‘Stranger Things’: Vecna’s Identity Is Revealed in an Explosive Showdown (RECAP)
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Stranger Things Season 4 “Chapter Seven: The Massacre at Hawkins Lab.”]
I will admit that when I saw this episode’s run-time was 1 hour 39 minutes, a shudder went down my spine. That’s longer than some movies. And after the stalling nature of some of this season’s side plots, a supersized midseason finale didn’t exactly fill me with excitement. So I went into this episode expecting things to drag. How pleasantly surprised I was to be proven wrong!
This was a stunning feature-length episode, dark and twisted with plenty of action, character moments, and shocking revelations that brought the season’s narratives together. Of course, it helped that the episode did away entirely with the meandering California segments. Instead, the focus was on characters confronting their demons, figuratively and literally. Hopper’s (David Harbour) Russia storyline finally sparked to life as he battled with a Demogorgon, while the Hawkins kids fought with the monsters of the Upside Down. Meanwhile, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) faced her traumatic past and met her match in a surprising new foe.
Hopper, Enzo/Dimtri (Tom Wlaschiha), and their fellow inmates are sent to the prison yard to await the hungry beast. This is nightly entertainment for the Soviet guards. They watch from above as the petrified prisoners are slung around and devoured by the sharp-fanged Demogorgon. Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Murray (Brett Gelman) arrive just in time to witness the show, with Murray adopting his best Russian accent to pose as Yuri (Nikola Đuričko). Hopper keeps the beast at bay with his makeshift flaming torch while Dimtri tries to prise open the prison door. But it’s locked tight, and the monster is getting closer.
It’s up to Joyce and Murray to save the day. Holding the Soviets at gunpoint, Murray forces his way into the control room. Joyce begins hammering away at random buttons, eventually landing on the right one to open the doors below and allow Hopper and Dimtri back inside. It’s a nice twist on the conclusion to Season 3 when Joyce had to press a button to send Hopper to his (presumed) death. Here she gets to save the curmudgeonly ex-sheriff. The will-they-won’t-they lovers finally reunite — no words are spoken, but the tight embrace and smile on Hopper’s face tell us all we need to know.
Hopper isn’t the only one at war with otherworldly creatures. After being dragged through “water-gate” to the Upside Down, Steve (Joe Keery) is bitten and chewed up by a murder of demonic bats. As predicted, Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Robin (Maya Hawke), and Eddie (Joseph Quinn) come to the rescue just in time. It’s an oar-swinging, bat-bashing brawl, ending with Steve doing his best Ozzy Osbourne and biting the head clean off one of the bats. Even Eddie admits that Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) was right about Steve — he’s a badass.
However, the gang isn’t in the clear yet. They’re stuck in the Upside Down with monsters lurking around every corner. Plus, Steve is beaten up pretty badly, though he does have the comfort of Nancy playing nurse and patching him up. Eddie later tells Steve that Nancy showed no hesitation in jumping in the lake after him; he describes it as “the most unambiguous sign of true love” he’s ever seen. Steve has spent so much time searching for “the one,” but maybe he’d already found her and let her slip away.
This is probably the longest sustained time we’ve spent in the Upside Down across all four seasons. And it provides some more details about this dark world and how it works. Most startling, perhaps, is the fact that in this twisted version of Hawkins, time is stuck in November 6, 1983, the day that Will (Noah Schnapp) went missing and the gate opened. Nancy realizes this after entering the Wheeler home to look for the guns she keeps stashed in a shoebox. Even weirder than the time craziness is that they can hear voices coming from the world above.
Those voices belong to Dustin, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Max (Sadie Sink), who are currently surrounded by police and concerned parents at the Wheeler household. The cops want to know what they were doing at the lake and whether or not they know where Eddie is. The trio dodges their way through the questions until, eventually, the police decide to interrogate them individually. But while Max is being questioned, Dustin and Lucas, with the help of an inquisitive Erica (Priah Ferguson), start to put the pieces together.
Dustin realizes that every time Vecna kills, he opens another gate to the Upside Down. He describes the Dark Wizard as the Mindflayer’s Five Star General. Erica is initially confused as all hell but proves useful when she notices an SOS signal coming from the kitchen lights. “You know how I said they wouldn’t be stupid enough to go through the gate?” says Dustin, referring to Steve and co. “I overestimated them.”
Inspired by Joyce and Will’s Christmas lights communication in Season 1, the Party and the older teens send messages back and forth through a Lite Brite. It’s here where Dustin is able to tell his friends to head to Eddie’s trailer, hoping his theory proves correct and that another gate will be present at Chrissy’s kill site. Dustin is right. A cool sequence follows as the two groups observe each other through a trailer ceiling portal. With the help of a stained mattress and a bedsheet rope, Robin and Eddie climb up/down back into the real world. “That was fun!” laughs Robin.
It’s not so fun for Nancy, however, who has her mind infected by Vecna before she’s able to make it through the gate. She’s transported to the broken-down Creel family mansion, where she’s confronted by the Dark Wizard. He torments her with memories from her past, specifically Barb’s death, blaming Nancy for what happened. Then he says something that causes the penny to drop. “Did old blind Victor miss me?” he asks. Just who exactly is Vecna?
The answer to that question lies in Eleven’s past. Still struggling to regain her full powers, Eleven returns to the NINA pod one last time. Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) jumps ahead in the memory bank, hoping to speed up the process. Here we see the events leading up to the massacre at the lab. It starts with Two being punished for attacking Eleven. Brenner shocks him with an electric collar, but this puts Eleven on edge, expecting retaliation from the other lab-rat bullies.
Later, the enigmatic orderly (Jamie Campbell Bower) warns Eleven that Two and the others are planning to kill her and that Dr. Brenner will allow it to happen. “You frighten him because he knows he can’t control you,” he tells her over a game of chess. The orderly helps Eleven escape, directing her to a sewage pipe in the basement that will take her into the woods. But she doesn’t want to go without him. The orderly says he cannot leave as a chip has been implanted into his neck that not only tracks him but weakens him.
It’s here where the true extent of the orderly’s plan begins to take shape. Eleven offers to help him, using her telekinetic powers to remove his chip. But in doing so, Eleven sets loose a dangerous psychopath. As guards surround them, the orderly suddenly extends his arm and sends them hurtling through the air. As I predicted in the last episode’s recap, the orderly is the infamous One! And just in case there is any confusion, this is confirmed as he shows Eleven his numbered tattoo. I was right the first time when I called him creepy!
One tells Eleven to wait for him as he goes on a rampage through the lab, using his powers to kill everyone in his sight. So it wasn’t Eleven who massacred the staff and other children; it was One. Eleven confronts him, demanding to know the truth about who he is. And that’s when One tells us everything. It’s a bit of an info dump, but it ties things together so succinctly that I can forgive some of the clunkier exposition.
The wild-eyed One reveals that he is Victor Creel’s son as we flashback to the 1950s when the Creel family first moved into their Hawkins home. He was an outsider, just like Eleven, who didn’t fit in with everyday society. Instead, he found more in common with the spiders living in the vents. He believed humans were destroying the world with their “deeply unnatural structure.” A life of waking up, eating, sleeping, reproducing, and then dying was not for him. He wanted to make his own rules and restore balance to a broken world.
There was never a demon haunting the Creel house. It was him. He used his mind control powers to torment his family, driving his father to madness. But his mother knew he was responsible. That’s why he had to kill her and his sister. He would have killed his father, too, if the exertion of his powers didn’t wipe him out before he had the chance. After his dad was arrested and blamed for the crimes, One was taken in by a doctor — Dr. Brenner.
But, just like Eleven, Brenner couldn’t control One. So he restricted him and created a program to find others with powers that were more malleable. “To papa, you’re nothing more than a lab rat,” he tells Eleven before offering her the chance to join him. “Imagine what we can do together,” he says. “We can reshape the world however we see fit. Join me.”
“No,” replies a defiant Eleven. Angered after being lied to yet again, she musters up a power surge and fights off One. But he is more powerful than anything she’s come across before, and he has her close to death. Then she remembers what he told her. To tap into her power, she needs to access a memory that makes her both sad and angry. Unfortunately, she’s had plenty of those memories recently.
Eleven suddenly explodes with an almighty yell, sending One crashing through the glass window and into a wall. She continues to unleash her powerful energy, ripping a hole in the fabric of space and time and sending One plummeting into the Upside Down. As he falls further and further, his skin melts from his face. Yes, the creepy orderly, aka One, is Vecna! And again, just to make it clear, the episode ends with a close-up on Vecna’s wrist, revealing the “001” tattoo.
It’s a breathtaking ending to Part 1 and sets things up nicely for the remaining two episodes (to be released in July). There have been issues across Season 4 with dragging side plots and overly-long episodes (the upcoming 2-hour 30-minute finale is daunting). Still, when the show plays to its strengths (the character camaraderie, jaw-dropping monster sequences), it remains one hell of a thrill ride.
Stranger Things, Season 4, Streaming Now, Netflix