Watch out! This post contains spoilers.
Though it took three whole years for “Stranger Things” to hit Netflix, having binged it, we can confirm that the first half of season four of the sci-fi series was worth the wait. The latest supernatural threat is dangerously menacing, the stakes are high, and a lot is going on throughout the supersized season.
Episode seven, “The Massacre at Hawkins Lab,” unravels the mystery surrounding the Upside Down and how it ties back to Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). With multiple locations this season – Hawkins, a Russian prison, California, the middle of the deserts of Nevada, and, of course, the Upside Down — it’s natural to want a refresher on the different storylines that run simultaneously in the latest installment. So read on as we break down all the major questions you might have about the “Stranger Things” season four midseason finale.
What Happens to Hopper in Russia?
Following last season’s action-packed battle at the Starcourt Mall, Hopper (David Harbour) presumably died when he tried to thwart the Russians by destroying the machine from opening the gate to the Upside Down. Season four quickly addresses Hopper’s fate. He’s, in fact, alive and is currently held captive in a Russian prison, Kamchatka. After a season of plotting and devising a master plan to rescue Hopper, Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Murray (Brett Gelman) finally make it inside the prison premises just as the prisoners, including Hopper, are facing off against the Demogorgon. Knowing that the beast would be terrified of fire, Hopper designs a makeshift weapon to fend off the Demogorgon by wrapping a vodka-drenched piece of fabric around a spear and lightening it up.
While the Demogorgon devours the rest of the prisoners in the pit, Murray holds the general at gunpoint, asking him to stop the sick game. But when the general and the rest of the soldiers refuse to help them, Joyce takes matters into her own hands and starts pushing several buttons all at once in hopes of opening up a barrier against the raging Demogorgon. Luckily for Hopper and Enzo, the gate to Demogorgon’s cage opens just in time for them to take refuge. Hopper throws out the blazing spear full steam ahead, which sticks the landing inside the Demogorgon’s head. As the door to the other side of their cage opens, they see Joyce and Murray standing right in front of them. Hopper and Joyce hold one another in an emotionally-charged slo-mo reunion sequence.
Did Steve and Co. Find Their Way Out of the Upside Down?
While testing out their theory about the gate to the Upside Down, Steve (Joe Keery) dives into the Lover’s Lake, where Vecna killed Patrick. Much to his surprise, their guesswork is right on the money. However, he’s blocked on his way out by a swarm of alternate dimensional bats. After seeing Steve getting dragged into the Upside Down, Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Robin (Maya Hawke), and Eddie (Joseph Quinn) follow him through the “Watergate.” The group manages to beat the flock of creatures and save Steve. After bandaging him up, the group heads over to Nancy’s house, where she hopes to pick up the guns she’s hidden in her room. However, they soon discover that the house — and by extension, the Upside Down version of Hawkins — is frozen in the past: Nov 6, 1983, to be precise, which was the day Will (Noah Schnapp) went missing in season one.
Steve picks up on Dustin’s (Gaten Matarazzo) muffled voice in the house, leading them to try to communicate with the kids on the other side using lights, just like Will did in season one. They succeed in making contact with Dustin, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Max (Sadie Sink), and Erica (Priah Ferguson), and the “Party” teenagers suggest they go to Eddie’s trailer, aka the site of Chrissy’s death, where Vecna created a portal through a psychic connection with his victim. Robin and Eddie successfully cross over into the real world through the gate. Unfortunately, when Nancy takes the rope, she falls under Vecna’s curse. As Steve, who’s also in the Upside Down with Nancy, tries his best to jolt her out of Vecna’s grasp, we see her revisit her guiltiest moment when Barb, her best friend, died. She then witnesses Vecna’s backstory play out in front of her. But more on that later.
What Happened at the Hawkins Lab Massacre in 1979?
We finally return to the gory flashback we started the season with. Though we’ve been led to believe El somehow wreaked havoc on Hawkins Lab’s inhabitants in 1979, that’s far from the truth. At Dr. Brenner’s behest, El agrees to take one more trip into her memories, which have proven to be more traumatic than she initially thought. In the flashback, after El suffers a concussion due to being bullied by her fellow patient, Two, Dr. Brenner severely punishes him by electroshocking him in front of everyone.
Now in the Rainbow Room, El is terrified by her “brothers and sisters,” who are all shooting daggers at her for supposedly getting Two in trouble with Brenner. Peter Ballard (Jamie Campbell Bower), the orderly overseeing the gifted youth, asks her to join him in a chess game. During their match, Peter reveals that he overheard Brenner manipulating other kids into killing El. He explains that “Papa” fears El’s powers because he can’t control them. To save her, Peter shows El a secret underground drainpipe that will allow Eleven to escape the lab. When El asks Peter to join her in her escape, he tells her that he can’t leave the premises because of a tracking chip injected inside him by Brenner called Soteria. Sweet naïve El — bless her soul — wants to return the favor and offers to take out the chip, which, it turns out, had been Peter’s plan all along. As she removes the device, which worked as a power-dampener, Peter starts exhibiting powerful telekinetic abilities at maximum capacity, much like El’s. Then, he pulls up his sleeves to reveal the marking “001” on his wrist, letting El know that he’d been the subject number One who kicked off the program.
How Was the Upside-Down Created?
Within a matter of minutes, One kills almost every single person within eyeshot. As El follows his tail, horrified, she realizes he’d used her abilities to exact his sick, twisted revenge. Peter asks El to join him in his mission to “reshape the world.” Sickened by his motive, El refuses to play along, and the two engage in a supernatural battle. Though El employs Peter’s earlier-shared tip to harness feelings of anger and sadness to channel her powers at full force, it goes only so far. Peter seems to be succeeding at slowly killing El with her levitating in the air, her bones beginning to wriggle, and blood trickling down her eyes before he could gouge them out. Then, just when it seems it is the end for El, she conjures up a fleeting memory of her birth when her mother told her she loved her. The love within El is so powerful that she’s now overpowering Peter as she smashes him hard against the mirror, sending him flying into the wall behind him. She hits him again until Peter screams in agony and she inadvertently opens the gate to the alternate dimension (aka the origin of the Upside Down) and sends him through it. And that’s when Brenner finds El alone in the Rainbow Room, all worked up and stained with blood.
Who Is Vecna?
Let’s rewind to moments before the nail-biting showdown between El and One in the Rainbow Room. Before he launches into continuing his killing spree with El, he gives her a window into his childhood before he came to Hawkins Lab. Peter’s family knew he was different than other kids his age, so they moved into Hawkins to start afresh. He found human existence meaningless and yearned to fix the broken structure of the “cruel, oppressive world dictated by made-up rules.” What that meant to him was weeding out the weak out whom he considered mere “pests.”
Frustrated by his parent’s attempt to tame his abilities, he decides to get them out of his way. He uses his psychic powers at the dinner table to kill his mother. He later does the same to his younger sister, but he falls into a coma when he tries to kill his father, thwarted by his limitations. When he wakes up, he has been sent to Dr. Brenner to get his powers under control, as his mother had arranged before she died.
But here’s the big twist – as Peter is filling El in on his life story, we’re simultaneously watching it unfold through Nancy, who is now inside the mind lair of Vecna, i.e., the Creel House.
It turns out Peter Ballard is One, but he’s also Vecna, who was originally Victor Creel’s eldest son, Henry Creel. As we piece it all together, we are treated to a shot of Peter blasting into the Upside Down. After being subjected to lightning and the searing hot temperature of the alternate dimension, he transforms into this season’s vicious monster, Vecna. In today’s timeline, Vecna’s left wrist shows the inscription “001” as the camera fades to black.
Will El be able to regain her superpowers before it’s too late? Will Nancy and Steve make it out of the Upside Down before Vecna’s curse worsens? Would El be key to defeating Vecna again after all these years later? Only the second part will tell — which will follow up the latest batch of episodes with the remaining two supersized chapters of season four on July 1. July couldn’t come soon enough!
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