Plot Armor: A Writing Lesson We Can Learn From Stranger Things S4 Vol. 2

This post contains spoilers for Stranger Things season 4 volume 2. Read at your own discretion.

This is a little bit different from my usual blog post, but I’m a big Stranger Things fan. I heard someone say recently that Stranger Things can never be bad – it can be good and enjoyable or it can be amazing. I think I share that sentiment, and I think volume 2 is an example of that. Let me give you my unpopular (or, idk, maybe they are popular) opinions…

As a writer, I often look for lessons in story-crafting from all media I consume. It’s really beneficial to watch what works, what doesn’t work, how things click together and function in media to help in creating your own stories. The fan backlash to Stranger Things over the years is definitely one to watch, as the showrunners clearly don’t pick up on the disappointment because – like I said – it’s still an arguably good show and people will still watch it, regardless of who they kill (though, when I thought it was gonna be Steve I was pretty close to walking). That said, it suffers from a serious issue with plot armor.

Nobody wants their favorite character killed off, and when the Duffer Brothers promised major deaths this season it put everyone on edge – only for every single character that died (other than Papa) to be a character introduced in Season 4 – the only real threat came in the form of Steve being mauled by Demobats and Max being targeted by the season’s big bad Vecna – and quite frankly, it was a threat that disappointed me.

Like I said, I think Steve would be the “if he dies, I’m out” character for me, unless they produced a spectacular, plot-necessary, saves a ton of people kind of death (if those stupid bats had been the end of him, nah I’d be done). I love Max. Since she was introduced in Season 2 and became a main character, I was so happy to see such a strong female character join the gang. Sadie Sink is an amazing actress, as seen in her non-Stranger Things roles in films/shorts such as Fear Street and All Too Well. Max’s “death” scene was a heartbreaking performance by two incredible young actors, only for it to be ripped back by Eleven suddenly have the ability to… bring people back from the dead? Even if they’re in a coma, like what? Unfortunately, Max should’ve died – and before you freak out let me tell you why. Plot. Armor. Firstly, we’ve already seen her escape Vecna earlier in the season (it reminded me so much of when The Walking Dead played the will-they-won’t-they-die game with a certain fan-favorite multiple times before they finally offed them). Secondly, every death and threat of a main character has been a cop out, from Will in season 1 to Hopper in season 3. Main characters don’t die in Stranger Things. Supporting characters get killed off in their first season. And that’s where the detachment to characters lies. For Vecna to seem like a real threat, it needed to be a big character he took out (and, to be fair, he didn’t even kill Eddie. It was freaking bats), and all we saw him take out were characters we’d just been introduced to. Sorry, you can’t pull a Barb on us more than once.

Eddie hit hard, I’ll admit. They played up his death and it was, over all, a good scene, but somewhat tainted by the fact we 1) already saw a different character survive a similar attack, and 2) it was predictable to many of us from the get-go. I didn’t want him to die, but I knew it was coming. I knew it was coming because the Duffers have been gloating about the death this season and I knew it wouldn’t be one of the mains. And now they’re out of time.

Stranger Things season 4 was good – until Volume 2, I’d say it was one of the best seasons – but for me, and others, the ending fell flat. They allowed Plot Armor to stop them from what could have been a very real moment to cut the cord on Max and let us all have a very real fear of Vecna – but I truly believe they let fear of fan backlash hold them back and with Season 5 being the last, I guess they can nuke whoever they want without that worry; but when they’re facing intense backlash and a petition over the death of fan-favorite Eddie Munson anyway, they let that plot armor and potential backlash hold them back from what could have left us with a very harrowing, suspenseful year or two waiting for the final season.

I hope I’m wrong, but I’m really not expecting anything else from them with Season 5. The stakes, unfortunately, are so low for these characters, I’m not worried about them anymore.

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