The Beauty of Stranger Things 4/4: “Kate Bush in the Charts?”

(Photo fetched from Den of Geek)

Like you, I’ve been hearing Kate Bush’s original rendition of ‘Running Up That Hill’ on repeat for the last few weeks. Essentially, since Stranger Things Season 4 came out. The Netflix phenomenon that began in 2016 has swept entertainment by storm since its initial release, and has skyrocketed the aforementioned Kate Bush track to heights of which it hadn’t ever seen, even during its initial 1980’s release.

Having not yet seen Season 4 of Stranger Things, I questioned the significance of the track in the show. When would it feature? Why has this song become so iconic overnight because of it’s involvement in the 80’s nostalgia fest that is Stranger Things?

Besides the track being an absolute banger in its own right.

Now having watched Episode 4 of Stranger Things 4, and holy sweet Christ do I now understand. If you’ve yet to watch Stranger Things 4, or don’t intend to, here’s a quick rundown of the build up to the scene in question.

Max, a young girl who has been experiencing severe trauma following the death of her brother, Billy in Season 3, has fallen under the spell of Vecna’s curse, a long dormant curse that is again terrorising the town of Hawkins, where some of Season 4 is based.

Throughout the episode, Max is making peace with her impending doom, as her and her friends have yet to find a solution to the problem that has up until this point killed two other young students in Hawkins. 

Max leaves letters for her mum and immediate family, and reads to Billy at his grave, all the while seeing the visions of her darkest fears and regrets as Vecna’s curse begins to take control of her. With the curse having now caught up with her, Max now reaches the seven-day point of no return, Vecna catches her and is set to kill her in front of her friends. 

(Photo fetched from Collider)

This is until a discovery made by her friends Nancy and Robin, who have been investigating the curse all episode, reveals to Lucas, Dustin, and Steve that playing a song of great significance to those under Vecna’s curse, can come out of the trance by recalling happier memories. Although cheesy and being very much an 80’s, power of friendship sort of thing, it works.

This is when, ‘Running Up That Hill’ kicks into gear.

The song slowly builds, with the triumphant score and Kate Bush’s bellowing vocals coinciding with flashbacks of Max’s relationship with her friends from throughout seasons 1-3, with enough there to make a grown person cry.

In this moment Max, who has suppressed her emotions and held back from her friends emotionally the entire season thus far, and for a year prior to where we begin Season 4. Max summons up the courage to battle back against Vecna’s curse, and after ripping out a chunk of the monster’s neck, bolts towards her friends out of the nightmare Vecna had created for her, which she escapes.

There was so much that went into this moment to make it so gratifying and earned.

Each character throughout the season, faces hardship and what seems like yet another impossible mission. Even stretching back to the last episode, El (who isn’t actually in the episode) has been arrested, leaving Mike, Will and Johnathon under house arrest from the government hunting El down.

Nancy and Robin were seemingly getting nowhere with investigating the only survivor of Vecna’s curse, and Dustin, Lucas and Steve were all helpless in Max’s descent into darkness.

Episode 4 uses the season’s darker tone to subvert audiences expectations of character fates throughout, and seems to leave each character in a place where they could feasibly die at any moment, in a very early Game of Thrones kind of way.

Nando vs Movies’ discussion of (ironically) Season 4 of Game of Thrones highlights this idea of subverted expectations in Episode 8’s fight between The Mountain and The Viper.

Here, after showing audiences happy endings and mercy (even for characters that don’t deserve it) throughout the episode, the audience grows to trust that a happy ending could too come for Oberyn Martel and Tyrion Lannister during the final fight with The Mountain.

Alas, Game of Thrones uses this to rip your heart out by subverting your already subverted expectations by having Oberyn die brutally at The Mountain’s hands.

Episode 4 of Stranger Things 4 does much of the same, but in the completely opposite direction. This particular episode sees no real resolution for the heroes throughout, as they suffer a form of defeat as mentioned before. 

The beautiful one-shot in the Byers house and the apparent inevitability of Max’s death at the hands of Vecna’s curse highlights that these characters are all still children, and under very real threat, probably couldn’t save themselves when the time called for it.

Episode 4 in a way gets real, grounding the show in this sense of danger that isn’t usually seen, thus subverting audience expectations by walking you down the path to death throughout the episode. Max’s letter to Billy just before she falls under Vecna’s curse seems to prove this, as she discusses the unfairness of her life. It showcased how her relationship with her brother was taken away from her before she could fix it, just as her own life is about to be taken.

It leads us (or at least got me) to expect this episode was going to go all in on the sadness, and kill Max while simultaneously leaving our heroes with no hope. Episode 4 did such a good job at grounding the characters in this episode that’s I forgot that Stranger Things, at it’s core, is an 80’s nostalgia show where the heroes always come out on top in the end.

The build up throughout the episode didn’t leave much signs for hope, and when they did, I was so sucked into the subversion that I didn’t see the positive outcome coming.

I probably should’ve, but again that just shows how good Episode 4 made it seem like the end was near.

Perhaps watching Amazon’s ‘The Boys’ Season 3 (and old Game of Thrones) at the same time as Stranger Things Season 4 has warped my mind, as having just seen Homelander kill Super Sonic in ‘The Boys’, I fully expected Stranger Things to go full on dark and kill some major characters.

But that’s where the power of the ending of Episode 4 comes in, as the show subverts already subverted expectations by having Max fight back against Vecna in a truly life affirming scene that rightfully put her back with her friends, and Kate Bush back near the top of the charts.

Furthermore, the message of the episode was wrapped by the ending too, with the themes of death and inevitability being turned on it’s head, by becoming a story instead about the will to live and hope, which is an empowering message to deliver amid such a dark episode.

The visual imagery of Max being surrounded by darkness, and Vecna stepping in front of the literal light at the end of the tunnel that was her friends to shroud her judgement, was all beautiful visual storytelling to highlight Max’s mental health and struggle with self-worth, as the show has treated effectively and sensitively throughout Season 4.

(Photo fetched from Men’s Health)

Finally then, as Max jumps through the portal and falls into the arms of her friends, ‘Running Up That Hill’ fades out with the light, and into the darkness of the end credits to wrap an absolutely incredible ending to an empowering episode.

Honestly I just needed to confess my love for this episode, it’s story and how it’s ending resonated with me. 

I’ve not even finished Season 4 yet, but Stranger Things’ return to form has been a blast to watch so far, and perhaps there will be another rant like this when the final episode is released.

Until then, after Episode 4, long let Kate Bush stay in the charts!

The build up throughout the episode didn’t leave much signs for hope, and when they did, I was so sucked into the subversion that I didn’t see the positive outcome coming.

I probably should’ve, but again that just shows how good Episode 4 made it seem like the end was near.

Perhaps watching Amazon’s ‘The Boys’ Season 3 (and old Game of Thrones) at the same time as Stranger Things Season 4 has warped my mind, as having just seen Homelander kill Super Sonic in ‘The Boys’, I fully expected Stranger Things to go full on dark and kill some major characters. However, that’s where the power of the ending of Episode 4 comes in, as the show subverts already subverted expectations by having Max fight back against Vecna in a truly life affirming scene that rightfully put her back with her friends, and Kate Bush back near the top of the charts.

The visual imagery of Max being surrounded by darkness, and Vecna stepping in front of the literal light at the end of the tunnel that was her friends to shroud her judgement, was all beautiful visual storytelling to highlight Max’s mental health and struggle with self-worth, as the show has treated effectively and sensitively throughout Season 4.

Finally then, as Max jumps through the portal and falls into the arms of her friends, ‘Running Up That Hill’ fades out with the light, and into the darkness of the end credits to wrap an absolutely incredible ending to an empowering episode.

Honestly I just needed to confess my love for this episode, it’s story and how it’s ending resonated with me. 

I’ve not even finished Season 4 yet, but Stranger Things’ return to form has been a blast to watch so far, and perhaps there will be another rant like this when the final episodes are released.

Until then, after Episode 4, long let Kate Bush stay in the charts!

Written by Brandon Bethune

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