Breaking down the ins, outs and upside downs of STRANGER THINGS 4: Vol. 1 [Spoilers]

With Stranger Things 4 being bigger, denser and longer than ever, there was no shortage of shocks, surprises and horrifying chills hiding within every episode. After consuming every minute of this season in one consecutive run, it’s time to finally break down all of the big moments and memorable sequences that I couldn’t touch on in my regular review.

I won’t necessarily be breaking down every single episode individually – I’ll predominantly be following the big moments from the various crews across Hawkins, California and Russia, while touching on some other elements along the way.

Below the next image I will be getting into spoilers – so if you haven’t figured that out already, you should probably go watch the show and come back!

Hopping over to Russia

One of the earliest reveals of the season was just how Hopper (David Harbour) managed to get from the basement of Starcourt Mall all the way to a jail cell in Russia after having been presumed dead by every character and viewer.

Episode two dives deep into this reveal, letting us know that rather than being zapped and somehow teleported to Russia, he simply avoided the blast by leaping off a ledge and then subsequently being captured by the remaining Russians and taken over to the motherland. Back at the end of season three, I was a fan of the idea that Hopper perished, but with his return in this season I’m glad we get more of the battle-hardened (ex) sheriff.

On the whole, not a tonne of big moments happen in Russia – Hopper makes friends with a guard, Dmitri (Tom Wlaschiha), and plots his escape from a top secret Russian prison. In this time we get to see how Hopper has been dealing with his imprisonment. Despite being almost broken by the torturous experience, he still fights to make it back home to Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown)- a very admirable quality that makes Hopper such a joy to watch.

Following the much-anticipated demogorgon battle that lived up to the bloody, gory and intense event it promised to be, we get the reunion we had all been waiting for – Hopper and Joyce (Winona Ryder). It’s an emotion-packed moment that we had been waiting all season for, and it was well worth the wait. I can’t wait to see them break out of the prison together in Volume two.

I want to also take the time to highlight Murray (Brett Gelman) whose quirky personality and newfound karate skills were a major highlight through the entire Russia narrative. Brett delivers a brilliant comedic performance and plays really well against Winona Ryder, leading to some of the most genuinely hilarious moments of the season. I hope he also survives this trip to the Russian prison and is able to make it back to America alive and well.

Running Up That Hill

Stranger Things has seen its fair share of incredible episodes since it first hit Netflix back in 2016, but episode four of this season is an entirely different breed of magnificent. We get some great content regarding the history of the Creel family, but the real focus is entirely on Max (Sadie Sink). From the get-go, this is an emotion-fuelled episode with tension so thick you could cut it with a knife.

With Max being targeted as Vecna’s next victim, the writers do a brilliant job of painting this episode as the last we’ll see of her. Typically when a TV series puts a main character in peril, you never really feel like they’re actually in any danger – it’s usually pretty safe to bet they’ll find a way out of danger and be safe. That’s not the case with this episode – the intensity constantly builds and builds with every scene, putting you on the edge of your seat in genuine fear of the fact that Max may not live.

Even in the climax of the episode, right up until the moment Max wakes up and falls into Lucas’ (Caleb McLaughlin) arms, I thought the possibility of her being killed off was very real. Not only does that speak to the strength of the writing, it speaks to Sadie Sink’s breathtaking performance. I don’t know if it’s prominent enough to be nominated for an Emmy, but it should! Her raw, emotion-driven performance is incredible not only in this episode – but across the whole season. She hammers home some powerful tear-jerking scenes in this episode alone that are so brutally sad.

The pinnacle of the episode comes as Max is face to face with Vecna and the classic tune ‘Running Up That Hill‘ by Kate Bush begins playing in what is one of the greatest scene to music pairings ever. What that song adds to this sequence is invaluable – even the lyrics play directly into what Max is feeling coming off the death of her brother. Combined with the flashbacks highlighting all the fun moments Max has shared with her friends, this entire sequence broke me. Not only did it force out tears during my first watch, it got me equally emotional the second time despite knowing what was coming.

If it’s not clear already, this episode was phenomenal – a real work of art.

An apple a day couldn’t keep the doctor away

Firstly, I loved when Paul Reiser’s Sam Owens showed up in this season – he’s a character who I’ve liked since his introduction and plays a very important role this time around. His desire to help Eleven regain her powers had me fist-pumping in excitement.

I thought the reveal of a top-secret lab would be the biggest surprise relating to his character – little did I think the real twist would be that he’s been working alongside a very not-dead Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine). When he stepped into the frame it completely caught me off-guard – the man I thought was certainly dead just strolls out with a scar on his face and a newfound purpose. Initially, I was worried this was a sign of Owens teaming up with the villain – though it quickly became apparent that Brenner may be here to help this time around.

Through a number of scenes in which he’s determined to help Eleven unblock the signal to her powers, I think it’s safe to say Brenner is more trustworthy now than he used to be. I like that this reveal is not simply used for shock value – his character comes in at a pivotal moment that makes sense for the story. If anyone is going to know how to get Eleven her powers back, it’s him.

I also want to touch on the fact that the U.S. military is hunting Eleven because they believe she’s the one murdering kids around Hawkins. It’s a really smart little detail that actually makes sense in the grand scheme of things. Without the knowledge of Owens, who knows Eleven personally, they would turn to the subjects of Dr. Brenner’s lab experiments as their top suspect. It also gives the California crew some conflict to deal with.

“When is the Upside Down?” – Drax, 1983

The Upside Down has long been a dimension of uncertainty in the Stranger Things universe. After multiple seasons of lingering questions, this season aimed to answer some small but interesting tidbits about this mirror dimension.

We’ve already established in seasons prior that the Upside Down, and the Mind Flayer within it, is a giant hive mind – with every creature connected via the one entity. It’s also been a unanimous belief that the Upside Down and the beings within have existed for millennia prior to Eleven opening the first gate. But some questions – such as why it resembles a dark and dreary mirror of Hawkins – have plagued viewers for years.

Very late in this season we find out that this other realm is trapped in the past, specifically it has been frozen in time since the moment Eleven opened the first gate. It’s believed that through opening the gate, it forever linked Hawkins to the Upside Down – imprinting an exact copy of the quaint town where all of the fear and pain that tortures the people of Hawkins can run rampant.

However, despite this cool tidbit – it still doesn’t answer exactly why. We now know the ‘what’, but we don’t know why this time-freeze has happened. I’m sure the Duffer brothers are holding on to the secrets of the Upside Down for some major season five reveals. So I guess this is a minor development, but I welcome any information we get on the ins and outs of the Upside Down.

So. Many. Characters.

Through expanding the narrative to multiple locations, the number of characters being followed also got a bit of a boost. I mentioned this in my regular review, but the best of the new faces has to be Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn). He breathes new life into the show and fits right in with the existing crew as if he’s been around for multiple seasons. Obviously, Eddie doesn’t have much luck after becoming the subject of a town-wide witch hunt and being forced into hiding. This arc is brilliantly written because it instantly gets us on his side, making it easier to accept him into the Hawkins crew, and even puts the heart and kindness of our favourite characters on show as they take him under their wing.

Despite appearing in one scene in season three, and arguably one of the most memorable scenes, one character who you could still say is new is Suzie (Gabriella Pizzolo). I loved the moment in which the California crew decided to get Suzie in on the action, giving us her first in-person interactions. She has such a quirky, bubbly personality that it contrasts well with the more straight-laced vibe of Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Will (Noah Schnapp). I really hope she sticks around well into next season, potentially even escaping her p̶r̶i̶s̶o̶n̶ home and moving to Hawkins with her Dusty Bun.

Speaking of the California crew, the addition of Argyle (Eduardo Franco) is the only element of the season I didn’t like. It could just be me, but the stoner comedy vibe is so exhausting and overplayed that I can’t stand it. They could have figured out a way to just have Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) get a new vehicle and be the designated driver – but instead we had to endure Argyle’s cliché unfunny jokes. On top of this, it would have given Jonathan more to do since he really doesn’t have much of a presence in this season. There’s one scene in which he questions his relationship with Nancy, but other than that he’s in the background. Although I’m sure he’ll have more to do going forward, so I’m not too worried about him being pushed aside in these episodes.

Well, speaking of Nancy (Natalia Dyer), she’s got a lot going on in Hawkins… and potentially a lot going on with Steve (Joe Keery). Throughout this season there’s been a few not-so-subtle hints at the potential rekindling of Steve and Nancy’s relationship. They started the series together and are showing signs of potentially reigniting that flame in the absence of Jonathan. Personally, I’d love to see them get back together, though I feel like the Duffer brothers are hinting at this relationship for a more sinister reason. Something I’ll touch on in the last section of this post.

One, two Freddy’s coming for you…

Not only does the fourth episode feature the best we’ve ever seen of Max, it highlights another new character whose life story is integral to understanding what’s going on in Hawkins. When Nancy and Robin (Maya Hawke) pay a visit to the mysterious Victor Creel (Robert Englund), he gives them a rundown of what really happened the night he was wrongfully labeled a murderer. Before I get into that, I need to mention how cool it is to have Robert, the man behind Freddy Kruger, appear in this season. It makes all the more sense in this season especially since our main villain, Vecna, infiltrates peoples mind in a somewhat similar way as Freddy.

In the flashbacks to a young Creel family, we see that upon moving to a new house they began to experience terrifying hallucinations and small animals kept turning up dead around their house. It all led to a single night in which the mother and daughter were both killed in an identical way to Vecna’s victims so far – floating up into the air and having their bodies brutally broken. The son fell into a coma as far as we know and the father (Victor Creel) survived after being saved by an ‘angel’. All of this happens in a 5-minute scene, but I think this story would make for a ripper of a horror movie.

Now, the final episode of the season reveals a crucial detail about this story that wasn’t covered here, but we’ll get to that in the next section.

Oh Vecna, you’ll always be my #001 xoxo

Throughout this season there had been many lingering questions surrounding Vecna. Why is he seemingly targeting random teenagers? What’s his eventual goal? Why did he kill a single family in the 50’s and not resurface again til the 80s? These questions and more are answered within the final episode – an episode that contains the wildest twists in the series so far.

The first big moment of the volume one finale comes while Eleven is unlocking memories from her time in Hawkins lab. Throughout these flashback scenes, we’d been following Eleven’s interactions with Papa, her ‘siblings’ and a friendly orderly played by Jamie Campbell Bower. While helping Eleven escape the lab, Eleven helps the orderly by removing the small device lodged in his neck. Upon removing the device, the orderly uses his insanely strong telekinetic powers to wipe out some guards and reveal himself as the elusive #001, a character whom we’d heard of but never seen. On top of this, it’s revealed that #001 is the one who massacred everyone in Hawkins lab, not Eleven as she’d initially believed.

Just when you thought the twists end there – guess again. Through a little bit of story time with #001, we find out that he was in fact Victor Creel’s son in the flashback scenes from episode four. It’s revealed that he’s the one who was terrorising his family and subsequently killed his mother and sister, passing out from overexerting himself before he was able to kill his dad. From there he was taken in by Dr. Brenner and used as the beginning of the program that gave way to Eleven.

Then, after a brutal fight in which a young Eleven gets the better of #001, their combined powers open the first ever gate to the Upside Down – sending #001 to the evil dimension. As #001 falls from the sky, his body is destroyed by lightning and he’s subsequently corrupted by the hive mind that is the Mind Flayer… becoming Vecna.

I cannot stress how flawless the execution of this major reveal was. They never gave away too much information too early and held all of their cards tight to their chest. There may have been one conversation in which I suspected the orderly was #001, but even then I was still shocked when they revealed it. Essentially, we were presented with four characters – Vecna, Henry Creel, the unnamed orderly, #001 – and in a moment of brilliance they revealed that they are all the same character. Not only is it the biggest twist of the series to date, it’s one of the biggest twists I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing.

So, as for the questions from earlier – Vecna has been targeting vulnerable teenagers who are living with pain because they’re easy to corrupt. By creating a mental connection and killing them, he’s been able to open mini gates between Hawkins and the Upside Down, presumedly to get his eventual revenge on Eleven and set the stage for an all-out war.

Please turn over to Side B…

With that, the ending of volume one puts us in a very interesting place for the final two episodes, with each of our core groups in the midst of some potentially game-changing developments.

Firstly, it seems the California crew are about to catch back up with Eleven, who has just discovered Vecna’s identity and the threat they pose to Hawkins. Presumedly that crew is going to band together and head back to Hawkins where they’ll meet up with their friends in one massive battle.

Next we have the Russia crew, who are currently trapped inside the top secret Russian prison and in need of an escape plan. I feel the demogorgon is going to factor into their escape, but I also get the impression there is going to be a death along the way. I have the fear that Murray isn’t going to make it out of the prison. He did everything to help get Joyce into the prison and I feel he’s going to give everything to help get Joyce and Hopper out of the prison, including his life. It’s sad because I’ve loved Murray in this series – he has tonnes of memorable moments and it’ll be a tear-jerker to see him go… so I’m hoping he makes it. But nevertheless, that crew will almost certainly make it back to Hawkins where we will no doubt get a Hopper and Eleven reunion… hopefully. This will be an even more emotional moment since Eleven doesn’t even know Hopper is alive.

Lastly, the Hawkins crew is in a bit of a predicament. After just getting (almost) everyone back from the Upside Down, Nancy has been trapped in Vecna’s lair where she’s also learnt his true nature. This puts her in a dangerous position, giving the impression she may not make it out alive, but I feel like the big death in this season is going to fall to Steve. It hurts to even suggest that because Steve is such a fantastic character – an integral part of the crew that I really don’t want to lose. However, with the focus placed on Steve and Nancy getting back together, I feel like this is an intentional play by the Duffer brothers to make Steve’s death even more emotionally painful.


It hurts to think about, but I bet these last two episodes are going to leave most people an emotional wreck. The potential deaths of both Steve and Murray are on the horizon, guaranteeing more tears after the brilliance that was episode four. On top of this, there’s most likely going to be a big showdown between Eleven and Vecna which will no doubt shake up the town of Hawkins forever. Plus, Vecna will no doubt use his army of demobats to pile on the pressure. It should be noted that there is a fifth and final season coming up, so it is possible that Vecna doesn’t die and he returns alongside the Mind Flayer for an all-out war. Time will tell, as there’s just under four weeks until all (or most) of our questions are answered.


1 Comment

  1. Loved your review! Very well thought out 🙂 I too have enjoyed this season and thought episode 4 was phenomenal. Really hoping Sadie Sink gets some award noms for that one! I really loved the Hawkins group this season and I think they had some of the most emotional and thrilling scenes. Really hoping Steve will be okay…but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Looking forward to your volume 2 review – cheers!

    Like

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