“Stranger Things” fans had to wait three years for the latest installment of Netflix’ retro horror hit.
And then, they had to wait a little longer to see how it concluded.
But what was with the hold-up?
When Netflix (NFLX) began creating its own television series a decade ago with “Lilyhammer,” it introduced the idea of the all-at-once season drop, giving fans the option to watch an entire season of “Orange Is the New Black” in one weekend, if they wanted.
The introduction of “Lilyhammer,” and the more well-known series that Netflix would follow it up with, helped to unofficially usher in the streaming era. As services such as the Netflix competitor Hulu (now owned by Disney (DIS) ) and Amazon Prime Video (AMZN) started to gain popularity, they would play around with the official release format.
Hulu’s calculus for series that might have a shot at winning a broad audience -- such as “The Handmaid's Tale” -- appears to be premiering with two to three episodes, and then switching to a weekly release format.
But with its recent stealth social media hit “The Bear,” which seems destined for intense cult appreciation, Hulu and its partner FX opted to return to the all-at-once release strategy.
Earlier this year Amazon Prime Video took the unexpected move of releasing its award-winning breakout hit “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” in weekly installments of two episodes, instead of the all-at-once drop it was originally introduced with.
While Disney+ seems committed to the weekly release schedule for hits such as “Obi-Wan Kenobi” and “Moon Knight,” Netflix has, until very recently, stubbornly stuck to the all-at-once approach for its scripted content. (It’s generally more lenient for reality and competitions shows such as “The Circle.”)
But with the latest season of “Stranger Things,” quite arguably the service’s most recognizable series, Netflix took the unexpected (though not unprecedented) move of releasing it in two halves. The first seven episodes dropped on May 27, with the concluding two episodes arriving in July. (Netflix had previously taken a similar approach to its crime thriller “Ozark.”)
Why Did Netflix Break ‘Stranger Things’ Into Two Parts?
Netflix hasn’t really outlined why “Stranger Things” was released in two parts, beyond series creators The Duffer Brothers explaining that it made sense, from their perspective, as Ross Duffer told Netflix’s editorial wing Tudum that “we really see Volume 1 as the first two acts of this story, and then Volume 2 is the final act.”
It’s also possible that Netflix cut the season into two parts in order to keep the social media buzz and pop culture takes going throughout the summer, rather than naturally petering out in June.
But likely the most salient factor is that Netflix is making moves to keep its viewership tallies up as it prepares to finally introduce a paid, advertising-supported tier, possibly later this year.
Netflix has had a rough year of it so far, having undergone two rounds of layoffs and a stock price plunge to the lowest levels since 2018.
It was reported last month that Netflix has quietly made a change to the way it tallies viewership. Instead of measuring viewing hours in its first 28 days of release, for "Stranger Things," the service will now measure views over 56 days total, one for the first half of the season and one for the second half.
So “Stranger Things” has the advantage of being measured in how it does for at least half the summer, an advantage no other Netflix show has enjoyed since the most-watched Top 10 list debuted last year, as the change was quietly made on May 10. As a result, the season has already accumulated a billion hours worth of views.
The result of this shift will allow Netflix to tout that the latest season of “Stranger Things” is its most watched season of television yet, which will both serve as a way to distract from headlines about the company’s financial woes, and will likely also serve as a boon when it comes time to negotiate advertising rates.
So What Did Twitter Think About The End Of ‘Stranger Things’ Season Four?
When the first part (or several parts, really) of “Stranger Things” debuted, critics noted that The Duffer Brothers had certainly set out to create a wildly ambitious season of television.
The fourth season featured nearly twenty main characters, three main plotlines, several subplots, long-overdue explanations for both the central character Eleven’s backstory and what exactly The Upside Down is, special effects to rival any blockbuster film, and copious amounts of blood and gore.
But the drawback was that each episode of the most recent season was at least 70 minutes, and the seventh episode was 98 minutes. Critics such as Rolling Stone’s Alan Sepinwall felt the season was impressive at times, but often an indulgent mess.
Now that the final two episodes are here, clocking in at 85 and 150 minutes (!) each, critics haven’t changed their general opinion that the season suffocated under its own weight, even as it contained plenty of winning moments, touching performances and impressive special effects.
Rolling Stone's Sepinwall is unmoved in his assessment: plenty of good stuff, but it's just too much overall.
On the other hand, IGN was more than happy with the too-muchness on display.
Variety's Daniel D'Addario agrees that the episodes are overstuffed, but ultimately felt the more-is-more approach worked.
But while critics were on the mixed side, the fans generally dug it, even if plenty of viewers also complained about the episode lengths.
So (Spoiler Alert) one of the most devastating plot twists is the heroic death of the metalhead and Hellfire Club member Eddie Munson, played by Joseph Quinn, who sacrifices his life to help his friends defeat the evil monster Vecna.
The character was introduced this season, but Quinn's doofy charm, the character story arc (moving from coward to hero) and Munson's triumphant rendition of Metallica's "Master of Puppets" quickly made him a fan favorite...which made his death at the hand of some evil bats that much more devastating.