Stranger Things Season 4, Chapter 6 “The Dive”
“The Dive” is the most unnecessary seven-plus minutes of television I’ve watched in 2022. I mean, there’s indulgent episodes of television, and then there’s the penultimate Volume I episode of Stranger Things 4, one of the most bloated, expensive examples of “kicking the can down the road” one could possibly imagine. Save for the final two minutes, there’s really nothing to see here, a collection of shoddily-composed images, narrative developments, and a wildly underwhelming Suzie Side Adventure.
All in all, it’s a rather dreadful affair, easily the lowlight of Stranger Things 4; part of the problem comes from it clearly being the most COVID-production affected episode of the season, turning group scenes into incomprehensible, messy mosaics of constant cutting and weird blocking that take away from the more meaningful scenes. The most obvious example of this, of course, is the Skull Rock episode, which feels like it was patched together by the editor of that shitty Queen biopic, but strung out on amphetamines.
I really can’t get over what a hot goddamn mess this scene is, the only real group scene of “The Dive” (and one of the larger collections of main cast members this season, if we’re being honest), as it cuts awkwardly from Eddie to Dustin, back across to Nancy and Robin, then back to Eddie – at one point, there are just two random legs stuck in the frame to suggest that yes, these people were really on set together. Though it’s hard to fault a television show for following necessary protocols to keep everyone safe, the lack of creativity in its composition sticks out like a sore thumb… and unfortunately, is a fitting visual metaphor for what an insignificant pastiche of scenes “The Dive” really is.
Take the opening flashback, breaking down the 12 hours of Eleven before she was dumped in the pre-cog pool; why the fuck couldn’t this scene just happen in the previous episode? At this point, there’s no reason to walk through these steps – just fucking move on and start to explain the season opening flashback…. whichhhhh this episode decides it doesn’t want to address, instead sticking with the “Matthew Modine mumbles some vague lines, and Stranger Things does the Dark Angel flashback thing again for a few minutes”.
It would be different if those scenes added something to the story; but like anything else in “The Dive”, the scenes with Eleven and Guy Who Isn’t Joker are literally just walking in circles, doing nothing but reminding us that yes, Eleven’s time in captivity was traumatic by design – just a little extra bullying by Two and a few others for good measure, a bit of added misery that culminates in a really terribly staged scene of the kids using their powers to ‘push’ Eleven around.
It’s just utterly meaningless to show images of Not-Joker getting tortured, if there’s no purposeful context given; we’ve already established Eleven’s fucked up journey in there, can we please get to the point where we justify this weird character who was retconned into Eleven’s past?
It’s a question that “The Dive” does not want to answer; but then again, “The Dive” wants to provide answers to absolutely nothing, just shove supposedly dramatic images and words in our faces for a relentlessly boring 75 minutes. Would you like another vague allusion to Steve and Nancy’s crush? How about a bunch more cutaway shots of Argyle being stoned? Maybe we can appease you with two random pieces of plot in the Russian story, that have absolutely no payoff within this episode?
It’s a real struggle to try and understand why this episode even exists; after the narrative harmony “Dear Billy” found, able to push its characters and story forward by pulling all of its meager creative elements together into one grand, Kate Bush-ified symphony, “The Dive” feels like a bunch of scenes left on the cutting room floor, scrambled together to fit around the three minutes of material that are meaningful.
From beginning to end, “The Dive” is just a bunch of fucking useless narrative edging, introducing ideas that this hour has absolutely no intention of following through on – even with the fate of Steve, who seems to be getting mortally injured by demobats (?) after being pulled into The Upside Down. He’s just there getting bitten when we cut to credits; we don’t know if Nancy, Eddie and Robin make it down there, or what happens to the kids on land, or the cops… or really anything, because Vecna himself is apparently taking a nap right now. The parents trying to stop the Letterman Jacket manhunt are left in limbo, as are the kids in Utah, who just spent a day with the Dustin’s Mormon girlfriend, who knows things about the internet that most people in 2022 don’t.
Oh yeah, and remember that Patrick kid? Apparently his parents beat the shit out him – but we’re just going to have Lucas say that, and then move on….
Look, you get my point: there’s not a lot to talk about in “The Dive”, because “The Dive” is an extremely long episode of television that has absolutely nothing to say! One could take five minutes or so of footage from this episode, stick it in “The Nina Project” – and then, hey, there’s plenty of time to tell stories about Hopper’s resignation (or resilience?), develop some of these suggestions towards character dynamics (Robin and Nancy are now friends, because they explicitly asked each other – you know, like friends do!), and take the plot somewhere beyond what’s already been established in these first five episodes.
At least we can take solace that “The Dive” does eventually end, with its characters mostly (?) in position for what I imagine will feel like a weird season finale – since it’s not really a season finale, and not really even a mid-season finale either. But even as a table-setting episode, “The Dive” is barely competent, cutting off most plots and scenes before it gets to the most interesting and intriguing parts (we leave the Hawkins parents just staring at each other, as one says “I’m calling the police”. That’s bad TV!). Sure, not every episode of Stranger Things is required to be memorable (though at 75+ minutes at $20 million an episode…), but boy, “The Dive” goes out of its way to be a forgettable, useless entry in an already bumpy season of Netflix’s last remaining O.G. signature series, an unfortunate momentum killer before the final entry of Volume 1.
- this week in “pop culture references shoved into the script for reference’s sake” is the return of Lord of the Rings references!
- Suzie’s household is a scene of chaos that Stranger Things doesn’t really dive into, and doesn’t need to… it just feels lived in, in a way that most tertiary locations of the show don’t. Also see: Suzie’s BYU flag.
- That being said, the Argyle/Eden “subplot” is real stupid.
- Over in Russia, the prisoners have a final meal while Hopper makes plans to burn the Demogorgen there. It’s so straightforward and boring, you can almost hear Stranger Things 4 going “Can we wrap this shit up already?” to itself.
- Americantendo? Ok, sure.
- I really can’t get over how bad the editing and blocking is in this episode. Again, unfortunate circumstances, but the utter lack of creativity and competent utilization of practical staging techniques is embarrassing for the Netflix’s most high-profile, expensive series.
- Don’t kill Steve.
- No, really – don’t kill Steve, the only character on this series who has had an actual character arc.