This article contains spoilers for Stranger Things season 4.
Stranger Things season 4 is over! Well…almost. The first seven episodes that constitute Stranger Things season 4 volume 1 have now arrived on Netflix but there is still one more volume to go. Volume 2, which will contain episodes 8 and 9, is set to premiere on Friday, July 1. For now though, the ending of episode 7 “The Massacre at Hawkins Lab” has given us much to chew on and mull over.
Though every season of Stranger Things takes place in the past (at least relative to our own present), this season journeys further back in the timeline than ever before. The show examines events in the 1950s that help set the stage for the Upside Down mayhem to come and Eleven’s time at the Hawkins Lab before she escaped and found her love for Eggo waffles. The crushing weight of Stranger Things’ history comes to bear in episode 7 where we learn a lot about the series’ mythology and even get thrown a cliffhanger or two.
So let’s examine precisely what happens in “The Massacre at Hawkins Lab” and what it means for the show going forward.
What Happens in the Upside Down?
The Stranger Things season 4 volume 1 finale goes where all Stranger Things finales, midseason or otherwise, must inevitably go: The Upside Down. This time, however, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) notices that something is a little different about the sideways universe. Steve (Joe Keery) is the first to fully enter the Upside Down this season, and he is quickly followed by Nancy, Robin (Maya Hawke), and Eddie (Joseph Quinn). After the gang fights off some demobats, they realize they won’t be able to make it back through the watergate and decide to make it to the relative safe haven of the Wheeler household (albeit the Upside Down version of it) to find some weapons to deal with the threats.
It’s here that Nancy makes an interesting discovery. The weapons cache she hid in her room for just such an occasion is not there. And that’s because in the Upside Down she hasn’t hid them yet. Nancy’s room in the Upside Down features old wallpaper, old chemistry notes, an old mirror, and an old stuffed animal that she gave away. By checking through her diary, she discovers that in the Upside Down it is actually Nov. 6, 1983. Now why exactly might that be the case?
It’s possible that time in the Upside Down runs more slowly than time in the real world. But the date in the Upside Down being so specifically targeted as Nov. 6, 1983 is significant. The events of Stranger Things season 1 take place during November 1983. It is likely that Eleven and the Hawkins lab making first contact with the shadowy realm in 1983 effectively froze it in time. It’s also possible that The Mind Flayer and his five-star general Vecna have isolated the Wheeler household in its 1983 version just so the gang doesn’t have any weapons to use.
In any case, Nancy and company are able to make contact with Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and company out in the real world. Dustin works out that Vecna’s kills in the real world open gates to the Upside Down. Sure enough, they make it to Eddie’s trailer, the site of Vecna’s first kill of the season, and a makeshift rope allows Robin and Eddie to make it back to the real world. Steve and Nancy aren’t so lucky though…
What Happens to Nancy?
For a moment it really seems like The Upside Down journey is over and the whole crew is about to make it out. Nancy even climbs (or descends…the Upside Down is confusing) the rope and crosses the threshold of the two worlds. Unfortunately when she does, she discovers she’s not in the real world but in Vecna’s mind palace.
Vecna has sent Nancy’s mind to a very particular location: an emptied out pool. Why? Well, it turns out Vecna is as much a #JusticeforBarb bro as the rest of us. Vecna is able to prey upon his victim’s guilt. And of the four individuals in the Upside Down, Nancy has the most of it. That’s because she still blames herself for heading off to make out with Steve while Barb was left alone by a swimming pool to be dragged to the Upside Down by the Demogorgon in season 1.
Vecna very explicitly feeds upon this guilt as he tells Nancy “do you remember what you did, Nancy? Or have you already forgotten? When I kill someone, I never forget.” One of Stranger Things season 4 volume 2’s first orders of business will be to get Nancy out of this hellish trance. Thankfully we know now that all it will take is her favorite song…whatever that may be.
Is the Demogorgon Defeated?
Oh how far the mighty Demogorgon has fallen. After serving as the big bad in Stranger Things season 1, the faceless flower creep has now been reduced to miniboss status – a freakish sideshow for Soviet soldiers to feed their political prisoners to. Little could the Soviets know, however, that one of those prisoners has extensive experience with this particular monster.
By staging a fight with his prison-guard-turned-prison-buddy Dmitri (Tom Wlaschiha), Hopper (David Harbour) is able to get his hands on a Zippo lighter that should prove useful in battle against the fire-phobic Demogorgon. Still, it’s one thing to know an enemy’s weakness, it’s another thing entirely to actually defeat it…especially when it’s a mythical beast from hell. So how does Harbour fare against the Demogorgon this time? Reasonably well!
Though the Demogorgon kills every prisoner save for Dimitri and Hopper, the duo is able to hide in a cell that Murray (Bret Gelman) and Joyce Byer (Winona Ryder) so helpfully open and close for him. Through the crack in the cell door, Hopper tosses a spear directly into the Demogorgon’s stupid face, which severely injures but does not kill the beast. The Demogorgon isn’t defeated in the traditional sense – it’s still very much alive – but Hopper does accomplish his main goal. He and Dimitri are able to escape where Joyce and Murray meet them. Stranger Things season 4 volume 2 will undoubtedly get the whole crew back to the U.S. quite quickly.
Who Is Number One?
All the way back in season 1 when Stranger Things introduced a main character called “Eleven” it begged the inevitable question: what about Numbers One through Ten? The show has teased out the existence of other individuals with supernatural abilities from the Hawkins Lab before. Who could ever forget “The Lost Sister” – that episode from season 2 that everyone loved? That one introduced Kali a.k.a. Number Eight. It’s not until this season, however, that Stranger Things finally unveils the whole crew.
Of course the very first scene of the season kills all of them off, save for Eleven. This final episode of season 4 volume 1, however, reveals that one other child lived and it was none other than the mythical “Number One.” Throughout this season, Eleven has been reliving her memories in the sensory deprivation tank known as NINA. In those memories, El is assisted by a nameless older child at the Hawkins Lab played by Jamie Campbell Bower. Unbeknownst to her and the audience, that older child is really Number One – the very first superpowered individual the lab brought in.
Not only that, but Number One has a significant tie to the rest of Stranger Things’ story at large. In reality, he is Victor Creel’s son, Henry Creel. After Number One/Henry Creel convinces Eleven to help him remove his power-inhibiting chip, he reveals that he was the cause of all his family’s strife. It wasn’t a demon or a ghost that haunted the Creel House and ultimately killed Victor Creel’s family, it was Henry. Henry forced terrifying visions into his family’s heads and then violently dispatched him when he knew his mother wanted to send him off to a psychiatric facility.
Why did Henry do all of this? His motivation is ultimately a supervillain classic: he’s better than everyone else so why shouldn’t it be him who uses his powers to enforce order on a chaotic world? He came to idolize the black widow spiders in the attic of the Creel home. They knew how to bring balance to an unstable ecosystem, which is a lesson that humanity could stand to learn.
Following the events at Creel House, Dr. Brenner brought Henry Creel into his special school for evil freaks. Not only that but Henry/Number One intimates that Brenner may have even harnessed his DNA to create the other children. Brenner quickly realized that Henry was too powerful and needed to be controlled. In fact, the act of killing people allows Henry to absorb their essence and makes him even more powerful.
Thankfully, Eleven is the one other Brenner pupil strong enough to take out Henry. She does so by harnessing her happy memories and sending him into the Upside Down where he would never be heard from again.
Just kidding! He’s totally back and in a form you might recognize.
Who Is Vecna?
The final moments of Stranger Things season 4 episode 7 reveal that Henry Creel a.k.a. Number One is the monster we’ve come to know as Vecna. Upon being banished to The Upside Down, the shadowy realm gives him a terrifying, bestial form more suitable to his inner evil. There is very little humanity left in Number One. He is basically The Upside Down personified – the insidious combination of actual evil and power as interpreted by a dark dimension. The Vecna name that Dustin and company give them is far more fitting than they could have ever realized.
When Stranger Things season 4 volume 2 starts up, our heroes will have an important weapon to use in the fight against their ultimate antagonist: his identity. Not only has Eleven unlocked her memories of Number One, but the arrogant Vecna himself, grants Nancy a look into his real history. Who knows how a being as powerful as Vecna can be defeated. But knowing who and what he was can only help.
Stranger Things season 4 volume 2 premieres Friday, July 1 on Netflix.