Let’s Break Down the Ending of Stranger Things 4: Part One

12 minute read

This story contains spoilers for Stranger Things 4: Part One

The first half of Stranger Things penultimate season has arrived, and since it’s a Netflix show, all seven episodes dropped at once. Season 4, which was split into two parts, as the second half consisting of two supersized episodes arrives in July, was itself full of lengthy episodes. So, it’s going to take even the most dedicated bingers a bit to get to the finale. But, once you get there—or if you’re just curious and want to skip ahead for spoilers—here’s an explanation of what happened in the midseason finale, what it reveals about the season’s big bad, and what it could mean for Stranger Things 4: Part Two.

How did Stranger Things Season 3 end?

To briefly, briefly recap where we left things off at the end of Season 3, all the various characters—including newcomers Robin (Maya Hawke) and Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery)—convened in Starcourt Mall to fight the flesh-monster hivemind the evil Mindflayer sent after them. The mall, it turned out, was built over a top-secret Soviet base that was studying a gateway to the Upside Down. The gang defeats the monster, seals the gate, and destroys the base, but at a cost. Billy, who had been possessed by the monster, sacrifices himself in front of his stepsister Max (Sadie Sink). Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown) seems to have lost her powers, and she and the Byers family leave Hawkins and move to California. And, Hopper (David Harbour) sacrifices himself to destroy the gate and is presumed dead… though he’s actually been transported to the U.S.S.R., where he’s imprisoned in a labor camp.

What happens in Stranger Things 4: Part One?

Now, before we get to the midseason finale, let’s recap what happened in the first six episodes of Stranger Things Season 4. There are a ton of characters in Stranger Things, so it makes the most sense to break them into three main groups. There’s a crew in California, a group in Hawkins, and some characters who spend the season in snowy, desolate Siberia. Let’s start with the West Coast.

STRANGER THINGS. (L to R) Joe Keery as Steve Harrington, Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson, Maya Hawke as Robin Buckley, Sadie Sink as Max Mayfield, Natalia Dyer as Nancy Wheeler, and Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair in STRANGER THINGS. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022Courtesy of Netflix—© 2022 Netflix, Inc.

What happens with the California crew?

Eleven (Brown), Will (Noah Schnapp), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), and Joyce (Winona Ryder) moved to California, and Mike (Finn Wolfhard), came to visit Eleven over break. However, after Eleven, who was de-powered following the events of the the Season 3 after a run-in with the Mind Flayer, assaults a bully, the authorities come knocking at their door. While one faction of the government wants to eliminate Eleven, another, including Doctor Sam Owens (Paul Reiser), wants to re-power her, thinking she’s their best hope against the Upside Down. She goes with them and Will, Mike, Jonathan, and Jonathan’s new stoner friend Argyle (Eduardo Franco) try to track down where she is. Eleven is taken to a secret facility where she’s reunited with Matthew Modine’s Doctor Brenner (who is still alive!) and put in a sensory deprivation tank so she can relive memories that will hopefully restore her powers—and answer some questions.

What happens with the gang in Hawkins?

Back in Hawkins, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Max (Sink), Robin (Hawke), Steve (Joe Keery), Nancy (Natalia Dyer), and newcomer Eddie (Joseph Quinn), the Dungeon Master of the gang’s Dungeons and Dragons group who has been wrongfully framed for murder have been tracking down a new threat from the Upside Down they call Vecna. Vecna has been creating psychic bonds with his victims, tormenting them with visions, and then gruesomely killing them by snapping their limbs and making their eyes explode. Max almost succumbs to Vecna’s influence but is saved when music—specifically Kate Bush—tethers her back to reality. In the course of tracking down Vecna, Steve, Nancy, Robin, and Eddie enter the Upside Down via a gateway that opened where one of Vecna’s victims died.

Vecna in 'Stranger Things'Courtesy of Netflix

What’s the deal with Max and Kate Bush?

Max, as mentioned previously, was targeted by Vecna, who tormented her with psychic visions of her dead step-brother Billy (Montgomery, briefly returning in a cameo role). When it came time to try to kill her like he killed the others, he transported her consciousness to his realm in the Upside Down. But, in the nick of time, Robin and Nancy figure out that a previous victim of Vecna’s had been saved because he heard his favorite song and it pulled him back. Lucas, as Max’s ex, knows her favorite artist at the moment is the iconic English art-pop singer Kate Bush, and they slip headphones on her comatose body in the real world and blast her 1985 song “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God),” which allows her to escape. Great song, don’t be shocked if it re-charts now that Stranger Things thrust it back into the limelight.

STRANGER THINGS. Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair in STRANGER THINGS. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022Courtesy of Netflix—© 2022 Netflix, Inc.

What’s the deal with Hopper? Is he still alive?

Meanwhile, Joyce got a package from the Soviet Union from Dmitri (Tom Wlaschiha), a crooked prison guard in Siberia, who wanted to illicitly ransom Hopper—alive but imprisoned at a Soviet labor camp—back to her. Joyce and Murray (Brett Gelman) travel to Alaska to get him, but Dmitri’s smuggler betrays them all. Demitri’s imprisoned with Hopper and Joyce and Murrary are flown to Siberia, but they’re able to turn the tables on their kidnapper and enter the labor camp just as Hopper’s about to enter a cage fight with a captured Demogorgon.

David Harbour as Jim Hopper in 'Stranger Things'Courtesy of Netflix

What happens in the final episode of Stranger Things 4: Part One?

Hopper and Dmitri hold their own against the Demogorgon while Joyce and Murray get some hostages and manage to free the pair from the death pit. Joyce and Hopper have an emotional wordless reunion, and that’s where we leave them until the premiere of Part Two.

Meanwhile, back in the States, two other plotlines converge with the same revelation. Dustin and Co. realize that Vecna is greeting a new gateway between the real world and the Upside Down at the site of every killing, and thanks to some Season 1-esque light shenanigans, they convey this message to the trapped teen crew. The Upside Down foursome make it to another gateway and Robin and Eddie escape. As Nancy’s about to exit, Vecna makes a psychic connection with her and kidnaps her consciousness where he reveals his backstory. More on that in a second.

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Eleven, after begrudgingly working with Brenner, her abuser and former “papa,” finally gets to the end of some repressed memories while in the sensory deprivation tank. One of the attendants at the facility where she was trained and grew up encourages her to escape, and in the process, Eleven removes an implant that was inhibiting this young man’s powers. He quickly goes on a rampage, and then invites Eleven to join him in reshaping the world with their incredible powers while detailing his backstory—again, more on that in one second. Eleven says no, and drawing upon a memory of her mother, she’s able to defeat him and send him to the Upside Down. The scene at the start of the season that made it seem like Eleven was responsible for the Massacre at Hawkins Lab was a red herring. It was this man, also known as 001, also known as Vecna.

Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven in 'Stranger Things'Courtesy of Netflix

So, who is Vecna?

As we learn in the cross-cutting sequence where 001 and Vecna explain their histories to Eleven and Nancy, respectively, they are one and the same. They were once the son of Victor Creel—the man imprisoned in Pennhurst Asylum who Nancy and Robin interviewed in Episode 4. While Victor Creel assumed his whole family was being tormented by some evil force back in the late ‘50s, it was really his son, who innately had incredible and horrible powers and was behind all the torment. Victor unknowingly survived his son’s assault thanks to a musical connection, much like Max, though he was blamed for his family’s murders and later carved out his own eyes. His son’s body, however, was never found.

Vecna in 'Stranger Things'Courtesy of Netflix

That’s because the boy had been taken in by a doctor that his mother—who suspected on some level that her son was behind the evils tormenting the family—had wanted him to see. That doctor was none other than Martin Brenner. The boy, who was named and tattooed “001,” was the first of Brenner’s experiments. When Eleven defeated him, he was cast into the Upside Down and his body was mutilated by the warped lighting as he fell. Since then, he’s been lurking in the shadows, amassing power and tentacles. Dustin, who has been on the money about pretty much everything, hypothesized that Vecna is acting as a general or sorts for the Mind Flayer, but the finale didn’t confirm the relationship between the two villains.

Dungeons & Dragons players likely guessed that Vecna was once human. As a member of the D&D team explained to TIME, the character from the tabletop game who inspired the villain was once a human wizard, but he transcended mortality and became a powerful undead being known as a lich—and eventually ascended to godhood.

What does this mean for Eleven?

Eleven—who is once more sporting the buzzcut look that helped make her an iconic character in Season 1—seems to have gotten her powers back. She has also learned some shocking new information about both her repressed path and the new villain she must face. Eleven has always been connected to Upside Down and the various threats contained within but never before has she had such a personal connection with the bad guy as she does with Vecna. She was, after all, the one who defeated 001 and trapped him in the Upside Down. Owens and Brenner—whose uneasy peace with Eleven will surely be tested going forward—already thought she was their best hope at stopping the Upside Down from wreaking havoc. Now that she and the Upside Down’s latest threat have a personal history, the stakes are even higher.

Millie Bobbie Brown in Stranger Things
Millie Bobbie Brown in Stranger ThingsCurtis Baker/Netflix

Where does that leave us for the final two episodes of Stranger Things Season 4?

There are plenty of cliffhangers for Stranger Things 4 Part Two, which will premiere on July 1. Hopper and Joyce have been reunited, but they’re still in the Soviet Union and there might still be prison guards to contend with before they get home. Mike and Will are tracking down Eleven, who seems to have regained her powers. Dustin, Lucas, Lucas’ sister Erica, Max, Eddie, and Robin are all safely in Hawkins, and they know how Vecna’s powers work but don’t know who he is. Steve is still in the Upside Down where he’s trying to awaken a comatose Nancy. And, Nancy’s consciousness is standing right before Vecna, meaning she’s in mortal danger.

Presumably, the final two episodes of Season 2 are heading toward a rematch as Vecna (née 001) throws down with a newly re-powered Eleven. Mike’s cohort, who haven’t had a ton to do in the first part of the season, will likely join up with her and make their way to Hawkins and/or the Upside Down. Joyce and Hopper will try to make it back to the states, and if they do, there will be an emotional reunion between Eleven and her dad—her hero—Hopper. Predicting what this could all mean for Season 5 is difficult, since we don’t yet know how Season 4 ends. It may all depend on what we learn about the origins of the Upside Down, and whether Vecna will be defeated or survive to the final season. And, the exact relationship between Vecna and the Mind Flayer, who is still looming, remains to be seen.

Does anyone die in Stranger Things 4: Part One?

None of the main characters die in the first part of the Season (RIP Chrissy Cunningham, though). As of the midseason finale, Nancy is probably in the most peril. We will say one thing, though: Although Part One of the season was gruesome, there were no major character deaths. Previous seasons have killed off major characters like Sean Astin’s Bob Newby and Dacre Montgomery’s Billy Hargrove, though nobody from the “main” cast has fallen yet. (Hopper’s demise last season was an obvious fakeout.) Seeing as there’s only one season left after this, it wouldn’t be a shocker if a member of the main cast went belly-side up in the Upside Down.

STRANGER THINGS. (L to R) Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler and Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson in STRANGER THINGS. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022Courtesy of Netflix—© 2022 Netflix, Inc.

When does Stranger Things 4: Part Two hit Netflix?

The final two episodes of Stranger Things 4, “Papa” and “The Piggyback,”—which boast runtimes of 1 hour and 25 minutes and 2 hours and 30 minutes, respectively—hit Netflix on July 1.

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