dropped its epic season 4 finale. Who lives? who dies? Can Max shake off the curse? Can Hopper return from the USSR? Will Eddie rock the Upside Down? Can Eleven or anyone defeat the monstrous Vecna?
The two extra-long finale episodes hit Netflix on July 1st (although). We already are . Let’s dive into the two-hour episode 9, The Piggyback, and recap the key plot points, Easter eggs and character arcs. (Plus lots of spoilers!)
Stranger Things is set in 1980s Indiana, where a teenager with powerful psychic powers is on the run from a sinister government installation. Eleven joins forces with local geeks Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will to battle demogorgons, mind wanderers, and other monsters, including the creepily calculated Dr. Brenner.
Episode 8 ended with Brenner dying in the desert dust, but leaving behind a whole bunch of trouble: His experiments on psychic children led Eleven to drop troubled youth Henry Creel into a parallel Upside Down dimension years ago, where he became demonic the villain Vecna from the 4th season.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Jim Hopper, Joyce and Murray try to escape from a brutal Russian gulag with the help of duplicitous ex-guard Antonov (aka Enzo) and crazy smuggler Yuri. Episode 9 opens with Jim and Joyce facing the same problem as Eleven, Will, Mike, Jonathan and Surfer Boy brochacho Argyle: They have to get back to Hawkins before Vecna kills again and opens the fourth gate to the dark dimension. Steve, Nancy, Robin, Dustin and Eddie Munson attempt to infiltrate the Upside Down and ram Vecna into his coffin, while Lucas and Erica enter the terrifying Creel mansion to offer Max as bait. In the series finale, only the Hawkins children (and Kate Bush) can save the world.
The first stage
In Russia, Yuri procrastinates (literally) while pretending to work on his Katinka helicopter. Nearby, Joyce and Hopper undress in tandem, revealing just how much damage Hopper’s body has taken from his stay in the brutal gulag. Yet despite being battered, bloody, thin and shaved, David Harbor may never have been hotter? After deciding he was a curse to anyone who cared about him, Hopper still found hope in dreams of Enzo’s breadsticks and lasagna, not to mention fondling Joyce (in a Hulk Hogan shirt).
In Hawkins, Nancy and the crew prepare a reverse commando attack. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Dustin and Eddie know they’re bait, but as soon as someone says “We’re not heroes,” you just know they’re going to pull some pretty heroic crap before they get going.
As Erica, Lucas, and Max investigate the creepy Creel house, phase one begins… except a passerby spots Erica, leading Jason and his newly acquired gun to the Morehead murder house.
On the way, Eleven spots a billboard depicting a happy family and has flashbacks to her mother, Terry. If he can enter the mind of his mother or Billy in previous seasons, he realizes that he can follow Max’s mind and confront Vecna. That just means popping into Surfer Boy Pizza. Luckily, they have Purple Palm Tree Delight.
The battle of the mind is on
Hopper reaches out to Owens’ assistant, who warns them of the danger in Hawkins. In their respective parks, Hopper and Joyce realize that they too can join the fight from where they are. It just means going back to the Soviet prison. Luckily, they have a flamethrower.
Are you ready for the greatest metal concert in the history of the world? In Upside Down, Eddie discovers a demonic copy of his ax and pairs it with Metallica’s puppet master to lure a horde of demonic bats across Hell’s dark dimension. I love how it’s not just Eleven who brings her superpowers to the fight. The unique personalities of the common folk play a key role, as Argyle’s pizza-making and Eddie’s chopping also help save the world.
You might be forgiven for forgetting Jonathan was there this season as he’s mostly been in the background of a show with so many characters. But in one of the more intimate moments of the season, he reconnects with Will. In another touching moment, after Steve’s speech about the kids in episode 8, he shares another vulnerable bond with Nancy this episode. Oh, he’s really going to die, isn’t he?
Running up another hill
As Max listens to her secret weapon, Kate Bush, she and Lucas exchange sweet notes. Then he turns off his Walkman.
The second phase begins.
But it doesn’t work. Eleven can see Max, but the guest of honor does not appear. Max digs deeper into Vecna’s taunting and confronts her own emotional demons by confessing her darkest thoughts about her late brother Billy. And she admits that her bravery and eventual sacrifice is rooted in self-loathing, not nobility. Finally, Vecna makes her presence felt by cruelly impersonating Lucas and then Billy. Meanwhile, Eleven is already projecting herself into the Creel house and then takes another step inside Max’s mind as she finds herself in the middle of a memory of Max skateboarding.
It’s time for the third phase.
Max is in the 1984 Hawkins High Snow Globe as the 1983 Cop megahit Every Breath You Take plays – just like the moment Lucas and Max kissed at the end of season two. Then there’s the striking image of a balloon bursting into a shower of blood as the school dance turns into something darker to the tune of Elle Fitzgerald’s Dream a Little Dream of Me — the song that was playing on the radio when Henry Creel murdered his family.
In Upside Down, Robin and Steve and Nancy are all grabbed by the choking tentacles as Eddie and Dustin go into battle. (Battle, gedit?) To help Dustin escape, Eddie returns to the Upside Down for a sword fight with a swarm of demonic bats. See? Heroic shit. He called!
Eleven turns on
Lucas realizes that he never wanted to be popular and normal, but his fight with Jason breaks Max’s musical lifeline. Fortunately, Eleven hits the dance floor just in time to confront the demon she inadvertently created.
The creature formerly known as Henry Creel once again takes the upper hand, crucifying Eleven against the now familiar door of the murder house as Max is lifted up to be the final victim. Eleven doesn’t use her telekinetic powers, but her empathy for Henry. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work because Henry doesn’t blame the ordinary, average man Brenner for turning him into Vecna. He blames Eleven.
In a flashback, we see Vecna/Henry/One exploring the Upside Down, a realm he sees as uncorrupted by humans. He becomes “the predator he was always meant to be” with the help of the hideous Mind Chewer. “It was always you,” Eleven sobs as she flashes back to possessing Billy’s form in earlier seasons of Mind Chewers, realizing that it was actually Vecna trying to open the gates from the Upside Down.
While ’80s pop helped Max escape Vecna, now Mike’s words are music to Eleven’s ears as he finally says “I love you.” With or without powers, she’s his superhero. Significantly, this season is built around family and friends keeping each other connected no matter how far apart they are. Things go awry when characters stop talking, like Jonathan and Nancy, or Lucas rejecting the Hellfire Club, or even Henry Creel turning against his family. But Mike and El’s love letters, Hopper’s dream about a night out, Max’s notes, Mike calling Eleven as she in turn reaches out to Max – these are all people shouting their love for each other, refusing to let their bond fade away.
In an epic climax sure to get everyone cheering, Running Up That Hill swells as Eleven smashes Vecna with her signature move. Joyce and Jim defeat the last Demogorgons while Steve and Robin throw Molotov cocktails. And Nancy? She doesn’t miss a beat.
But the victory is bittersweet as Eddie dies in Dustin’s arms. The moment is subverted a bit as Eddie, out of metal, walks away towards Moby’s species, but it’s still sad.
And Max, broken and blinded, dies in Lucas’ arms – completing Vecna’s quartet of murders. The words of the obviously defeated villain are ringing in our ears ahead of the fifth and final season.
“This is just the beginning,” warns Henry/Vecna Eleven. “The beginning of the end. You’ve already lost.” As the clock ticks, a terrifying giant gate opens the city of Hawkins. What an end! The villain has been defeated, but an even greater threat looms! What madness!
Yeah, except there’s still 30 minutes left.
It won’t stop
The final half hour is full of emotional payoffs with the gang emotionally reuniting amid the aftermath. Two days later, a “magnitude 7.4 earthquake” shook the city, killing and injuring dozens of people. To add insult to injury, the heroic Eddie Munson and the innocent Hellfire Club are blamed for the satanic events. Still, at least Dustin can tell the truth to Eddie’s uncle (mostly).
Having already saved the world, the gang volunteers to help with humanitarian aid. Robin’s crush, Vickie, joins her on PB&J duty, and it looks like romance might be on the cards after all. Hopper and Joyce are tearfully reunited with Eleven, who searches the dark and empty surroundings for Max – who turns out to be alive, but in a coma.
Scarily, Will still has a connection to Vecna/Henry/One after being possessed in season 2. And he knows the scary demon is hurt but still there. The hairs on the back of his neck stand up as the clouds gather and strange particles rain down on the people of Hawkins, poisoning the plants and opening a terrifying portal. This is a replay of the moment in Season 2, Episode 1 where Will saw a vision of the Mind Burner before he possessed it — except this time everyone can see it, because it’s actually happening…
And so the stage is set for Season 5 of Stranger Things!
The strangest things
- Steve survived!
- Brochachos Surfer Boy Pizza give us an epic A-Team style tool scene, with extra pizzazz.
- It seems funny that in the midst of demons and government conspiracies, the fate of the world was almost derailed by a dick in a varsity jacket. But the hot, popular jerk is one of the biggest ’80s movie tropes, so it’s only fitting that he plays a key role in this ’80s-obsessed series.
- Technically, Max and Vecna fight in the mental realm, so why are their powers limited to be the same as in the real world?
- Murray quotes Star Wars (“I’ve got a bad feeling about this”) as the adults sneak back to the prison, while Robin’s quip after being groped (“I don’t believe in a higher power or divine intervention, but it was a miracle”) echoes that famous scene with Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction.
- Antonov (aka Enzo) appeals to Yuri’s better nature by referring to his experience in Damansk in the 1969 Sino-Soviet border conflict.
- Eleven likes pineapple pizza. Try it before you deny it.
- Joyce has a flashback to the death of Bob Newby, her season 2 boyfriend, played by Sean Astin.
- At Max’s bedside, Lucas is reading The Talisman, a fantasy novel by Stephen King and Peter Straub from 1984. Intriguingly, this is also the story of a parallel dimension that ends with an earthquake — and the novel then reveals more parallel realms.
- The closing song is Spellbound by Siouxsie and the Banshees. Why doesn’t anyone think to tape a Walkman to the comatose Max?
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