Fans of Stranger Things waited patiently for 3 years to finally get a fourth season. And while Netflix has only released the first seven episodes, their extended runtimes and whopping $30 million budget (per episode) has resulted in a season that some are claiming is as good as the first.
While there’s certainly more going on and a much higher CGI budget, it’s the character moments and stakes that are so compelling to so many people. The result is an episode that seems to have transcended all others, especially if social media is any indicator (which to be fair it isn’t always).
Season 4, Episode 4 “Dear Billy” hits a high that we previously thought unreachable after a noticeable decline in Seasons 2 and 3. It remains the 2nd highest rated episode on IMDB (with Season 4 Episode 7 in first), ranking higher than all episodes from the first season. “Dear Billy” remains in our not so humble opinion, the greatest episode that Stranger Things has to offer, and it remains that way for three key reasons:
Major Spoilers up to Season 4 Episode 4 – You’ve Been Warned
Amazing Long Take
A huge part of that $30 million/episode budget went to the massive amount of VFX shots, but not well-crafted filmmaking is done via CGI. Following Dr. Owen’s mission to try and train Eleven to regain her powers, we see his rogue agents guarding the Byers’ house (while Joyce is MIA in Alaska) and ensuring that Jonathan, Will, and Mike don’t say anything that might compromise the mission.
All the while, government forces looking for Eleven descend upon the house and a shootout ensues. The boys run terrified from room to room, as one of their protector agents engages in a firefight with soldiers breaking into various doors and windows. For 60 seconds straight, we don’t see a single cut as the camera follows them, the action, and the overall intensity of the scene.
Between all the movement from room to room, the stunt performers hitting their marks exactly, and the minute long continuous camera shot during this sequence, the rehearsing that had to go into this scene was immense. A common criticism of modern action movies is that they focus too heavily on disorienting quick cuts, but here it’s all out on display, and the chaos the audience feels matches that of the characters.
It’s just an overall amazingly shot sequence that rivals anything from a big budget action movie. Surely there was most likely CGI enhancement here and there, but it plays out very realistically and practically in its approach.
When it comes to horror, it doesn’t get much more legendary than Freddy Krueger himself. This season already had quite a few homages to the slasher classic (especially its villain), so it was fitting to cast Englund in his walk-on guest role.
In a very on the nose reference to Silence of the Lambs (which we’re okay with), Nancy and Robin walk down the long, dark corridor to Victor Creel’s cell, where Englund acts his heart out, telling his tragic story of how a similar curse befell him nearly 30 years earlier.
In addition to the grotesque makeup effects on Creel’s eyes, Englund himself steals this scene (and most of the episode) with a sense of charm and tragedy. He recounts his story in a monologue that’s simultaneously creepy and heartbreaking. You hear the desperation, the loss, the confusion in his voice as he tells Nancy and Robin how his family was completely destroyed.
The scene (and flashbacks) are powerful enough on their own, but Englund gives it that extra poignancy, all while reminding us that he’s an incredibly talented classically trained actor. While we all adore him as Freddy Krueger, there’s so much more to him than catchy one liners as he kills people.
Music and Max
Of course we saved the best for last. The previous two scenes certainly elevated this episode, but it is this entire sequence with Max, Vecna, and Kate Bush that solidifies “Dear Billy” as the greatest episode of Stranger Things.
Season 4 begins with really everyone reeling from some sort of trauma leftover from the last last season, but Max had it especially intense. She watched Billy die, and given their very strained relationship, it left her feeling extremely conflicted. She no longer has Eleven nearby, broke up with Lucas and is sort of just drifting through life.
So it’s no wonder that Vecna targets her specifically. By the time he starts to mentally torment Max, she’s largely given up on life. Even as she knows she has less than 24 hours (after seeing that’s how long Chrissy had), she writes letters to the people she loves rather than tell them what she wants to say, because she’s ready to give up, go to Billy’s grave and accept her fate.
Vecna remains a supernatural demonic force, but in a much more metaphorical way, he’s the representation of our own inner demons we struggle with every day: depression, anxiety, fear, loneliness, etc. As he pulls Max into the trance, he tells her that she hides from her friends for a reason, and that she belongs with him in this terrifying place.
And for many who struggle with these mental/emotional health issues, Vecna’s words sound a lot like the nasty things their own minds tell them, when they’re struggling to find the motivation to get out of bed. It isn’t until she hears her favorite song “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush that a lifeline opens up to her in the Upside Down, and through it she sees people who care about her and support her.
There’s a great line in the episode, “music reaches parts of the brain that words don’t” and that very much plays into this metaphor. For anyone feeling down or defeated, music can have a transcending effect on their mood. This scene reinforces that music can literally save, along with the love and support of one’s “tribe”.
It’s an absolutely beautiful and heartfelt sequence that is both cathartic to those who have been there before, and eye-opening to those that haven’t. Fans may forget minor plot details here and there as time goes by, but they will never forget how this scene made them feel the first time they saw it!
We have only two episodes left of Season 4, one of which is reportedly two and half hours in length. So we’ll see how it plays out. In the meantime, we’ll always have “Dear Billy” as a source of emotional catharsis.
What did you think of “Dear Billy”? Was it your favorite episode of Season 4? Let us know in the comments!