missed the extremely long fourth season finale. Can Max break free from the curse? Can Hopper return from the USSR? Will he topple Eddie? Can Eleven defeat the monstrous Vecna?
Two extra-long finale episodes on Netflix on July 1st (although). We already . So let’s dive into two hours of Episode 9, The Piggyback, and recap the plot climaxes, Easter eggs, and character arcs. (Plus lots of spoilers!)
Stranger Things is set in 1980s Indiana, where a teenager with powerful psychic powers is on the run from an evil government facility. Eleven joins forces with local nerds Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will to battle demogorgons, Mind Flayers, and other monsters, including the creepy calculating Dr. Brenner.
Episode 8 ended with Brenner dying in the dust of the desert, but he left a lot of trouble behind: His experiments on psychic children caused eleven troubled youth Henry Creel to travel to the Alt-Down’s parallel dimension years ago. Vecna, the evil villain of season 4.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Jim Hopper, Joyce and Murray try to escape the brutal Russian gulag with the help of the hypocritical ex-guard Antonov (aka Enzo) and the mad smuggler Yuri. Episode 9 opens with Jim and Joyce facing the same problem as Eleven, Will, Mike, Jonathan and Surfer Boy brochacho Argyle: they must return to Hawkins before Vecna kills again and opens the fourth door to the dark dimension. Steve, Nancy, Robin, Dustin, and Eddie Munson devise tools to infiltrate the Upside Down and distribute Vecna in her coffin, while Lucas and Erica break into the creepy Creel mansion to offer Max as bait. In the series finale, only the Hawkins kids (and Kate Bush) can save the world.
The first stage
In Russia, Yuri Katinka keeps stopping (literally) while pretending to work on her helicopter. Nearby, Joyce and Hopper undress in tandem, revealing the damage done to Hopper’s body from his stay in the brutal Ear. Still, despite being beaten, covered in blood, scrawny and shaved, David Harbor has never been hotter? Determined to curse anyone who cared about him, Hopper still found hope in Enzo’s dreams of breadsticks and lasagna, not to mention Joyce’s fox (in a Hulk Hogan shirt).
In Hawkins, Nancy and the crew prepare for a commando raid on the Underground. Sounds so simple, right? Dustin and Eddie know they’re crooks, but as soon as someone says, “We’re not heroes,” you know they’re going to pull something pretty heroic before the credits roll.
As Erica, Lucas, and Max investigate the creepy Creel house, the first phase begins…except for one passerby who spots Erica, leading Jason and his newly acquired gun to the murder house in Morehead.
On the way, Eleven sees a billboard depicting a happy family and flashes back to memories of her mother, Terri. In previous seasons, he realizes that if he can enter his mother’s or Billy’s mind, he can follow Max’s mind and confront Vecna. It just means doing Surfer Boy Pizza. Luckily they have Purple Palm Tree Delight.
The battle of wits continues
Hopper reaches out to Owens’ assistant, who brings them up to speed on the danger in Hawkins. In their matching park, Hopper and Joyce realize that they too can join the battle from where they are. It just means going back to the Soviet prison. Luckily they have a flamethrower.
Are you ready for the most metal concert in the history of the world? In “Upside Down,” Eddie finds a demonic copy of his ax and enters Metallica’s Puppet Master to shoot a horde of demonic bats in the dark dimension of Hell. I love that it’s not just Eleven who brings her superpowers into battle. The unique personalities of the common folk play a crucial role as Argyle’s pizza making and Eddie’s shredding also help save the world.
You could be forgiven for forgetting that Jonathan was there this season because he was in the background of a show with so many characters. But in one of the season’s most genuinely intimate moments, she reconnects with Will. In another edgy moment after Steve’s speech about the kids in episode 8, he shares another touch with Nancy in this episode. Oh, it’s really going to die, isn’t it?
Running up another hill
As Max listens to his secret weapon, Kate Bush, he and Lucas exchange sweet notes. Then he turns off the Walkman.
The second stage begins.
But it doesn’t work. Eleven can see Max, but the guest of honor is a no-show. Max digs deeper into Vecna’s taunts and confronts his own emotional demons by confessing his darkest thoughts about his late brother Billy. And he admits that his courage and possible self-sacrifice stem from self-loathing rather than nobility. Finally, Vecna makes her presence felt by relentlessly impersonating Luke and then Billy. Meanwhile, Eleven makes her way to the Creel house and then takes another step inside Max’s mind as Max finds herself in the middle of a skateboarding memory.
It’s time for the third stage.
Max finds himself at the 1984 Hawkins Middle School Snow Ball, the same scene from the 1983 mega-hit Every Breath You Take — just like the moment Lucas and Max kiss at the end of season 2. Then there is the amazing display of balloons. the school dance explodes under a shower of blood as it turns into something darker to the strains of Ella Fitzgerald’s “Dream a Little Dream of Me” playing on the radio when Henry Creel kills his family.
In the Upside Down, Robin, Steve, and Nancy are all caught in suffocating tentacles while Eddie and Dustin get into a fight. (Battle, geddit?) To help Dustin escape, Eddie returns to the Bottom for a sword fight with a swarm of demon bats. See? A hero. He called!
Lucas realizes that he never wanted to be popular and normal, but his fight with Jason destroys Max’s music life. Luckily, Eleven stumbles onto the dance floor just in time to face the demon she accidentally created.
The creature formerly known as Henry Creel regains the upper hand by crucifying Eleven to the now-familiar door of the killing house as Max is raised to be the final victim. Eleven uses her empathy on Henry, not her telekinetic powers. Unfortunately, Henry doesn’t go down because he doesn’t blame Brenner, a common, old man, for turning him into a Vecna. She blames Eleven.
In a flashback, we see Vecna/Henry/One exploring the Underworld realm, which he sees as unspoiled by humans. He becomes “the predator he was always meant to be” with the help of the hideous Mind Flayer. “It was always you,” Eleven sobs, remembering that the Mind Flayer took Billy’s form in previous seasons, realizing that it was actually Vecna, trying to open the doors from the Bottom.
Mike’s words are now music to Eleven’s ears as 80’s pop helps Max escape from Vecna as she finally says, “I love you.” Power or no power, he is her superhero. Interestingly, this season revolves around families and friends who stay connected no matter how far apart they are. Things take a turn for the worse when characters stop talking, like Jonathan and Nancy, or Lucas hurting the Hellfire Club, or even Henry Creel reaching out to his family. But Mike and El’s love letters, Hopper’s date night dream, Max’s notes, Mike in turn reaching out to Max and calling Eleven — these are all people screaming their love for each other, refusing to let their bond slip.
In an epic climax sure to have everyone cheering, Running Up That Hill comes to a head as Eleven blasts Vecna with her signature move. Joyce and Jim shoot the last demogorgons while Steve and Robin throw Molotov cocktails. What about Nancy? He doesn’t miss it.
But the victory is bittersweet as Eddie dies in Dustin’s arms. The moment is a little dull, but still sad, as Eddie, who has no metal, drifts into Moby’s strain.
And Max, broken and blind, dies in Lucas’ arms—completing Vecna’s quartet of kills. On the eve of the fifth and final season, the words of the apparently defeated villain are ringing in our ears.
“This is just the beginning,” Henry/Vecna warns Eleven. “The beginning of the end. You’ve already lost.” As the clock chimes, a monstrous wide gate opens onto the town of Hawkins. What an ending! The villain has been defeated, but there is a greater threat! What a cliff!
Yes, yes, but there are still 30 minutes left.
He is not going to stop
The last half hour is full of emotional consequences and an emotional reunion of the gang. Two days later, a “magnitude 7.4 earthquake” shook the city, killing and injuring dozens of people. To add insult to injury, hero Eddie Munson and the innocent Hellfire Club are accused of demonic events. Still, at least Dustin can tell Eddie’s uncle the truth (mostly).
Having already saved the world, the gang volunteers to help. Robin’s girlfriend, Vickie, joins him on PB&J duty, and it looks like romance may be in the cards after all. Hopper and Joyce have a tearful meeting with Eleven, who searches for a dark and hollow idea for Max, who is revealed to be alive but in a coma.
It’s interesting that Will is still in touch with Vecna/Henry/One after being possessed in season 2. And he knows the terrible demon is hurt, but it’s still there. The hairs on the back of the neck stand up as clouds gather and strange particles rain down on the people of Hawkins, poisoning the plants and opening a terrifying portal. It’s a repeat of the moment in season 2 episode 1 when Will saw the vision of the Mind Flayer before he possessed him — except this time, everyone can see it because it’s actually happening…
So the stage is set for Stranger Things season 5!
The strangest things
- Steve survived!
- Surfer Boy Pizza brooches give us an epic A-Team style tooling scene with added pizza dough.
- Between demons and government conspiracies, it seems ridiculous that the fate of the world is almost derailed by a dude in a varsity jacket. But the cute, popular show is one of the biggest movies of the 80s, so it’s only fitting that he stars in this 80s obsession show.
- Technically, Max and Vecna are fighting in the mental realm, so why are their powers as limited as they are in the real world?
- Murray quotes from Star Wars (“I felt bad about it”), when the adults sneak back to the prison, Robin’s post-tent joke (“I don’t believe in a higher power or divine intervention, but it’s a miracle”) Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction and features a famous scene with John Travolta.
- Antonov (a.k.a. Enzo) appeals to Yuri’s better nature by referring to his experience at Damansky in the 1969 Sino-Soviet border conflict.
- Eleven loves pineapple pizza. Try it before you deny it.
- Joyce has a flashback to the death of her boyfriend, Bob Newby, played by Sean Astin in season 2.
- At Max’s bedside, Lucas is reading the 1984 fantasy novel The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub. Interestingly, this is also the story of a parallel dimension that ends with an earthquake, and the novel then reveals multiple parallel realms.
- The end credit track is Spellbound by Siouxsie and the Banshees. Why doesn’t anyone think to stick a Walkman on a comatose Max?
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