This changes everything.
Over the course of 541 minutes and 7 super-sized episodes, we learned a helluva lot more about the world of “Stranger Things” — and this is all just from the first volume of episodes for Season 4.
Throughout those nine hours, viewers were thrust between harrowing happenings in Hawkins, Indiana, California, Russia and the Upside Down, across multiple timelines, ending in some major revelations involving Jane “Eleven” Hopper, Hawkins Lab and the new big bad, a creature named Vecna.
Vecna is unlike the other creatures we’ve seen throughout the series so far, appearing far more anthropomorphous than the Demogorgon, demodogs, Spider Monster and, the leader of them all, the Mind Flayer. His powers can cross dimensions and draw a lot of similarities to Freddy Kruger (it’s no coincidence Robert Englund and a standee of him in costume both appear throughout the season). He tracks down children with traumatic pasts, gives them nightmares, headaches and terrifying visions, before eventually pulling them into a trance, twisting their bones and popping out their eyeballs from the safety of the Creel home in the Upside Down.
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We see him brutally take out poor cheerleader Chrissy, before setting his sights on Max (Sadie Sink). Luckily, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Robin (Maya Hawke) who — after a visit to alleged murderer Victor Creel (Englund), who was accused of killing his family in a manner similar to Chrissy’s death — deduce that music is “a lifeline back to reality” from Vecna’s trance. They relay that info to Max, who is saved at the last second from becoming a human accordion by listening to Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” on repeat for the duration of the season.
But Vecna’s true identity is much more than just another lackey for the Mind Flayer. In the Vol. 1 finale, viewers learn he actually used to be human. And not just any human — but the very first test subject at Hawkins Lab, known as 001.
This comes out thanks to Eleven, who finds herself completely powerless following her interaction with the Spider Monster in Season 3. After Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) learns the government is searching for her, he whisks her away to another top secret lab to help her regain her powers so she can help her friends back home … and the world at large. To do that, she’s reunited with Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine), who believes she needs to unlock some repressed memories from her early days at Hawkins Labs. As she relives her past memories in the dreaded isolation tank, more of her backstory is revealed.
Through flashbacks, viewers learn she was bullied by the other test subjects as her powers began to grow stronger. Over time, she begins to confide in one of the adult assistants (Jamie Campbell Bower — credited as “friendly orderly” … at first), who says he can help her escape if she can remove the chip from his head keeping him there. She does, only to find out the chip also seemed to be a power dampener and he has powers just like hers. With those powers exposed, he then tells his story.
You see, he was actually the son of Victor Creel, whose family moved to Hawkins for a new start. Once there, he realized he had telekinetic powers, which he strengthened over time. While his father believed it was a demon “cursing them for their sins,” he said his mother knew it was him and called up a doctor to “fix” him. He killed his mom and sister in that moment, framing his father … before he was sent to the lab anyway under the care of Dr. Brenner. The doctor didn’t only want to control the boy’s powers, but recreate them in other children. He was dubbed 001 and the tests progressed from there.
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After regaining his powers, he snapped, killing not only a number of the workers at the lab, but also a lot of the child test subjects. When he asked El to join him in “reshaping the world,” she pushed back — literally and figuratively — and a telekinesis-off ensued. While he drew strength from memories of sadness and anger, she pulled it from a memory of her mother’s love at her birth and overpowered him. After sending him flying into a wall, she channeled all her energy into his chest, tearing him apart and sending him through The Gate to the Upside Down, which she opened for the very first time. There, he transformed into Vecna; the season ending with a closeup of the creature’s arm and its 001 tattoo. In the credits for the finale, Bower is finally credited as “Vecna.”
With that, now we know that Eleven first created the gate back in 1979 — four years before she accidentally opened it up, let a Demogorgon loose and escaped the lab herself in 1983, setting off the events of the first season. We also learned where Dr. Brenner got his idea for starting an army of psychokinetic kids.
But will El be able to stop Vecna now that she’s seemingly unlocked her full potential? And, once he’s defeated, how will they all take on the Mind Flayer once and for all?
We’ll find out when Vol. 2 of “Stranger Things 4” drops July 1, 2022.
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