‘Stranger Things’ visits Utah in Season 4 — and it’s comic relief

It’s a minor subplot, but several of the characters go to Salt Lake City.

(Netflix) Maya Hawke as Robin Buckley, Natalia Dyer as Nancy Wheeler, Joe Keery as Steve Harrington, Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair, Sadie Sink as Max Mayfield, and Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson in Season 4 of "Stranger Things."

Season 4 of “Stranger Things” is bigger, broader and bloodier. There are parallel storylines in Hawkins, California, Russia, the Upside Down — and a sojourn to Utah.

Yes, several of the characters in Netflix’s wildly popular horror series take a road trip to Salt Lake City. They need a computer hacker (which was hardly a thing in 1986), and they go in search of Dustin’s long-distance girlfriend, Suzie (Gabriella Pizzolo). Suzie makes a brief appearance in Episode 1, which seems mostly designed to remind viewers that the character exists; four of the characters make plans to head to SLC in Episode 5; and they arrive in Episode 6.

There’s a beauty shot of the mountains and Salt Lake City from a distance — it looks like CGI — but locals will be able to tell that no filming was done in Utah. Which doesn’t really matter. The trip to Utah is a comedic interlude in a tremendously dark season of “Stranger Things” (which starts streaming Friday on Netflix).

Let’s just say that Suzie’s home is a “Mormon” madhouse, filled with a whole lot of boisterous, inventive children who seem to have little supervision. And Suzie’s rather rebellious older sister is not happy that Suzie isn’t helping to keep the younger siblings in line.

(Yes, that’s vague. Avoiding spoilers.)

The four visitors need Suzie to go online and find something for them, and while she would “do anything for Dusty Bun,” her father confiscated her computer after she created a bit of online mischief on Dustin’s behalf in Episode 1. Dad was upset because, “Not only was I breaking the law, I was dating an agnostic,” Suzie says.

Ack! The horror!

It’s a little funny to see the technology of 1986 and that the characters know next to nothing about it. “What’s the internet?” one asks. And — again, no spoilers — Suzie has a line that is genuinely laugh-out-loud hilarious. The biggest laugh in Season 4 Part 1.

It’s clear that nobody on the “Stranger Things” writing staff spent much time researching Utah or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or there might have been pictures of Joseph Smith or temples on the wall and not a bad copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. And, as we saw in Season 3, Suzie has a couple of BYU pennants on the walls of her bedroom.

The whole Suzie/Utah subplot takes up not much more than 10 minutes of Season 4′s screen time, which is a drop in the bucket. The seven episodes that start screening Friday are all long – 76, 75, 63, 77, 74, 73 and a whopping 98 minutes. That’s a total of almost eight hours. And the final two Season 4 installments, which will be released on July 1, will be an 85-minute Episode 8 and a 2½-hour long season finale. (In the first three seasons, only one episode ran longer than an hour, at 1:02.)

The length alone is probably the biggest drawback to Season 4. Every one of the first seven episodes could’ve been shorter.

And they tell several largely separate stories. Different groups of characters — or individuals — have little or no interaction with other characters. And some characters we weren’t expecting to see again return.

That doesn’t mean Hopper (David Harbour), who we know isn’t dead. He’s in the trailers.

There are multiple cliffhangers sprinkled throughout the episodes. Storylines reach a point where you can’t wait to see what happens next, but you have to, as you’re suddenly switched to another storyline. Sort of like reading “The Lord of the Rings,” which is referenced in “Stranger Things.”

(Netflix) Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven in "Stranger Things."

You do have to ignore that, while the Season 4 narrative begins just six months after the end of Season 3, it’s been three years since Season 3 streamed and some of the young actors have grown up a lot.

Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) — who lost her super powers at the end of Season 3 — has moved to California with Joyce (Winona Ryder) and her family. And, not surprisingly, Eleven doesn’t fit in. That poor girl is a tortured soul who seems destined to be unhappy forever.

Back in Hawkins, the kids are now high school freshmen. Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) is on the basketball team and hanging out with the jocks, and his friends have pulled away from him. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Steve (Joe Keery) are big into Dungeons & Dragons. Max (Sadie Sink) has pulled away from everyone, traumatized by the death of her stepbrother at the end of Season 3.

And there’s a new villain crossing over from the Upside Down dimension, and he delights in murdering teenagers in the most ghastly ways. There’s just loads of violence, death and blood. The season is not without humor — Robin (Maya Hawke) has more to do this season, and she provides some much-needed comic relief — but, overall, it’s darker and more gruesome, and yet somehow less frightening.

(Netflix) A new villain threatens the town in Season 4 of "Strangers Things."

Not that it’s without scares. There are a couple of moments that will scare you off your couch.

And, without spoiling anything, there is an amazing reveal in Episode 7 that you may not see coming, but it made perfect sense within the “Stranger Things” narrative. Episode 7 brought several of the primary storylines to turning points, giving viewers answers while posing more questions that will have to be answered when Episodes 8 and 9 stream on July 1.

And those episodes will, no doubt, set up the final season. Which we’ll see … eventually.

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