The past several weeks have left me desperate for the kind of break that only a show like Stranger Things provides: a true escape from real life. Now in its fourth season—the first half of which just premiered on Netflix—the series is still full of monsters, mysteries, and government conspiracies. And even though it’s more horror than sci-fi this time around, the adventures in Hawkins, Indiana, still have the charm of a cozy murder mystery.

The rest of the show is, well …

Stranger Things 4 sprawls to California, Russia, and beyond, and falls into the standard traps of a series that has outlasted its story: repeated false stakes, a less cohesive narrative, and the instant un-death of a major character from the previous finale. I lost track of the number of plot conflicts fixed by laughably implausible solutions or by pushing the limits of an already generous suspension of disbelief. At one point, someone gets rid of their prison chains by having their ankle crushed repeatedly with a steel mallet, only to sprint through the next scene (and the rest of the season).

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