Everything seems to fall apart in the Stranger Things fifth episode, “Chapter Five: The Nina Project.” Mike, Will, and the others are on the run from military types who are armed to the teeth; Joyce and Murray have been kidnapped in Alaska; and Hopper is back in prison. And then things getting really bad.
There are major spoilers below for this episode!
Purple Palm Tree Delight
Mike, Will, Jonathan, and a critically injured Agent Harmon are in the back of Argyle’s pizza van, speeding away from the chaos that just broke out at the Byers residence. Harmon tells the guys that they need to warn Owens, because the girl is in danger. “Nina” is the only information Harmon can offer, as he is close to death. He hands Jonathan an ink pen, and while the guys are trying to keep him alive long enough to give them Nina’s contact information, Harmon dies, and they pull off the road to evade the bad guys still following them.
Later, in the desert, Will, Jonathan, and Mike are burying Harmon. Argyle is there, too, but he is too busy melting down from paranoia and rattling off all the ways they’re all going to get killed for burying a federal agent to help with the actual burying. Jonathan suggests to Argyle that he go chill out in his van. “Purple Palm Tree Delight,” Argyle responds, and he runs off to his van to chill like he’s never chilled before.
Will and Mike are taking a break from all the shoveling. Mike is beating himself up for not opening up to El. Maybe she would have taken him with her to wherever she is now, he says, if he had just explained how he truly felt about her. In a very poignant moment, Will tells him that it’s scary to open up to someone like that, to tell someone how you really feel, especially if you really care about that person. “Because … what if they don’t like the truth?” And when it looks like Will might continue with more to say, Argyle tells everyone that he’s fashioning a headstone for “Unknown Hero Agent Man” out of a pizza box. It seems the Purple Palm Tree Delight has worked its magic.
But when Argyle tries to use the ink pen that Harmon gave them, it’s dry of ink. Mike sees this and realizes that Harmon wouldn’t have given them a pen that doesn’t work on purpose. And his hunch is right: inside the ink pen is a rolled up piece of paper with a phone number written on it.
The guys find a payphone on the side of the road, and when they dial the number, they realize it’s to a computer, not a phone. Mike says that they need a hacker to help them. And the only one he knows lives in Utah. When Jonathan is clearly confused about what’s going on, Will begins singing the theme song to The NeverEnding Story, and he then understands that they’ll need to enlist the help of Suzie, Dustin’s genius girlfriend.
This Is Not American Airlines
Joyce and Murray are bound and unwilling passengers on Yuri’s single engine plane, headed to Russia to be sold to the KGB. In the air, while Yuri is enjoying some Jif peanut butter (that he earlier explained he can sell in Russia for a 1900% markup), Joyce realizes that Yuri can’t hear her or Murray in the back over the loud engine roar. She knocks over a case of the Jif peanut butter jars (which were glass back in the ’80s), and shards of glass are now on the ground. One of those shards will free her and Murray from their binds, if only her leg were a little longer to reach one of them.
Later, Yuri catches Joyce trying to cut through Murray’s binds. While he is threatening Joyce with great harm if she doesn’t sit back down, Murray has gotten out of his binds and begins to employ all the karate knowledge he can muster onto Yuri’s face. A battle ensues, with a very impressive Murray making mince meat of Yuri, while Joyce retrieves Yuri’s gun and tries to shoot him, but hitting the cockpit window instead. The fight has ended at this point, but the real danger has just begun, with buzzers and warning signals blaring in the small plane. The plane is descending rapidly, and the only person who knows how to fly has been knocked out cold.
Murray and Joyce sit in the pilots’ seats, but they can’t stop what’s happening. The plane continues to plummet, and it eventually crashes violently in a snowy desert somewhere in Russia.
Nancy Puts the Pieces Together
At the Wheeler residence, Nancy, Dustin, and the others are sleeping in the basement, worn out from all their previous investigative work. A call from “Eddie the Banished” over the two-way radio wakes up Nancy, who then sees Max missing from the basement. A brief moment of sheer terror that she has been abducted or worse ends upstairs, when she sees Max at the kitchen table, drawing pictures of the things she saw when Vecna had her under his curse. While Dustin is trying to fit every waffle that Mrs. Wheeler has made onto his plate, Nancy realizes she recognizes one of Max’s drawings. She then puts all the sheets of paper together to show that they are pieces of a house, the Creel house. They all know what they have to do next.
They pull up to the Creel house and head inside, after Robin unlocks the door with a key. (And by that, I mean she throws a brick through the front door window.) Inside, Max sees the clock that she and all of Vecna’s victims have seen. It’s not “alive” here, but she knows it’s the same clock. The group breaks up in pairs and begin searching the house for any information they can find. Upstairs, Max and Lucas notice a lamp’s bulb glitching. When Max touches it, it goes dark, but another lamp in the hall begins to flicker.
They follow the flickering lights to a large chandelier, where the others have joined them. “It’s like the Christmas lights,” Nancy says. She explains to Robin about Will using Christmas lights to communicate from the Upside Down, and she then suggests everyone turn off their flashlights and spread out. Almost immediately, Robin’s flashlight illuminates, and then the light hops to Steve’s flashlight. It seems they can follow Vecna’s whereabouts in the Upside Down by following the flickering lights.
They are led upstairs to the attic, where the lone lightbulb is on full power. As they get closer to the light bulb, their flashlights illuminate again. The camera turns upside down and takes us to the Upside Down, where we see Vecna suspended by the underground roots. Nancy and the others have found the exact location where Vecna resides within his Upside Down Creel house.
Eddie Munson Is Found
Eddie is still holed up at Reefer Rick’s. He calls over the two-way radio to Dustin and the others and requests some more food (and a six pack of beer). Meanwhile, in town, Chrissy’s funeral has been held, and Jason, Patrick, and the other basketball team members get together, even more motivated to find where Eddie is. Jason has photographic evidence from the upcoming yearbook that Lucas not only knows the Hellfire Club members but is a club member himself, and he is livid that Lucas would mislead them. After making a list of all the places Eddie could possibly be hiding, one of the guys mentions Reefer Rick, who is Eddie’s supplier.
At Reefer Rick’s, the guys pull up outside. Eddie sees them and frantically calls to Dustin and the others over the two-way radio, but no one answers. As a last resort, he gets in a small motorboat and paddles his way out of the hideout into the middle of Lover’s Lake. But Jason sees him, and he and Patrick begin swimming out to him. Eddie tries to start the motorboat, but it doesn’t work. The guys catch up to Eddie quickly, but Patrick has been haunted all day by visions of the chiming clock, and he hears it again while he’s swimming. Suddenly, Patrick is pulled under, and he then shoots out and levitates high above the surface. His bones begin breaking into those gruesome shapes, while Jason and Eddie look on. Patrick is under Vecna’s spell.
12 Hours Earlier
El wakes up in the back seat of Dr. Owens’ car, having napped on the way to … wherever he is taking her to help her regain her superpowers. They eventually arrive in the literal middle of nowhere, where a locked vault door stands in the Nevada desert. Dr. Owens unlocks the door, and he and El enter to walk down a flight of stairs and then ride down an elevator deep underground. The elevator eventually opens up onto a maze of hallways, every corner guarded by an armed officer. As they walk, Owens explains to El that they’re in a converted ICBM silo, formerly used by the U.S. military.
Owens and El enter the central room of the underground silo, and we see what looks like a sensory deprivation tank. “We call her ‘Nina,'” Owens explains. But before El can ask what its purpose is, she hears ominous, familiar footsteps approaching on the metal walkway from above. Dr. Brenner descends the stairs and tells El that he believes he knows why she’s lost her powers, and he believes he knows how to get them back. El has no desire to listen to another word this man says, so she turns and runs back toward the elevator. But she is stopped by the guards, and a scientist comes up and gives her a shot in the neck that subdues her. Brenner holds El in his arms and says, “Everything’s going to be all right. You’re home now.”
Later, El wakes up in a cold, sterile room wearing a hospital gown and a buzz cut. Somehow, she’s back at Hawkins Lab, like it’s 1979 again. Confused, she leaves her room and walks down to the end of the hall, to the Rainbow Room. Inside the room are her “siblings,” playing and working. Then, a very creepy orderly walks in and greets her: “Well, well. Look who finally decided to join us.” El asks where she is and what’s going on, and then the lights flicker. When the lights stabilize, El hears, “Well, well. Look who finally decided to join us.” It’s the same creepy orderly again behind her, as if the scene is on some sort of loop.
Freaked out, El runs out of the Rainbow Room and down the hall. She turns the corner, runs down another hall, and ends up in … the Rainbow Room. “Well, well. Look who finally decided to join us.” Yep, it’s Orderly the Creep Extraordinaire again. No matter where El runs or through which door she enters, she always ends up in the Rainbow Room, greeted by Orderly Creep-O #1. Upstairs, we see Owens telling Brenner that he’s concerned El isn’t going to be able to survive this experience. Brenner brushes him off and seems pleased at El’s frighteningly elevated heartrate. And we see that El is actually inside the sensory deprivation tank.
El then sees her reflection in a mirror, and she’s several years younger and about half her current height. Brenner then gets on the intercom and tells El about the opera call Nina, in which a young woman loses her lover in a duel. Nina became so traumatized that she buried the memory, and it was as if her lover’s death never occurred. El then pieces together that she is reliving a memory, one that she herself must have buried. She screams to be let out of this experience, but Brenner tells her that she must find her own way out. She then hears, “Well, well. Look who finally decided to join us.” Oy, this guy again….
Later, a different memory triggers the one we saw at the beginning of episode 1, where the bodies of guards and patients are lying throughout Hawkins Lab, and El is seemingly the only survivor, while blood drips from her eyes. This sends her into cardiac arrest, so Brenner’s team shock her back into rhythm. El immediately breaks free and tries to escape. But when the guards grab her, she screams and throws them into the air while lights burst. Her powers have returned! And Brenner is thrilled.
The first volume of Stranger Things season 4 episodes is available to stream right now on Netflix. Follow our episodic recaps here.