This season was especially baffling. While the writers made a bold choice moving away from the central characters of Mike, Eleven, and others, the decision to make the entire season (consisting of eight hour-long episodes), consist of nothing but a 5 minute loop of 9/11 footage was, though original, both confusing and repetitive.
The critical consensus at the time was that Stranger Things had made yet another misstep, and that perception is still the dominant view today. Television critic Sarah Watson put it best in her review of the season finale, where she said: “By the time the credits rolled, it felt as though something was missing. The early seasons had style, mystery, and endearing characters, but in the end all Season 7 has to offer is footage of a pair of airplanes colliding with the World Trade Centre. That could have made for groundbreaking television in 2000, but it’s 2017, we’ve been there, done that.”
After a solid run of three good seasons, Stranger Things has built up a large fan following. It would go on to spend the next six years flushing that goodwill away, starting with Season 4. The problems started with the introduction of a character named Cool Steven, played by Steven Duffer… the son of one of the showrunners.
Unfortunately for the audience, the creation and casting of this character was a transparent attempt from the showrunner to help resolve his son’s cripplingly low self esteem by placing him in the role of a flawless character who everyone in the Stranger Things universe loved. While that’s a lovely thing for a father to do, it’s not a great way to perform an even more important duty–the writing of television.
This backfired. While Steven Duffer was showered with adoration in fiction, in the real world he became quickly reviled for “ruining” Stranger Things, and was bombarded with hateful messages from across the globe.
The final season of Stranger Things was odd in that it didn’t depict its characters trying to solve a supernatural mystery, or save their friends, but trying to find out where the nearest Circuit City was. Given the relative simplicity of this task, all eight hours of the season occur in real time, blowing precious hours of screen time depicting the characters silently waiting in traffic, walking down the street, and other boring tasks. The worst example of this is the first episode, where the entire hour is spent showing Mike sleeping in his bed.
Between the filming of Season 5 and Season 6, Steven Duffer died of a terminal illness. Naturally, Stranger Things fans were jubilant.
The character and actor that had left their favourite show in tatters was gone, and some felt that the trauma of outliving one’s child would inspire stronger writing. When artists go through hard times, they often make the best works of their career. His loss was, unfortunately, not our gain.
Rather than taking the death of his son as an opportunity for his show to get back to its roots, he mixed up his writing and his mourning process, with the season largely consisting of lengthy scenes of beloved Stranger Things, like characters Mike and Eleven talking about how much they missed Cool Steven. Audiences did not appreciate this, because unlike the characters and the showrunner, they fucking hated Steven.