It’s been almost three years since we last saw our Hawkins heroes. Season 3 of Stranger Things ended with El moving to California with the Byers family, Max mourning the death of her brother Billy, and everyone grieving the loss of Hopper. Since then, we the fans have received a few tasty morsels of hints and glimpses into the fourth season, such as a ticking grandfather clock in the Upside Down, and some sort of work camp in a snowy location that appears to be holding a beloved American.
But the wait is finally over. Season 4 is here!
Needless to say, but I’m still going to say it: there are major spoilers in this recap for episode 1 below, so beware!
But First, A Little History
The first sequence of the new season takes us back to Hawkins, 1979. We see Dr. Martin Brenner getting ready for work and eventually entering the Hawkins National Laboratories location that we’ve become so familiar with. He enters the recreational Rainbow Room, where a few dozen subjects of various ages are working and playing, all outfitted in hospital gowns and buzz cuts. Brenner finds Ten and invites him to work on some individual tasks with him in another room.
In the private room, Brenner asks Ten to close his eyes and see if he can visualize what Brenner is drawing on a piece of paper. Ten is easily successful, so Brenner asks him to perform a more difficult task, to find Dr. Ellis within the lab. Ten does this but is immediately stressed by what he sees: Dr. Ellis with Six in another patient room, but there is trouble. The overhead alarm starts chiming, and Brenner realizes there has been an emergency or a breach of some kind.
As Brenner runs through the lab to figure out where the problem is, he encounters nearly all of his guards and patients lying dead throughout the halls and in their rooms. Their bones seem to have crumpled into unimaginable shapes, and blood is splattered on every wall. When he re-enters the Rainbow Room, he sees one living person: Eleven. She has blood running from her eyes and a frighteningly murderous look on her face. “What have you done?!” Brenner demands. Eleven doesn’t respond.
It’s March of 1986, and El is writing a letter to Mike from sunny California. As we listen in, we learn that Joyce has a fantastic new job working from home, Jonathan has a new best friend named Argyle with whom he often “smokes smelly plants,” and El has made numerous friends at school and is loving life. She’s excelling at math, she says, and her grammar is improving greatly. But we see pretty quickly that almost nothing El has told Mike in her letter is true (except for the smelly plants). Joyce’s grueling job is selling encyclopedias over the phone, El receives an “F” on her latest math exam, and she and Will are pretty much loners who are constantly bullied at school.
El has an assignment due today: a presentation on someone she considers a hero. So El (who goes by “Jane” in this new school), presents a diorama of Hopper’s cabin and says that her dad is her hero. But while she’s trying to give her presentation, some classmates start laughing at her stilted speech. One particularly nasty classmate, Angela, points out that the assignment was supposed to cover an historical, famous figure. El tells her that her dad is famous in their hometown, because he’s saved numerous lives. The teacher tells Angela and the others to hush and encourages El — er, Jane — to continue with her presentation. But the damage is done; El is near tears.
Later in the day, El is carrying her diorama outside when she encounters rude classmate Angela and her hive. One of them trips El in front of everyone, which causes El to drop the diorama and crumple it. While El is surrounded by laughing students, her anger bubbles up, and she screams at Angela and throws her arm toward her in an attempt to throw her off her feet with her powers. But her powers are nowhere to be found. Looking quite foolish at this point, everyone laughs at El again.
We also get some quick glimpses at our other faves back in Hawkins: Nancy is yelling at Mike to hurry up for school and not to make her late; Steve and Robin are talking girl troubles on their way to their video store jobs; Dustin is on the phone with girlfriend and The Neverending Story‘s biggest fan Suzie, who has hacked his school’s system to change one of his grades; Lucas is on the varsity basketball team, and tonight is their championship game; and Max is … not okay.
Something’s Wrong with Max
Max seems very depressed and withdrawn. She doesn’t talk much to anyone, and she hides in her headphones, ignoring the world. This is understandable, considering that she lost her brother Billy nine months earlier. But a visit to the school counselor tells us what else Max has been having to deal with.
In Ms. Kelly’s office, Max is asked if her mother is still drinking and what her homelife has been like since her stepfather left. Max seems to gloss over everything, saying things aren’t that bad. Ms. Kelly asks her if she’s still suffering from nightmares and headaches. Max sees some horrifying flashes of the attack that happened last year at the Starcourt Mall where she lost Billy, lies, and says she isn’t having nightmares anymore.
After her session, Max goes to the restroom to down some Tylenol and try to calm down. Meanwhile, she realizes fellow student Chrissy is in a stall, obviously sick. Max offers help, but Chrissy waves her off. When Max leaves, Chrissy hears her mother calling out to her. Then, the lights begin to flicker, and her mother’s voice changes and becomes a low, growling, demon-y voice, and Chrissy begins to scream. But almost as soon as it started, the vision stops: the lights are normal, and there is no monster in the restroom with Chrissy.
Joyce Gets a Package
The kids are at school, and Joyce is at home, trying to make a sale. It sounds like she’s about to close her current customer she’s talking to, when she gets a knock at the door. Joyce answers with the phone attached to her ear, and the postman hands her a large box wrapped in brown paper. Back in her kitchen, Joyce is simultaneously going through her mail and talking to her customer (who has a lot of questions about encyclopedias), when she looks more closely at the large package. There are about 15 postage stamps on it, all marked with Soviet Russia’s sickle and hammer emblem. She hangs up on her customer and rips open the package. Inside is a 12″ porcelain doll and nothing else.
Confused, Joyce immediately calls Murray Bauman, the investigative journalist and resident KGB expert. She tells him what she received, and Murray suggests she undress the doll to see if there are any cracks or plugs. When Joyce removes the doll’s clothing, she does see a crack, as if the doll has been broken and glued back together again. So Murray comes up with a plan for Joyce: take the doll outside, and drop something heavy on it to break it open. But do this while standing far enough away so as not to get into any blast radius in case there is a bomb.
So Joyce goes outside, ties a rope around a can of paint, and pulls the paint up and over the doll from a high tree branch. She lets go of the rope, the paint can falls, and the doll is smashed. And inside the doll, she finds a note that tells her that Hopper is alive!
The Hellfire Club
Dustin, Mike, and Lucas are members of the Hellfire Club, the local Dungeons & Dragons group. Led by new series character Eddie Munson, the club takes its games and meetings incredibly seriously, which has caused some strife to rise up among the best friends: tonight is the next meeting of the Hellfire Club, but it’s also the night of Lucas’ championship game. Mike and Dustin are confused why Lucas, who has been nothing more than a benchwarmer all season, would skip a Club meeting, while Lucas is offended that his best friends won’t support him at the championship game. They can’t come to a compromise, so the guys go about their own ways, upset with each other.
At lunch, Mike and Dustin inform Eddie that Lucas can’t make it to the meeting because of his game, so the meeting should be postponed. Eddie scoffs at this idea, claiming that their sacred campaigns cannot be compromised or put on hold for anyone or anything. He says it is their responsibility to find a suitable replacement for Lucas, or be banished from the Club. So, Mike and Dustin spend all day trying to find a replacement, asking numerous students if they would help them out. Nearly everyone they ask have absolutely no idea what DnD is.
Meanwhile, we see Chrissy walking outside and into the woods behind the school. She hears her mother’s voice calling to her again, and then she sees an old grandfather clock, seemingly encased in a tree. She hears it ticking and chiming, and she seems mesmerized by it. Then suddenly, Eddie is there and catches her off guard. She no longer sees the clock or hears her mother, but Eddie sees that she is clearly troubled and offers to sell her something that will help calm her down. “Do you have anything stronger?” she asks him.
It’s now time for the championship basketball game and for the Hellfire Club meeting. While Lucas is bringing his best benchwarming skills to the game, Dustin and Mike have found a more-than-suitable replacement for his place in the Hellfire Club: his younger sister Erica. Wearing an American flag as a cape (because you can’t spell “America” without “Erica,” after all), Erica and the guys enter the campaign meeting room, ready to bring some hellfire of their own.
Over the course of the evening, we see the two groups take part in their respective battles. At one point in the ball game, a teammate gets injured, so Lucas is called in to take over. And in the DnD meeting room, Dustin, Mike, and Erica are close to death, so they take a chance to roll for one more hit. While Lucas makes the game-winning shot with literally one second left, Erica and the guys roll a 20 and win their part of the DnD campaign. Both Sinclairs are victorious!
At the end of the night, we see Max outside of her home feeding her dog. Behind her, Eddie rolls up to his home across the street, and Max sees Chrissy exit his van and enter Eddie’s house with him. Inside, while Eddie is looking for the “anything stronger” Chrissy requested, she hears the clock chiming and ticking again, and now she sees her mother sitting at Eddie’s table. Her mother’s voice again turns into a low growling sound, and she then morphs into some sort of horrifying creature. While the lights flicker, Eddie sees Chrissy in a fugue state that he can’t wake her from. And then Chrissy begins to levitate in front of Eddie, and her bones start to bend and break into unnatural shapes. The last thing Chrissy hears is, “It’s time for your suffering to end.” Eddie screams for his life.
The latest season of Stranger Things will be issued in two volumes: the first one (episodes 1 through 7) was released today, May 27, and the second volume (consisting of episodes 8 and 9) will be available five weeks later, on July 1. And Nerds & Beyond will be recapping every one of them.