes flying up with Argyle (Eduardo Franco) in the front seat. The new kid is friends with Jonathan, drives them to school and smokes smelly plants in his off time.

The kids head off to school as El talks about how she is learning to love California. We don’t know if she is lying to herself along with Mike. It’s pretty clear that she doesn’t have a lot of friends in school and is being bullied. We wonder if Will is facing the same issues too.

El painting a mini of Hopper.

Image courtesy of Netflix 2022.

Back in Hawkins, Mike is gushing over El’s letter when Nancy (Natalia Dyer) reminds him they have to leave for school right away, leaving Mike to rush to find clothes and run out the door. Before he can, though, Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler (Joe Chrest and Cara Buono) remind him that he needs to be home by 9 pm or no flight to California. Maybe the idea that he might not get to see El will get him home in time.

Elsewhere in Hawkins, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Suzie (Gabriella Pizzolo) are trying to hack into the student records. It seems like Dustybuns isn’t great at Latin and needs some help from Suzie to make that D- an A. They almost miss the chance when Dustin’s mom (Catherine Curtin) nearly comes barreling in, but they are able to complete the mission.

“Chapter One: The Hellfire Club” jumps to our new favorite duo, Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin (Maya Hawke), as they discuss relationships on their way to school. Robin is having a rough morning, and Steve knows it is because she is worried about a girl named Vickie. Robin has a crush and is scared that if she asks her out, she will become the town pariah. Steve thinks that Robin is overthinking this. Clearly, Vickie is interested in girls. She returned Fast Times paused at 53 minutes and 5 seconds.

Everyone arrives at school, including Max (Sadie Sink), who seems to be more closed off than ever. During the pep rally, Robin sneaks peeks at who we assume is Vickie (Amybeth McNulty), Dustin and Mike argue about who has the better girlfriend. We learn that they are all attending the pep rally because Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) is on the basketball team. The captain’s speech starts off a bit awkward (hey, it’s high school, we get it) but then turns rather serious.

He remarks on how he hyped up his fellow teammates during their near loss the night before by reminding them that they are doing this for every one they lost. I get the sentiment, but it falls rather flat for those who actually lost people. Winning a basketball game seems pretty trivial when some people really know what happened to Hopper and Billy (Dacre Montgomery).

However, the group has more important things to deal with, like Lucas will miss Hellfire Club, thanks to being at the basketball game. It seems that just moving the night they meet is just as hard as rescheduling an entire tournament. And we are all reminded that the truly evil villain in every D&D campaign is the player’s schedule. The guys aren’t sure why this game is so important to Lucas, and it turns out that he is tired of being bullied. He knows that if he can become friends with the other players, then they will be in a better place.

Mike realzing that Lucas is going to miss Hellfire Club because of the basketball game.

Image courtesy of Netflix 2022.

“Chapter One: The Hellfire Club” returns to California, where Joyce receives a rather odd package. It is covered in stamps from Russia, and inside is a Russian doll. It’s unclear if she knows who sent her the doll, but we have our ideas. At the school, El gives her presentation on why Hopper is her hero. The snotty twit that went before her tries to make a fuss over the fact that El didn’t choose someone historical. The questions make El uncomfortable. She eventually makes it out of class, and even though Will tries to make her feel better, she reminds him that friends don’t lie.

Another quick note, in the scene, the girl sitting next to Will tries to play footsy. Except, he isn’t interested in her in the slightest. El remarked in her letter to Mike about Will possibly being interested in someone, and we are even more curious about who it might be.

Back in Hawkins, Max is making her way through the school and passes Lucas without stopping to say hello. She also didn’t wave to him during the pep rally either. It is pretty clear that she is either cutting herself off from everyone or, at least, just him. She heads into counseling, where they discuss her grades and home life. Max lies about how everything is going. She is having nightmares, headaches and not sleeping well after Billy’s death last season.

Outside, Lucas catches her attention and tries to get her to take a ticket to his game. He knows that she doesn’t normally go to them, but he was hoping that she would since it meant a lot to him. He can see that something is wrong with her, which worries him. But Max just chaulks it up to her breaking up with him and that people change. She hands back the ticket before rushing off into the bathroom.

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There, we see that she is medicating for headaches before she hears someone throwing up in the bathroom. Max tries to make sure Chrissy (Grace Van Dien), the cheerleader from the pep rally, is okay, but she gets sent away. Chrissy then hears knocking against the stall and assumes it’s Max still. However, we hear an eerie voice call out to her. It’s her mother’s voice, and she is asking if she is ready to try on the dress.

Things take a turn for the terrifying as Chrissy tries to block out the nightmare happening in front of her. We catch a glimpse of what looks like monster feet under the door. Eventually, the noises and rattling stop and Chrissy finds herself in an empty bathroom. Whatever threat was on the otherside of that door is gone…for now.

In the lunchroom, Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) is going on about the D&D Satanic Panic that swept through the 80s. Mike and Dustin find the best way to approach Eddie is pretty revved up. He puts on a bit of a show claiming that people think they are crazy just because they like to play a game. He even stands on a table (ew, where have your shoes been?) and calls out the basketball team.

Eddie talking with Dustin and Mike about Lucas missing Hellfire Club in the Hawkins High School Cafeteria.

Image courtesy of Netflix 2022.

Once he is settled, Dustin uses this moment to break the news that Lucas won’t be available for the finale of their epic adventure at Hellfire Club. They know they can’t beat whatever sadistic threat Eddie has planned without him and just want to postpone the game. Clearly, that isn’t going to happen. Eddie takes a moment to remind them that they need to find themselves a sub for Lucas and be prepared to show up for the game. If he is this serious about not letting them postpone, what will happen when Mike tells him he is leaving at 9?

“Chapter One: The Hellfire Club” returns to Joyce, who has turned to Murray (Brett Gelman) for help with the mysterious package. Maybe not the best choice, but her only one at the moment. He thinks that the Russians are after her for everything she did last season. You know, blowing up their lab and ruining their plans. The KGB is after her. Murray gets the bright idea to see if something is written on the doll, and Joyce realizes it’s broken but has been glued back together. Now it’s time to break that doll apart!

At the school, Jonathan breaks down why Nancy isn’t coming to California for spring break while Nancy explains to one of her fellow newspaper workers why Jonathan isn’t coming to Hawkins. Their friends don’t understand what is going on, but they know that neither of them understands how the other works. The way they talk about each other is so swoon-worthy, and this season needs a Jonathan-Nancy meet-up.

Nancy is eventually cut off when Mike barrels into the room and tries to convince her to join Hellfire Club. That would be a no. Steve is also a no since he has a hot date to attend. The scramble to find another player is on, and no one is interested in joining. I bet Will would be there in a heartbeat. After failing to find someone, Dustin has the bright idea to say screw the high school and the two head off running towards the middle school.

We jump to Chrissy, who leaves the school grounds and heads into the woods. Smart idea after the little event that took place in the bathroom. More creepy stuff happens, and a clock appears in a tree before Eddie pops up out of nowhere. It turns out that she is out there to buy drugs from him and her being skitterish has him on edge. She asks Eddie if he ever feels like he is losing his mind, to which he responds most accurately – on a daily basis.

Through their conversation, we learn that they have met before and maybe, just maybe, something is sparking between them, or he is just trying to get her to buy from him. I didn’t know how I felt about Eddie at the beginning of the episode and through the trailers, but he is really growing on me. He is kind of charming, and the way he gets Chrissy to laugh and smile even though we know she thinks she is going crazy inside.

Will trying to help El put her project back together after Angela's friends broke it.

Image courtesy of Netflix 2022.

Back in California, El gets a disappointing grade on her math test, and things only get worse when the school brat bullies her outside and breaks her project. El tries to use her powers against her before remembering that she can’t use them at all in a moment of anger. It only makes this worse, and eventually, a teacher shows up and drags Angela (Elodie Grace Orkin) off. Will rushes over to try and make El feel better, but it seems like the damage is already done.

Back at their house, Joyce uses a paint can and some rope to break the doll open. Murray tries to warn her against bombs blowing up in her face, but Joyce isn’t paying attention and drops the paint can and phone simultaneously. Murray has a minor freakout (gosh, we really do love him), but Joyce is okay. Inside the doll is a note. But not just any note. It tells her that Hop is alive and looks forward to date. We know only one Hop who wants a date, and so does Joyce!

“Chapter One: The Hellfire Club” returns to Hawkins, where Lucas and the basketball team get ready for the big game with Steve and his date in tow, Nancy reporting on the game and Robin performing with the band. Tammy returns to sing the national anthem, which is an excellent nod to the conversation Steve and Robin had in the bathroom in season three, and Steve was right; she can’t sing. Robin almost lets it slip that she had a crush on her, but she catches herself before going back to making funny faces at Steve.

Elsewhere in the school, Mike and Dustin show up with Lucas’ sub, Erica Sinclair (Priah Ferguson), the greatest little sister in Stranger Things. Eddie tries to tell them she can’t join, but Lady Applejack stands her ground, and the games begin. The episode then flips back and forth between Lucas’ game and the Hellfire Club game. We see some highs and lows, and the Sinclairs bring about victory in the end. Fellow D&D players will understand that last-minute clutch critical hit and how good it feels to win.

After the match, Lucas spots Mike and the others and realizes that they have replaced him with Erica. He tries to play off the hurt, but it’s pretty clear that even though he should feel like he is on top of the world, he misses his friends more. At Max’s house, she listens to the game’s radio broadcast before shutting it off when they start talking about Lucas. She heads out of her room when she hears the dog. It becomes clear just how bad her home life has become. Her mom is drinking, smoking and passed out on the couch, and it’s pretty clear that Max is taking care of herself.

When she gets outside to feed the dog, she spots Eddie (who lives across the street) pull up with Chrissy and the two head inside. Max chooses to ignore them before heading back inside. Over at Eddie’s, he is cleaning up a bit while looking for the drugs he told Chrissy about earlier. He goes searching through the trailer while Chrissy becomes more uncomfortable. She eventually begins to hear the clock chimes again. She gets spooked and goes heading for Eddie when she is forced into a hallucination where she sees her mom, and then a monster starts chasing her.

Eddie finds the drugs and then comes back to find Chrissy just standing there in a trance. He tries to wake her up, but nothing is working, and then the lights begin to flicker. In her hallucination, we see a creepy man make his way down the stairs as she heads off running. She learns that she is stuck in the house when she tries to leave. Eventually, the creature, Vecna (OMG VECNA), catches up to her. In the real world, Eddie realizes that Chrissy is floating before she is slammed against the ceiling and broken apart. Talk about the nightmares. And that is how “Chapter One: The Hellfire Club” comes to a close.

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Stranger Things has done a lot of things over the years. It has never been afraid to go over the top on the horror or gore but still remembered that it is paying homage to the 80s and meant to feel like it came from that time period. But the final moments of this episode have to be some of the creepiest I have seen across all the seasons. And I am here for it! Poor Chrissy, though. And Eddie bearing witness to that! I have a feeling that he is going to be pinned for her death. We’ve still got a lot more to go, but this is a fantastic start!

Time’s a-wasting, friends; let’s dive into episode two!

TV Series Review: STRANGER THINGS Season 4 Volume 1

 

 

Julia Roth
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