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SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched Season 4 of “Stranger Things,” now streaming on Netflix.

“Stranger Things” isn’t just Netflix’s crown jewel — it’s a document from an era when the streamer’s ambitions looked a lot different. And its creators know it.

The series, like the recently concluded “Ozark” and like “The Crown,” which has two seasons remaining in its reign, is made with care and with no small expense. Its new season, seven episodes of which launched Friday before two more come in July, had a reported $30 million-per-episode sticker price. Episodes of this new batch clock in as long as 98 minutes; the forthcoming season finale will be some two and a half hours. Netflix, today, plays a volume game, and much of its present-day content can lack the sensibility — and, certainly, the expense — of its supernatural serial. Give or take a surprise “Squid Game”-level hit, Netflix isn’t swinging for the fences anymore, which makes a genuine zeitgeist smash from a previous era a valuable thing indeed.

But while it’s clear why Netflix is willing to make the investment in what may be its signature hit, the new season of “Stranger Things” may be an example of unlimited freedom limiting artistic achievement. The show has high ambitions, and meets them — but in so doing, sacrifices charm and humanity on the altar of looking and feeling expensive. In splitting up the show’s ensemble for various adventures and in allowing those adventures to sprawl unreservedly, the Duffer Brothers have lost the scrappiness and urgency that made “Stranger Things” pop in the first place.

It can be easy to forget that unlike, say, “House of Cards,” with its David Fincher pedigree, or “The Crown,” with its plainly stated ambitions, “Stranger Things” was something of a surprise hit early on. The Duffers were not well-known, and the show’s cast, aside from Winona Ryder and David Harbour, were newbie kid actors. What made the show click was the unique and special chemistry among the members of the ensemble, and the creativity as the show explored the supernatural happenings in Hawkins, Indiana.

All of that’s gone now: The cast in the new season has been scattered, as if to demonstrate just how wide-ranging the Duffers’ imaginations are. There’s nothing wrong with trying new things out — indeed, a show that never left Hawkins city limits would likely feel inert. And if executed well, a version of the show that sends its cast to different corners of the universe might make us all the more eager to see their reunion. Instead, though, this season’s combination of deadening length and underthought adventure storylines makes for a show that feels little like the “Stranger Things” that once captured imaginations.

Something feels lost when, say, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) spends much of the season away from her comrades, being researched at an institute whose mysteries feel less rewarding than repetitious. Eleven’s been separated from the group before, including in a second-season episode I’ve defended over general fan discontentment. In that episode, Eleven meets other young people with powers like hers; there’s a sense of Eleven’s belonging and of her beginning to find out who she was that had a strange and enigmatic power. Now, though, everything is explained at serious length; no enigma is allowed to stay as Eleven is examined from all angles. In one set piece, Eleven tries to escape only to find herself, again and again, brought magically back to the same place; deep into the run of this season, I understood how she felt.

I could say the same of Ryder’s and Harbour’s storyline behind enemy lines in the USSR, which removes them from the cut-and-thrust of what’s going on with the children in their care, and thus eliminates key elements of the characters. (Joyce’s sweetly sorrowful anxiety about what’s going on with her kids, and Hopper’s paternal instinct towards Eleven have brought out the best in both actors.) And in the main, the show’s newfound strong lean towards explicit and graphic violence — including the season’s big villain’s method of killing people, which suggests that the Duffers have been studying up on the work of Netflix’s horror hitmaker Mike Flanagan — often feels as though it’s grasping to shock us, something that “Stranger Things” once accomplished on the strength of its ideas. The season opening with a horrific scene of murdered children, a scene that is all the more distasteful and unearned coming as it does the week of a grotesque school massacre, suggests that the show has lost its balance, and its way.

Seen from one angle, the investment in “Stranger Things” is admirable. Netflix has put money and attention behind a breakout hit, and given its creators free rein to ramble. From another, though, one begins to suspect that the temptation for more — more minutes, more locations, more viscera — was seductive. Perhaps no one involved in making this season recalls that what was best about the first season was that it left some mysteries unsolved, some places for the viewer’s mind to go. By the time this season’s villain explains exactly how they got the way they are, it’s clear that “Stranger Things” has little appetite left for making us wonder. It’s doesn’t lodge in the memory, and maybe wasn’t meant to: It’s more shock-and-awe campaign than television.