Stranger Things fans have waited about a month for the final two episodes of season 4 to release on Netflix, and thankfully the wait is now over. Get your body count bingo cards ready, because there is sure to be a list of deaths going into these final episodes, starting with episode 8 — “Papa”. Let’s dive in to the penultimate episode, which ultimately serves to set the stage and move all of the pieces into play for the finale.
We open on Nancy trying to escape Hawkins Lab, where her consciousness is running from Vecna/One/Henry while her physical body is comatose in the Upside Down. Henry (I am choosing to call him by his human name) leads Nancy through his memory of the massacre at the lab, letting her see where he has been … but he doesn’t wish to stop here. The main antagonist of the series also shows Nancy where he plans to go next and exactly what his plans are for Hawkins, which plays out in a disorienting montage of red lightning and generally horrible imagery. Henry instructs Nancy to tell Eleven what she has seen here and what is coming for her and her friends.
In Russia, Hopper, Joyce, Murray, Dmitri and Yuri make their way through a secret lab located within the prison that is housing some sinister secrets — such as a Demodog that is being experimented on and tanks full of Demogorgons (I’ve seen Jurassic Park III, and I know this is not going anywhere good). In a separate containment unit is an ominous, frantically moving black cloud — the Mindflayer in its true form. The group focuses their efforts on escaping the prison again and manage to do so through the sewer system, though if the Stranger Things pattern continues, this will not be the last we see of these experiments.
Eleven’s New Groove
Eleven has her powers back and proves it by lifting the entirety of the 10,000 pound sensory deprivation tank off the ground and lowering it back down again, all without breaking a nosebleed. Feeling confident that she can take on Henry (again), she insists upon leaving immediately to join her friends in Hawkins, where she can help them. Brenner, of course, does not want Eleven to leave and tries to gaslight and gatekeep her into staying, though this is thwarted by Owens, who insists that Eleven be allowed to make the decision for herself — solidifying his status as one of the most sensibly written characters in television history. Eleven decides to leave with Owens to return to Hawkins, which is no surprise to anyone.
Between Brenner explaining his understanding of the situation to Eleven and Nancy recounting her experience trapped in Henry’s curse while in the Upside Down, we are finally starting to understand the full picture of this evil plan that is underway. Every time he murders someone with the curse, he opens a new gate between the Upside Down and the Right-Side-Up world. He needs to open four gates total to be able to break down the barrier between the two worlds and allow the monsters and ominous black clouds to roam freely and probably kill everyone and everything in their wake — which, if you’re keeping track, is not great, because he’s already killed three people. Brenner describes Henry’s plan and the gates as a dam — eventually there will be too much pressure pushing from the Upside Down that the gates will rupture, and horrible things will pour through.
With a better understanding of what is going on all around them, the kids can finally start to work out their own plan. The group theorizes that given Henry is just like Eleven, the way he projects his consciousness must be the same, meaning he’ll have to leave his physical form vulnerable in the attic of his old house in the Upside Down while he’s out trying to complete his evil plan. The conclusion here is that if the group can figure out who the next victim is, they can attack Henry’s physical form while he is out hunting. The bittersweet realization is, of course, that Max is still marked for death and next on the list. Max is incredibly brave and decides that if she turns off “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush long enough to allow herself to become bait, the others can take the fight to Henry and (hopefully) finish things once and for all.
As was mentioned before, this episode certainly takes on the role of a chess board as a lot of moving pieces are put in place for the finale. Yuri promises to fly everyone in Russia back to America on a helicopter. The Hawkins group steal an RV (thanks to the resourcefulness and talents of Eddie Munson) and make their way to a weapons store called War Zone. Eleven, who projected herself to see what the Hawkins group is up to, is trying to leave the facility to return to Hawkins with Owens’ aid. Mike, Will, Jonathan, and Argyle try to use Suzie’s coordinates to track down the Nina Project and therefore Eleven in the desert.
As is typical with Stranger Things, however, most of these well-planned and decently executed efforts still go wrong. Yuri’s helicopter has never flown before and needs some work before the group can go anywhere reliably — and even then it’s questionable considering they’re attempting to take a chopper from Russia to America. Jason and his
religious terrorists basketball team are also at War Zone the same time, which means he is definitely on their trail now. Brenner tries to prevent Eleven from leaving by taking Owens hostage and threatening Eleven. Eleven, however, has her memories back now and knows what a horrible man Brenner is, and she finally gives him a piece of her mind, placing the blame for all of the horrible things that have happened in Hawkins on him and calling him a monster. When she attempts to leave, he jabs her in the neck with a syringe.
When Eleven wakes she has a collar around her neck, and it’s really unclear what the exact purpose of this particular collar is, but it’s pretty safe to assume it dampens her powers to make her easier to control. Brenner doesn’t get to demonstrate what the collar’s purpose is, however, because Sullivan and the military locate the facility and storm in, killing everyone inside. Brenner is able to escape with Eleven by carrying her, and even protects her from a sniper in a helicopter by taking a few shots to the back, eventually collapsing. Will, Mike, Jonathan, and Argyle show up at the exact right moment and buy Eleven enough time to pull the chopper out of the sky and smash it into the military vehicles, effectively stranding Sullivan and his minions for the time-being.
After a farewell to Brenner, who dies in the sand like he deserves after trying to assure Eleven that everything he ever did was for her (not sure I’ve clapped harder for a fictional death before, to be quite honest), Eleven and the others set off to Hawkins.
You can find our episodic recaps for Stranger Things here if you need a refresher before digging into the nearly 2.5 hour finale.