Warning: contains spoilers for Stranger Things Season 4 vol. I & II.
Stranger Things is never shy about saluting its film inspirations (that chess set in season four’s Rainbow Room? It’s the same one that Roy and Sebastian use in Blade Runner, to give one of a billion examples). So when the Netflix show appears to quote from an extremely famous movie scene, it’s worth chewing over the potential implications. Especially when the extremely famous movie scene in question backs up a major twist some fans are predicting for Stranger Things Season 5.
In Eleven’s pivotal flashback in Season 4, Episode 7 ‘The Massacre at Hawkins Lab’, the creepy lab orderly revealed to be a grown-up Henry Creel/One/Future Vecna gets his telekinetic powers back, kills everybody and makes Eleven an offer: “If you come with me, for the first time in your life you will be free. Imagine what we could do together. We could reshape the world. Reimagine it however we see fit. Join me.”
Eleven says she’ll never join Henry, and throws herself down a Cloud City reactor shaft before sending a psychic SOS to her twin sister who flies over to rescue her from her precarious position hanging off a weather vane.
No she doesn’t, but that’s what Luke Skywalker does after duelling Darth Vader in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, right after Vader tells Luke: “You do not yet realise your importance. You have only begun to discover your power. Join me, and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy.”
There’s a distinct similarity to the respective “join me” appeals, not just the fact that they’re both declined by Eleven and Luke. It’s what Vader tells Luke next (if you want a spoiler warning, you can’t have one. It’s been a hundred years) that’s giving Stranger Things fans pause. “I am your father,” says Vader. “Search your feelings. You know it to be true.” Luke screams noooooooooooooo, then reactor shaft, twin sister, weather vane, and so on.
I Am Your… Papa?
For obvious reasons, it’s long been suspected that Dr Martin Brenner is Eleven’s biological father in Stranger Things. She calls him Papa, for a start (but then, all of his test subjects do, even the ones visibly genetically unrelated to Brenner). Eleven’s biological mother was Terry Ives, an Indiana college student who signed up for Brenner’s MKUltra project to develop test subjects with mind control powers.
Terry had a boyfriend (he’s called Andrew Rich in the comics/novels but is nameless in the TV show) and didn’t realise she was pregnant during Brenner’s weird experiments and psychedelic drug use. Brenner lied to Terry that she had miscarried late in the pregnancy and stole her baby – Jane/Eleven – for continued use in his experiments. When Terry suspected what had happened, she came back to fight for Jane but Brenner dosed her with such a high level of electro-convulsive ‘therapy’ that she was left comatose and trapped inside a repeating loop in her mind.
For years, Stranger Things fans have accepted the horrible possibility that Brenner impregnated Terry against her consent, possibly through artificial insemination while she was unconscious, in order to create a baby for his experiments. After season four’s revelations comes the new twist that if that’s true, Brenner may not have used his own semen to impregnate Terry. Wanting to recreate Henry Creel/One’s powers in a test subject he could control, Brenner may have used Henry’s sperm in his sick eugenics experiment.
“The truth is he did not just want to study me. He wanted more. He wanted to control. When Papa finally realised he could not control me, he tried to recreate me. He began a programme and soon, others were born. You were born. And I am so glad you were, Eleven.”Stranger Things Season 4, Episode 7 ‘The Massacre at Hawkins Lab’
The timeline works out. Brenner took Henry into the Hawkins National Laboratory after the Creel family murders in 1959 when the boy was aged 12, and there he remained until 1979 (latterly with his powers repressed using a neural implant). Just as Terry was with Jane, Henry’s father Victor was lied to and told that his son had died. So Henry/One would have been in his early 20s and not much older than Terry Ives around the time that she became pregnant with Eleven. Brenner could certainly have used Henry/One to biologically father Terry’s baby, doubtless without the consent of either party.
It Was Always You
If the above turns out to be true, could Vecna know that Eleven is his daughter? Henry/One knew all about Terry’s existence because he was the one who told Eleven that her mother was still alive when he was grooming the girl to help him escape the lab in 1979. In the season four finale, Vecna tells Eleven, “There was a time when I had hoped to have had you by my side,” and “it was you, it was always you.” That was in reference to him coveting her power to open gates between dimensions and the various monsters he’s been using over the seasons to try to exploit that power, but is there a ring of paternal fondness to his words?
If Vecna is Eleven’s biological father, it could explain why her powers are greater than those of the other test subjects, and how Henry/One was able to help her to control them – because she inherited them from him. Now that Dr Brenner is finally dead (and good riddance), there’s no direct line to prove this story, but in a show where characters can walk around inside other characters’ memories and dreams, that’s hardly a hurdle.
From El levitating that Millennium Falcon toy in season one to Steve picking “the one with the teddy bears” as his fav from the original trilogy, Star Wars has always been entwined with Stranger Things. For a show so dedicated to pop culture homage, it wouldn’t feel out of character then, for Stranger Things to hint at its next move by alluding to the very scene that gave us Star Wars’ biggest twist.
Stranger Things Season 4 is available to stream on Netflix now.