finally dropped the extremely long season 4 finale. Can Max shake the curse? Can Hopper make it back from the USSR? Will Eddie rock the Upside Down? Can Eleven defeat the monstrous Vecna?
The two extra-long finale episodes hit Netflix on July 1 (although). We already are . So let’s dive into the two-hour episode 9, The Piggyback, and recap the plot highlights, Easter eggs, and character arcs. (Plus lots of spoilers!)
Stranger Things is set in 1980s Indiana, where a teenager with powerful psychic powers escapes from a sinister government facility. Eleven joins forces with local nerds Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will to battle demogorgons, the Mind Flayer, and other monsters, including the chillingly calculating Dr. Brenner.
Episode 8 ended with Brenner dying in the dust of the desert, but leaving behind a whole host of problems: His experiments on psychic children led to Eleven transporting troubled youth Henry Creel to the Upside Down parallel dimension years ago, where he became the Demonic villain Vecna 4. advice.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Jim Hopper, Joyce and Murray try to escape from a brutal Russian gulag with the help of duplicitous ex-guard Antonov (aka Enzo) and mad smuggler Yuri. Episode 9 begins where Jim and Joyce face the same problem as Eleven, Will, Mike, Jonathan and Surfer Boy brochacho Argyle: They have to get back to Hawkins before Vecna kills again and opens the fourth gate to the dark dimension. Steve, Nancy, Robin, Dustin, and Eddie Munson prepare to infiltrate the Upside Down and put Vecna in his coffin, while Lucas and Erica enter the creepy Creel mansion to offer Max as bait. In the series finale, only the Hawkins children (and Kate Bush) can save the world.
In Russia, Yuri keeps getting pulled over (literally) as he pretends to work on his Katinka helicopter. Nearby, Joyce and Hopper undress in tandem, revealing the toll his stay in the brutal gulag has taken on Hopper’s body. Despite being battered, bloodied, scrawny and clean shaven, has David Harbor never been hotter? After deciding that he was a curse to anyone who cared about him, Hopper still found hope in dreams of Enzo’s bars and lasagna, not to mention sucking on Joyce (in a Hulk Hogan shirt).
In Hawkins, Nancy and the crew prepare their Upside Down commando attack. It sounds so simple, right? Dustin and Eddie know they’re bait, but as soon as someone says, “We’re no heroes,” you just know they’re going to pull some pretty heroic crap before the credits roll.
As Erica, Lucas and Max investigate the haunted Creel house, phase one begins… except a passerby spots Erica leading Jason and his newly acquired gun to the Morehead murder house.
On the way, Eleven sees a billboard depicting a happy family and has flashbacks to her mother, Terry. If he can enter his mother’s mind or Billy’s in previous seasons, he realizes that he can follow Max’s mind and face the Thing. It just means hitting Surfer Boy Pizza. Luckily, they have Purple Palm Tree Delight.
The battle for the mind is on
Hopper reaches Owens’ assistant who informs them of the danger in Hawkins. Wearing matching jackets, Hopper and Joyce realize they too can join the fight where they are. It just means being arrested back in a Soviet prison. Luckily they have a flamethrower.
Are you ready for the most metal concert in the history of the world? In the Upside Down, Eddie discovers a demonic copy of his ax and rips into Metallica’s Master of Puppets to draw a horde of demonic bats across the infernal dark dimension. I love how it’s not just Eleven who brings her superpowers to the fight. The unique personalities of ordinary people play a key role as Argyle’s pizza making and Eddie’s tearing also help save the world.
You might be forgiven for forgetting Jonathan was there this season, as he’s mostly been in the background of a show with so many characters. But in one of the most heartfelt intimate moments of the season, she reunites with Will. In another touching moment, after Steve’s talk about the kids in episode 8, he shares another vulnerable heart-to-heart with Nancy this episode. Oh, he’s really going to die, isn’t he?
Run up the next hill
While Max listens to her secret weapon, Kate Bush, she and Lucas exchange cute notes. Then he turns off his Walkman.
The second phase begins.
But that is not possible. Eleven can see Max, but no one will show up as the guest of honor. Max delves deeper into the taunts Vecna has leveled at her and faces her own emotional demons by acknowledging her darkest thoughts about her late brother Billy. And she admits that her bravery and eventual sacrifice are rooted in self-loathing rather than nobility. Eventually, Vecna makes her presence known by cruelly impersonating Lucas and then Billy. Meanwhile, Eleven is already projecting into the Creel house and then takes another step inside Max’s mind when she finds herself in the middle of a flashback of Max riding a skateboard.
It’s time for phase three.
Max finds himself in the 1984 Hawkins High Snow Globe as The Police’s 1983 mega-hit Every Breath You Take plays – just like when Lucas and Max kissed at the end of season two. Then there is the striking image of balloons. they erupt in a spray of blood as the school dance turns into something darker than Ella Fitzgerald’s Dream a Little Dream of Me – the song played on the radio when Henry Creel murdered his family.
In the Upside Down, Robin, Steve, and Nancy are all caught in the stranglehold tentacles while Eddie and Dustin go into battle. (Battle, geddit?) To help Dustin escape, Eddie heads back to the Upside Down for a sword fight with a swarm of demonic bats. See? Heroic crap. They called it!
Lucas realizes he never wanted to be popular and normal, but his fight with Jason breaks Max’s musical lifeline. Luckily, Eleven hits the dance floor just in time to confront the demon she inadvertently created.
The creature formerly known as Henry Creel regains the upper hand, crucifying Eleven against the now-familiar murder house door as Max is resurrected to be the final victim. Eleven doesn’t use her telekinetic powers, but her empathy for Henry. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work because Henry doesn’t blame the ordinary, average man Brenner for turning him into Vecna. She blames Eleven.
In a flashback, we see Vecna/Henry/One exploring the Upside Down, a realm they see as uncorrupted by humans. With the help of the hideous Mind Flayer, he becomes “the predator he was always meant to be”. “It was always you,” Eleven sobs as she flashes back to the Mind Flayer who took Billy’s form in earlier seasons, realizing that it was actually Vecna trying to open the gates from the Upside Down.
While 80s pop helped Max escape Vecna, now it’s Mike’s words that are music to Eleven’s ears as she finally says “I love you.” With or without powers, she’s his superhero. Remarkably, this season is built around families and friends who stay connected to each other no matter how far apart they are. Things go wrong when characters stop talking, like Jonathan and Nancy, or Lucas disdaining the Hellfire Club, or even Henry Creel turning against his family. But Mike and El’s love letters, Hopper’s dream of a date, Max’s notes, Mike calling Eleven while she calls out to Max in return—these are all people screaming their love for each other and refusing to let their connection fade.
In an epic climax sure to get everyone cheering, Running Up That Hill swells as Eleven blasts Vecna with her signature move. Joyce and Jim take down the last Demogorgons while Steve and Robin throw Molotov cocktails. And Nancy? It’s not missing.
But the victory is bittersweet as Eddie dies in Dustin’s arms. This moment is somewhat undercut as the not-so-metal Eddie drifts away into Moby’s tension, but it’s still sad.
And Max, broken and blinded, dies in Lucas’ arms—completing Vecna’s quartet of kills. The words of the clearly defeated villain are ringing in our ears ahead of the fifth and final season.
“This is just the beginning,” warns Henry/Vecna Eleven. “The beginning of the end. You’ve already lost.” As the clock ticks down, a terrifying huge gate opens the city of Hawkins. What an ending! The villain defeated, but an even greater threat looms! What a cliffhanger!
Yeah, except there’s still 30 minutes left.
He doesn’t want to stop
The last half hour is full of emotional payoff, with the gang emotionally reuniting amid the fallout. Two days later, a “magnitude 7.4 earthquake” shook the city, killing and injuring dozens of people. To make matters worse, the heroic Eddie Munson and the innocent Hellfire Club are accused of satanic plots. Still, Dustin is at least able to tell Eddie’s uncle the truth (mostly).
After saving the world, the gang volunteers to help with the rescue operation. Robin’s crush, Vickie, joins her in PB&J service, and it looks like romance might be on the cards after all. Hopper and Joyce are tearfully reunited with Eleven, who searches the dark and empty mind for Max—who, it turns out, is alive but in a coma.
Will is chillingly still connected to Vecna/Henry/One after he possessed him in season 2. And he knows the terrifying demon is hurt but still out there. The hairs on the back of his neck stand up as clouds gather and strange particles rain down on the people of Hawkins, poisoning the plants and opening a terrifying portal. This is a repeat of the moment in Season 2 Episode 1 where Will saw a vision of the Mind Flayer before it possessed him – but this time everyone can see it because it’s actually happening…
And so the stage is set for Stranger Things Season 5!
The strangest things
- Steve survives!
- Surfer Boy Pizza brochachos give us an epic A-Team style scene with added pizza pie.
- It seems ridiculous that in the midst of demons and government conspiracies, the fate of the world is almost derailed by a feather in a varsity jacket. But the handsome and popular badass is one of the biggest movie tropes of the 80s, so it’s only fitting that he plays a key role in this 80s-obsessed show.
- Technically, Max and Vecna fight in the mental realm, so why are their powers limited to be the same as in the real world?
- Murray quotes Star Wars (“I have a bad feeling about this”) as the adults sneak back to prison, while Robin’s tentacle quip (“I don’t believe in a higher power or divine intervention, but that was a miracle”) echoes the famous scene with Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction.
- Antonov (aka Enzo) appeals to Yuri’s better nature by referring to his experience with Damansky in the 1969 Sino-Soviet border conflict.
- Eleven likes pineapple pizza. Try before you deny.
- Joyce has a flashback to the death of Bob Newby, her boyfriend in season 2, played by Sean Astin.
- At Max’s bedside, Lucas is reading Talisman, a 1984 fantasy novel by Stephen King and Peter Straub. Interestingly, it is also a story of a parallel dimension that ends with an earthquake – and the novel then reveals several parallel realms.
- The closing credits track is Spellbound by Siouxsie and the Banshees. Why doesn’t anyone think of sticking a Walkman on a comatose Max?
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