Listing all the things wrong with Stranger Things‘ fourth season would probably take as long as watching it—in other words, forever.
Yet even more than its awkward performances (save for the continually charismatic Joe Keery), its appalling haircuts, its underwhelming mythological retconning, its dreary romances and its overarching narrative distention—culminating with a finale in which suspense dies via a thousand cuts—there’s a rare for this supersized outing of the Duffer Brothers’ Netflix hit, and it involves an intolerable new character, an ’80s rock classic, and a scene that shall forever live in heavy-metal-poseurdom infamy.
I’m speaking, of course, about Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn), season four’s most prominent primetime addition, and his Upside Down-rattling rendition of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets.” By the time he straps on his guitar and does his best Hetfleld-Hammett impersonation, Eddie has already been well-established as the embodiment of ’80s-era headbanging, a long-haired outcast in a jean jacket emblazoned with a giant Ronnie James Dio backpatch who serves as the president of the Hellfire Club and the emcee for its rollicking games of Dungeons & Dragons.
Eddie is eventually pinned for the murders of various Hawkins, Indiana classmates committed by Upside Down villain Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower), and is thus slandered as a devil-worshipping cult leader in a storyline that touches upon the decade’s hysterical “Satanic Panic.”
After fleeing and/or hiding out from athletic bullies and law enforcement for much of his nine episodes, he ultimately musters up some courage and shreds Metallica’s 8.5-minute opus on top of his Upside Down trailer, almost literally riding the lightning during a storm in order to lure the alternate realm’s hungry demon bats away from his comrades.
Resembling something out of a post-Black Sabbath Ozzy Osbourne music video, it’s a moment designed to shred. Whereas the concept may be reverential, however, the execution is pure excruciating phoniness.
A large part of that is Eddie himself, a cartoon troublemaker who’s way too cheesy to register as a legitimate metalhead. As embodied by Quinn, Eddie comes off as a narc posing as a thrash fiend, and his non-stop corny posturing—whether he’s going full-dork as the master of D & D ceremonies, or wimpily freaking out over being wanted for homicide— undercuts his supposed badass nature.
Of course, even a die-hard Slayer Nation member would be apt to lose his cool under such end-of-the-world pressure. Yet during Stranger Things‘ fourth go round, only Will is more frequently on the verge of bursting into tears, and he has a whole closetful of pent-up emotions to blame for his maudlin condition. All wild laughter and wilder fretting and screaming, Eddie’s caricatured disposition makes his juvenile-delinquent routine so much schtick—a notion exacerbated by his cute-and-cuddly relationship with Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and ultimate, groan-worthy respect for Keery’s heroic preppy Steve.
All of this peaks with Eddie’s cover of “Master of Puppets,” which has currently rocketed the track to the top of the iTunes rock charts and been hailed (embarrassingly, if predictably) by Metallica as “an incredible honor.“ Setting aside that it’s unlikely Eddie would have perfected Metallica’s opus within a few months of Master of Puppets‘ March 1986 release, and ignoring Dustin’s grinning-idiot reaction to this showmanship (which adds an extra layer of Velveeta to the spectacle), Eddie’s overdone ax-work is the sort of gyrating display fit for an air guitar contest.
Furthering that impression is the fact that he’s wailing away in the Upside Down alone, and yet one can hear the rest of the band’s instruments as well as Hetfield’s voice—meaning either he’s just playing to the pre-recorded album cut or, um, he’s magic? While the Duffer Brothers are obviously employing a formal shortcut in order to maximize the scene’s impact, their demand for suspension of disbelief is undone by logistical belief. In other words, if Eddie is performing alone, why not let us hear that? And if he’s not, then why doesn’t he simply spin the record at max volume and avoid putting himself in harm’s way?
In the grand scheme of this bloated and anticlimactic season—and given that Stranger Things fundamentally hinges on pandering nostalgia—this lone storytelling device isn’t wholly catastrophic. Yet it is part and parcel of a fourth chapter defined by excessive sloppiness. Were Eddie the type of genuine ’80s metalhead who was held back in high school multiple times and cared more about Iron Maiden and Motorhead than math and social studies, he’d view this pantomime as the height of absurdity—and a sham thing that should note.