Nearly three years have passed since Stranger Things ended Season 3 on a massive cliffhanger about the fate of Jim Hopper, not to mention questions about where the Byers (plus Eleven) were heading and what comes next in Hawkins. While an early teaser did at least confirm that David Harbour’s character is alive, there are still more questions than answers. Now, the Duffer Brothers have revealed that not only will the show end on Netflix with Season 5, but Season 4 will be split into two volumes. And for that, I have one big question: will the episodes of Volume 1 actually overlap any stories or characters, or stay separate? There are a lot of factors to consider.
The full season will run for nine episodes with a six-month time jump for the characters, but neither the Duffers nor Netflix confirmed how many episodes in each volume. The brothers revealed that they want to get new episodes to fans ASAP because of the “unprecedented length” of the hiatus, and the Season 4 runtime is “nearly twice the length of any previous season.” This is the first season with major plotlines set in very different locations, quite literally across the world. So, let’s take a look at potential reasons why the episodes of Volume 1 may be almost entirely separate.
There Are Four Separate Storyline Posters
Netflix released four new storyline posters for Season 4: Eleven walking down a hallway in a lab; the California crew comprised of Jonathan, Will, a visiting Mike, and newcomer Argyle walking down a street; the Hawkins group, now made up of Nancy, Steve, Robin, Dustin, Lucas, Max, and Erica, in the supremely creepy Creel House; and Hopper, Joyce, and Murray in the yard of a Soviet prison. All four posters lead toward the Upside Down. There is also a fifth (seen above) combining the other four.
I normally don’t put much stock in posters to give away major plot details, but the four separate storyline posters really serve as a reminder of how much Stranger Things has to pack into the new season, and the different plots don’t seem like they can overlap quite as easily as in the first few seasons. With the exception of potential moments like Mike in Hawkins before leaving for California, or Hopper and Mike's cameos in the Eleven-centric Season 2 episode, I can imagine a Volume 1 comprised of very different and almost entirely separate episodes.
Volume 1 May Only Have Four Episodes
There are two logical options for where the nine-episode season will break: four episodes in one half and five in the other. With the Duffer brothers wanting to deliver some episodes “as soon as possible,” it might make more sense for Volume 1 to be the shorter of the two. Since this season wasn’t originally planned to be broken in half, the end of Volume 1 may not even feel like a finale. Going back to previous seasons, it often takes more than four or even five episodes for the plots to start converging.
If there are four episodes in the first half of the season, then it stands to reason that those four will be mostly stand apart from each other, geographically and narratively. Plus, the early footage so far indicates that at least three of the storylines will have very different tones, with the Hawkins plot full of supernatural mystery and scares, the California plot seemingly featuring government agents, and the Russian plot taking place… well, in Russia. There just might not be organic ways to cut between them until later in the season.
The Early Footage Keeps The Stories Separate
Stranger Things has released five teasers for Season 4 over nearly three years, for a grand total of less than ten minutes of footage. The first teaser, called “From Russia with love,” is the one that confirmed Hopper survived the Season 3 finale. The second teaser, called “Eleven, are you listening?”, seemingly flashes back to Eleven’s original lab in Hawkins with Brenner. The third was a sneak peek of footage from more than one of the plots, but only for a few seconds of quick cuts, and not with Hawkins and California characters in the same scenes
The other two releases are longer, but still keep the Hawkins group separate from the California group. One revealed the very creepy-looking Creel House with a mysterious clock in Hawkins. Mike was conspicuously absent, as was later explained by the fifth (and so far final) release that revealed Mike will travel to California to visit Eleven and Will over spring break. Stranger Things has almost entirely kept the four storylines separate even in promotional material.
Stranger Things Has Too Many Characters
The cast as of the end of Season 3 was huge. I wouldn’t trade Robin for anything, but she bumped up the count of characters who are sticking around, and Erica got a big boost in screen time. For Season 4, new characters have been added. Hopper’s storyline in Russia is bound to be packed with newcomers, and it looks like Eleven will encounter some bullies. (I still have questions about how she’s actually ready to attend school.)
Four separate episodes could deliver a whole lot of story including the new characters, and then start whittling down to the essential series regulars for a more combined Volume 2. And honestly, if there are five episodes in Volume 1 and four in Volume 2, I still wouldn’t be surprised by four mostly separate episodes to start. Executive producer Shawn Levy directed both Episodes 3 and 4, according to Stranger Things tradition, so I wouldn't even rule out three mostly separate episodes and then a more combined fourth as another option.
I’m admittedly a little biased here, because I've thought for a while that Stranger Things would benefit from weekly releases as opposed to a full season at once, and a split comes closer than I expected. For all that the Eleven-centric episode of Season 2 isn’t the most popular, I think the split could work for Season 4 quite well, especially with the distances in geography and tone between the stories to start.
A lot may depend on when Eleven is evidently taken by government men, how soon Mike goes to California, and how long it takes Hopper to presumably escape. Volume 1 of Season 4 releases on Friday, May 27 on Netflix, with Volume 2 on Friday, July 1, almost exactly three years to the date from the Season 3 premiere. Be sure to check out our 2022 TV schedule for some viewing options during the wait, or just rewatch the first three seasons with a Netflix subscription.
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Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).