The conclusion to “Stranger Things” Season 4 arrives July 1 in the form of two final episodes, the finale of which has a runtime of over two hours. Combined, the two episodes add up to almost four hours. And while it’s only been a month since Volume 1 came out, you may be in need of a brief recap before diving into the epic conclusion.
The most unforgettable twist in Season 4 so far might be the role of Jamie Campbell Bower’s character in tying everything together, including the long-desired explanation of the mythology behind the Upside Down. The fate of characters like Nancy, who was caught in Vecna’s clutches at the end of Volume I, and Eleven, who went on a mission to regain her telekinetic powers, come next in the threads we expect to be tied at the end of this fourth season. We also can’t forget that Joyce and Hopper have officially reunited in Kamchatka, Russia with the help of Murray Bauman, and Steve has suffered some demobat bites, so his health is also of the utmost importance (protect Steve at all costs).
Here’s our quick “Stranger Things” Season 4 Volume 1 recap.
A Blast From the Past
Season 4 opens with a regular day in Hawkins, Indiana for Dr. Martin Brenner back in September 1979, four years before Will went missing. Brenner goes to work to give lessons to 010, one of the other kids with abilities like Eleven. During lessons, Brenner asks Ten to find another doctor and child, but Ten senses that something is wrong. Brenner gets knocked out for a second, but when he wakes up he sees that all the children have been killed in a really grotesque way. When he reaches the rainbow room, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is facing a mirrored wall that has shattered, and she turns toward him with blood all over her hospital gown as well as streaming from both nostrils and even her eyes. The segment ends with Brenner repeatedly asking Eleven “What have you done?”
Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) has moved her family plus Eleven to Lenora Hills, California, where she now works from home selling Britannica encyclopedias. Eleven and Mike (Finn Wolfhard) write letters to each other, and her latest to Mike sums up that Spring Break starts soon and she is excited to see him. Argyle (Eduardo Franco) picks up Will (Noah Schnapp), Eleven and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) to drive them to Lenora Hills high school in his Surfer Boy Pizza van.
Nancy (Natalia Dyer) has become Editor in Chief of the Hawkins High newspaper. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) begs his long distance girlfriend Suzie (Gabriella Pizzolo) to hack into the school’s grade system to change his D- in Latin to an A. Steve drives Robin to Hawkins High, giving her a pep talk about Vickie (Amybeth McNulty), who Robin likes. Everyone is getting to school early for the pep rally around the basketball team, for which Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) plays (mostly as benchwarmer). Max (Sadie Sink) arrives on the school bus, getting tracked down by the school counselor Mrs. Kelley (Regina T Cheng) who asks to see Max after lunch since she forgot about their appointment the day before. At the rally, star basketball player Jason Carver (Mason Dye) gives a rousing speech about that night’s championship game and how it can serve as a way to come together over the tremendous amount of loss that Hawkins has faced in the past couple of years with the mall fire that took Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery) and police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbor). Mike and Dustin realize that Lucas’ championship basketball game coincides with the last meeting of The Hellfire Club, the Dungeons and Dragons club at school led by the notorious “freak” Eddie Munsion (Joseph Quinn), during which Eddie’s campaign will come to a close.
Joyce and Murray Go to Alaska and Then Russia
Joyce receives a mysterious box bearing many Russian stamps and containing a porcelain doll. With Murray’s advice, she breaks open the doll to find a ransom note saying Hopper is still alive and to call Enzo, who turns out to be one of Hop’s prison guards in Kamchatka, Russia. When they call him, Enzo, who goes by Antonov (Tom Wlaschiha) tells them to bring the money Hop has in a trust for Eleven to Yuri’s Fish N’ Fly in Alaska, where Yuri will take the money, bring it to Antonov and fly Hopper back from Russia to Alaska. Joyce doesn’t tell the kids the real reason she’s going to Alaska, which comes back to bite her because Yuri (Nikola Djuricko) betrays Antonov and Joyce and Murray, drugging the Americans with coffee, turning Antonov in to his warden and leading the Russian prison guards to track down the escaped Hopper after he experiences some relief with blankets and a jar of Jif peanut butter.
As punishment for Hopper’s attempted escape and Antonov’s betrayal to the motherland, the two of them and a group of other prisoners have to face off with a demogorgon that the Russians somehow got from America. Hopper seems dejected and ready to admit defeat, but he snags a guard’s lighter and some alcohol to make a torch because the only thing the demogorgon fears is fire. He and Antonov are the only survivors, and the reunion hug between him and Joyce is reward enough for now.
The California Crew Takes a Roadtrip
Mike flies to California to visit Eleven for Spring Break. After he sees that she is not as happy as she made out to be and has an argument with Will about how they talk less, things spiral even further when Eleven smacks her bully Angela (Elodie Grace Orkin) in the face with a roller skate. Dr. Sam Owens (Paul Reiser) and his agents track her down and intercept her, updating Eleven on what has been happening in Hawkins, and telling her she is the only hope of saving her friends. When Eleven says she doesn’t have her powers, Owens says there is a way for her to get them back — The Nina Project — but she has to leave with him right then to go there, and there is a chance that if it doesn’t work, she won’t see her friends again.
Owens’ agents go to the Byers house in Lenora to keep Mike, Will and Jonathan appraised of Eleven’s decision to “Go become a superhero again” as she wrote in a note to Mike. Two undercover agents stay behind to guard the boys, but another branch of the army, led by Colonel Sullivan (Sherman Augustus), attacks the house. Jonathan had had the idea to call his friend Argyle (Eduardo Franco) who works at Surfer Boy Pizza, to both deliver them a pizza and give them a lift away from the house to go find Eleven. Argyle arrives right as the military guys are ransacking the house and gets the boys to safety. One agent went with them but bled out in the van, giving them a pen containing the phone number to get to the Nina Project. Mike figures out that they can get to Suzie, the only hacker they know, in Utah, and she helps them locate Nina in Nevada.
Hawkins, aka The Eye of the Storm
New villain Vecna is making himself known in Hawkins. First he goes for cheerleader Chrissy Cunningham (Grace Van Dien), who wants to buy drugs from Eddie Munson. She goes to Eddie’s trailer to wait while he finds the “Special K,” but Vecna comes for her and kills her in a very gruesome manner before Eddie’s eyes. The next morning, the police have no leads other than Eddie, who has run away to hide at his dealer Reefer Rick’s. Dustin, Max, Robin and Steve track Eddie down through the combination of Max’s observations of flickering electricity and Robin’s clever idea to search Rick’s address through the system that their new job at Family Video makes available to them. When they find Eddie and he tells them what happened, Dustin explains that Hawkins kind of is cursed, and that there’s an alternate dimension that bleeds into the town sometimes. As Dustin is describing this, Nancy’s managing editor at the school newspaper Fred Benson (Logan Riley Bruner) becomes Vecna’s next victim.
Basketball captain Jason Carver goes on a hunt for Eddie after the police reveal to him that they think Eddie killed Chrissy. Lucas goes along for the ride, but he runs away and reunites with the gang eventually. Before this happens though, Nancy and Robin go to the library to scan some microfiche film of old newspapers in order to learn more about Victor Creel, a name that Eddie’s uncle mentioned to Nancy when she snuck into the trailer park with Fred to talk to him.
They discover that Victor thinks a vengeful demon murdered his family back in the 1960s. Max, Dustin and Steve head to Counselor Kelley’s house so that Max can try to find out more info about Chrissy’s death, since Chrissy was seeing Ms. Kelley. Ms. Kelley tries to get Max to talk more about her own trauma instead of divulging any details. Max subtly steals Ms. Kelley’s office keys so that she can get access to Chrissy’s file at school. When they break into school and find Chrissy’s file, Max sees a file on Fred too. She quickly puts together that they were having the same symptoms: headaches, nightmares, nose bleeds and more, but the worst part is — Max is suffering from all of those things too. Vecna is coming for Max.
Robin and Nancy track down Victor Creel, who is still alive and locked up at Pennhurst Asylum. He tells the story of how his family came to Hawkins after World War II to settle down. Victor described some evil force, which he believed to be a demon, that first started killing animals outside the Creel house and then came for his family. When Nancy asks Victor what saved him, he started humming the tune to “Dream A Little Dream of Me” sung by Ella Fitzgerald. As the girls run away from the Pennhurst employees who have discovered their ruse, Robin puts it together that music must save Vecna’s victims. This discovery comes right in time since Max has gone to the graveyard where Billy was buried to read him an emotional letter she wrote, and Vecna decides to swoop in for the kill. Lucas, Dustin and Steve together put her Kate Bush cassette into her walkman in hopes of saving her life, and “Running Up That Hill (Deal with God)” proves the theory correct and saves Max’s life.
At Chrissy’s funeral, Jason gets a renewed vigor to track down Eddie. Someone tips him off that someone else thought they saw Reefer Rick at his cabin by Lover’s Lake, and they track down Eddie. Jason and teammate Patrick (Myles Truitt) swim after Eddie as he takes the boat into the lake, and Vecna comes for Patrick, only reinforcing Jason’s idea that Eddie is behind the killings. While this happened, Nancy figured out that Vecna’s Mind Lair, which Max witnessed, is pieces of the Creel house after Max draws them following her near-death experience. The group goes to explore the abandoned mansion and sees that the flickering lights are in action.
When Dustin, Steve, Lucas, Nancy and Max find Eddie at Skull Rock, Dustin realizes his compass wasn’t working because it was being pulled on by an electromagnetic field, meaning there should be a gate to the Upside Down nearby. This sends Steve, Robin, Nancy and Eddie into the middle of Lover’s Lake to check the theory. There is, in fact, a gate down there, but Steve gets sucked into it. Nancy, Robin and Eddie follow him into the Upside Down, saving him from vicious demobats that continue to bite him. The foursome hides out at Nancy’s house in the Upside Down because she should have guns there, but she can’t find them, and she sees that her diary stopped adding entries the day Will disappeared — meaning the Upside Down is stuck in time the day Will disappeared.
Dustin ultimately comes up with the theory that Vecna opens a gate into the Upside Down every time he kills someone, since Eleven can’t have created a bunch of gates they didn’t know about. Once Dustin, Lucas, Max and Erica figure out how to communicate with the foursome stuck in the Upside Down through a Lite Brite, they find the gate Chrissy left behind on the roof of Eddy’s trailer and start to get back to The Right Side Up. Of course Vecna comes for Nancy, trapping her right at the bridge between Hawkins and the Upside Down.
Eleven Remembers Her Traumatic Experience
Eleven has been building up to the fateful day that started Season 4, going back through her memories of what led up to the moment. Oh, and by the way, Dr. Brenner is alive! When Owens brought Eleven to Nina, Brenner came out and explained the meaning behind the machine, to help Eleven access a traumatic memory that she had buried deep deep down. In particular, the memories build up a relationship she formed with orderly Peter Ballard (Jamie Campbell Bower). Peter helps coach Eleven to strengthen her powers, and later he offers to help her escape the lab entirely. But when he uncovers the pipe tunnel through which she will crawl to get out, she realizes he is too big to fit, and he tells her he’s not going with her. She then offers to help him by removing the tracker that would prevent him from following her, and she unleashes intense power.
It turns out, Peter is actually 001, the first kid in Dr. Brenner’s experiments. He demonstrates just how strong his powers are by killing all of the other kids while he persuades Eleven to hide while he looks for another way out. She hears the screams and finds everyone dead, with him strangling 002 to death. 001 turns to Eleven and tells her the rest of his story.
He is actually also the young Creel boy, Henry, who got a grasp of his powers early on when his family first moved to that house in Hawkins. He was the one who killed all the animals and then his mother and sister. He went into a coma after trying to kill his dad, and then he woke up in the care of Dr. Brenner, who had seen him once before. Brenner tattooed 001 onto Henry’s wrist and thus began the experiment that eventually created Eleven.
One asks Eleven to join him, and she refuses. She then uses her newfound memory of the moments she just went through to overpower One, creating the very first gate to the Upside Down and banishing him there, where he eventually became Vecna.