‘Stranger Things’: Eleven Learns the Truth About Papa (RECAP)
Season 4 • Episode 8
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Stranger Things Season 4 “Chapter Eight: Papa.”]
Earlier this week, Gaten Matarazzo promised that Stranger Things fans would “learn a lot” in these remaining two episodes of Season 4. Based on this penultimate episode, he wasn’t lying. The larger scope and purpose of the series come into focus across this episode, even if I still question why we needed an hour and a half to get there — and I’m still dreading that 2 hour 30 minute finale.
The crux of this episode takes place at the lab in Nevada, where Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) learns the true nature of her past and the real intentions of Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine), the man she once called papa. At the end of Vol. 1, we learned that Eleven was responsible for creating Vecna, who it turns out is Jamie Campbell Bower‘s creepy orderly, aka One, aka Henry Creel — “What are we calling him now?” Robin (Maya Hawke) asks later in the episode, echoing my thoughts while writing this recap.
It becomes clear that Vecna is at the heart of all the chaos and destruction thrust upon Hawkins. Brenner was never trying to protect Eleven; he was using her to find his pet project. All those tests and experiments, all the trips to the Upside Down, Brenner was using Eleven as a search party, hoping to locate the missing One. And in this twisted rescue mission, Brenner set loose the monsters on Hawkins, the Demogorgons, the Mind Flayer — all of it collateral damage in a singular focused mission.
Eleven realizes this as Brenner tries to stop her from leaving and returning to Hawkins to save her friends. “Now I know the truth. It’s you. You are the monster,” Eleven says, before Brenner injects her, causing her to pass out before she has a chance to escape. But before Brenner can send Eleven back into the NINA pod, Lt. Colonel Jack Sullivan (Sherman Augustus) and his gun-toting soldiers descend on the lab with one objective in mind — kill the girl.
In a season of intense and high-octane action sequences, the showdown in the desert is right up there with the best. A sniper in a chopper peppers Brenner with bullets as he carries Eleven to safety; he drops to the ground, blood pouring from his mouth and body. Meanwhile, Dr. Sam Owens (Paul Reiser) tries to get Sullivan to call off his attack, but it’s too late; the Colonel gives the order to assassinate Eleven. Luckily, Eleven now has her powers back, and she sends the chopper spinning through the air before bringing it hurtling down in an explosive crash.
As the smoke clears and Brenner breathes his last few breaths, Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and the pizza van crew arrive. The Mike and co side-plot has been spinning its wheels across this season, though this episode did allow Will (Noah Schnapp) a moment to shine as he all but confessed his love and adoration for Mike, though under the guise of Eleven’s feelings. And so, it’s nice to see them reunite with Eleven and the main source of action; it’s just a shame the perpetually high and always annoying Argyle (Eduardo Franco) wasn’t killed off in the explosion.
Eleven, Mike, and the Byers boys are now on their way to Hawkins, where Vecna is just one kill away from opening the gates to eternal destruction. Vecna shows Nancy (Natalia Dyer) an ominous vision of the future: the streets of Hawkins invaded by all sorts of demons and monsters, the bodies of the dead strewn around town. Nancy is set free from the Upside Down to deliver this message to Eleven, but instead, she comes up with a plan to return to the netherworld and slay Vecna.
Dustin (Matarazzo) figures that when Vecna telepathically travels, he must fall into a trance, just like Eleven does. That means if they can find the monster mid-trance, they’ll be able to kill him. But this means luring Vecna to them, and that’s up to Max (Sadie Sink) to be the bait, seeing as she was previously marked by the beast. So the gang hot wires a mobile home (featuring Eddie disguised in a Michael Myers mask) and heads to the Wal-Mart of weapons stores, War Zone, to stock up on guns and ammunition for their impending battle.
Based on past seasons, we know that The Party always comes out on top. Even when major characters seemingly die, they always end up coming back, as we’ve seen with Hopper (David Harbour) this very season. But something feels different this time. Robin, who has her heart broken when she sees her crush with a boyfriend, voices this concern herself. “I have a nagging feeling that it might not work out for us this time,” she tells Steve (Joe Keery), and perhaps I’m just being naive, but I believe her.
This feeling is exacerbated by the number of “goodbye” scenes in this episode. There is the literal goodbye, as Brenner lets Eleven go before seemingly dying. But there’s also Eddie (Joseph Quinn) and Dustin play fighting before Eddie tells his fellow Hellfire Club member to “never change.” Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max have a heart-to-heart where Max says she will protect herself from Vecna in her happiest memory, which just so happens to include Lucas. Steve reveals his dream to Nancy of having a brood of kids to take on vacation. Even Erica (Priah Ferguson) is uncharacteristically nice (kind of) to her brother Lucas.
Those scenes lead me to believe that the Party will not be the same following the upcoming battle with Vecna. Someone is probably saying goodbye for good. And honestly, it’s what the show needs. I’ve complained before about the Duffer Brothers’ unwillingness to kill off any of the main characters and how that can remove consequences and jeopardy from the show. With only one season remaining, now would be the time to have a major death stick. That said, if anyone is going to die, it’s probably Eddie, who, while a strong character, was only introduced this season and therefore less consequential to the overarching story.
Or, who knows, maybe Hopper and Joyce (Winona Ryder) will plummet to their deaths in Yuri’s (Nikola Đuričko) death trap of a helicopter. That’s right, Hopper and Joyce are finally back together and free from the Russian prison. Although, before they escape, they come upon a secret room filled with tanks of what look to be comatose Demogorgons and a barricaded wall containing a gateway to the Upside Down. There is no time to stick around and investigate, though, with Soviet guards and an escaped Demogorgon on the loose.
Dmitri (Tom Wlaschiha) leads the group through a sewer and out into the wilderness before he demands that Yuri fly them to the United States. The crazed Yuri promises he can do this for a price, though it turns out his getaway vehicle is a disaster waiting to happen. Joyce wonders if they can call Dr. Owens for assistance, so Dmitri puts in a call, though they must wait for a response, knowing the KGB will be listening. “I hope you can speak in code,” Dmitri tells Hopper.
And so that’s where things stand as we head into the Season 4 finale. Everyone is congregating in Hawkins for the inevitable showdown with Vecna. I’m expecting tearful reunions, gory violence, and at least one or two character deaths. I’ll also be hoping the finale can justify its excessively long runtime. Until then, I’ll be playing the now chart-topping Kate Bush and hoping for the best.
Stranger Things, Season 4, Streaming Now, Netflix