While Stranger Things season 4 was deservedly seen as a return to form for the Netflix hit, the fifth and final season of the series may struggle to recapture what made its fourth outing such a success. Stranger Things season 5 will not have an easy time wrapping up the story of the popular Netflix series. While Stranger Things season 4 was a critical success, this popularity has increased the pressure on season 5 when it comes to providing a satisfying conclusion to the show as a whole.
Fortunately, Stranger Things season 5 won’t repeat one of season 4’s biggest mistakes. Since the show’s huge ensemble cast are now all together in one location, storylines like Jonathan, Mike, and Will’s pointless cross-country road trip and other aimless, time-killing subplots won’t be an issue for this outing. That said, that doesn’t mean that Stranger Things season 5 won’t struggle with problems of its own.
After the excesses of Stranger Things season 3, season 4 succeeded thanks to its small-town scale and the slasher movie-style story with its gradual, organically growing tension. However, thanks to the explosive events of the Stranger Things season 4 finale, season 5 is almost sure to lose this atmosphere. No matter how many characters Stranger Things 5 kills off, it will be difficult for the concluding chapter of the show to make Vecna feel as threatening as the character was before viewers knew his origins and backstory. Similarly, opening up the Upside Down via a massive, town-shaking earthquake will, ironically, make it harder for Vecna to hide his presence, and the villain increasing his visibility is likely to tone down his scare factor further. Luckily, there are ways for Stranger Things season 5 to write around these potential issues and avoid becoming a retread of the show’s oversized, excessively silly season 3.
From the Russians under the mall to half of Hawkins being turned into goo people, Stranger Things season 3 was way too large in scale and lost a lot of the show’s emotional impact as a result. Comparing Stranger Things season 3’s boorish Hopper with the bruised, traumatized antihero of seasons 1 and 4 makes the tonal shift clear. As season 3’s humor became broader, its character beats became more obvious, and any semblance of subtlety was abandoned in favor of volume. It beggared belief that the townspeople of Hawkins were collectively able to ignore the bizarre goings-on in their small town when a rampaging multistory Spider Monster ran through the town during the Fourth of July celebrations, and the sheer scale of the story made Stranger Things season 3 feel more like an action-comedy with horror elements than a small-town mystery with action sequences (as earlier seasons had been). Thus, effective elements like Dacre Montgomery’s superb Billy were lost in the mix.
For its first few episodes, Stranger Things season 4 slowly established a new mysterious villain in Vecna, and brutally killed off sweet, likable new characters one by one. While darker than before, this felt like a return to Stranger Things season 1’s measured pacing and small-town mystery, albeit with a more violent villain. This approach allowed Stranger Things 4 to build tension slowly and up the stakes bit by bit, whereas season 3 had liquefied dozens of townspeople after only a few episodes. However, Vecna then revealed his big plan, and, while Vecna’s origin story itself did a great job tying together the story of seasons 1—4, the fact that viewers now know all they need to know about the villain may not be good for Stranger Things season 5.
The news that Vecna/001/Henry Creel ties the whole story of Stranger Things together was a deeply satisfying revelation, but it comes at a cost. There is no more mystery to the villain and Stranger Things season 5 now has one basic storyline to follow: everyone needs to defeat Vecna. The government conspiracy has been effectively killed alongside Dr. Brenner, the Upside Down leaking into Hawkins will make it outright impossible for Vecna to sneak around and kill people off one by one as he once did, and everyone in the main cast knows everything about the story of Stranger Things as a whole. Stranger Things season 5 can’t focus on minor characters the way season 4 did because the whole cast is now all in one place, meaning the entire season is just working toward one big fight between Vecna and Eleven.
By hiding Vecna and focusing on the army who are hunting Eleven at first, Stranger Things season 5 can avoid feeling like an overlong preamble to an inevitable conclusion. The first few outings of Stranger Things season 5 shouldn’t depict Hawkins as a full-blown hellscape, but rather a community trying to mend. Vecna should be nowhere to be found since that is a much scarier prospect than him being out in the open. This is effectively proven by Vecna’s first kill, a Nightmare On Elm Street-inspired death, that remains his scariest murder precisely because viewers didn’t know anything about the villain or his abilities before they were fatally demonstrated on Chrissy.
Finally, the threat of Stranger Things season 5 should at first be the army pursuing El because this gives the series another meaningful conflict before the big-picture villain comes back for a final showdown. The ruthless army general who was torturing civilians for information about Eleven’s whereabouts was well-established as a supporting villain in season 4. This means Stranger Things season 5 wouldn’t be pulling this character out of thin air by bringing him back for the show’s final outing. Instead, Stranger Things season 5 would successfully pay off Brenner’s death by replacing him with another dangerously obsessive villain and would put off Vecna’s inevitable return by utilizing this already-introduced villain. Thus, Stranger Things season 5 could avoid the issues that plagued season 3 and maintain season 4’s successful streak if the show handles its antagonists well.