The Stranger Things season 4, part 1 ending will have people talking for the next few weeks. Indeed, the new season was stuffed full of action – so much so, that the show's creators the Duffer Brothers described this as their Game of Thrones season.
Set six months after the events of season 3, the new episodes sees the gang face a terrifying new villain, Vecna, while also avoiding getting into trouble with the US army, and saving Hopper from the Russians. There's a lot going on – and by the Stranger Things season 4, episode 7, you no doubt have a lot of questions. We're here to help answer a few of those, but before we do, here's your spoiler warning – we're going deep into the Stranger Things season 4, part 1 ending. You have been warned.
Stranger Things 4, part 1 ending recap
Stranger Things 4, part 1 – or, as it's been officially billed, Stranger Things 4 Volume 1 – may have supersized episodes, but, in keeping with the show's previous installments, it hits the ground running and doesn't really let up. Almost immediately after this season's big bad, Vecna, claims his first victim, the gang – Max (Sadie Sink), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) – start steadily piecing together clues about their new adversary.
Their findings lead them to discover that Vecna creates gateways between the real world and the Upside Down every time he kills someone. In episode 6, titled 'The Dive', the team head out to Lover's Lake, where Lucas' basketball teammate Patrick (Myles Truitt) was murdered by Vecna, in the middle of the night to investigate.
Underwater, Steve (Joe Keery), Robin (Maya Hawke), Eddie (Joseph Quinn), and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) head through the gate and into the Upside Down. While the foursome find themselves in the alternate dimension, Max, Dustin, and Lucas are caught sneaking in the woods by Hawkins police chief Calvin Powell (Rob Morgan) and taken back to the Wheeler house for questioning.
Steve and co. hatch a plan to get to the alternate version of the Wheeler house, and arm themselves with the guns Nancy has stashed in her bedroom. When they get there, though, they discover that the guns aren't there, and Nancy quickly deduces that they're actually in the past. November 6, 1983, to be precise. The team – minus Nancy and Steve, more on that later – eventually make it out of the Upside Down by using lights to communicate with Dustin, Lucas, and Erica (Priah Ferguson) in the real Wheeler house, and telling them to bust a hole through the portal in Eddie's trailer, where Chrissy died.
Elsewhere, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), having elected to go back in the sensory deprivation tank in order to regain her powers, finds her consciousness trapped in September 1979. In the past, she's forced to relive the painful memories Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) is so desperately trying to make her face – like when she was picked on by Two and some of the other kids. She thinks her only friend is Papa/Brenner, but a mysterious orderly warns her not to trust him.
The orderly guides Eleven to a secret passageway and instructs her to escape, before asking her to remove a device from his neck using her abilities. When the pair are interrupted, it swiftly becomes apparent that the chip was a power-dampener, as the orderly viciously takes out numerous guards.
Eleven and the orderly make their way to the Rainbow Room – and Eleven sees that he has been killing their "brothers and sisters". It's a full-circle moment as the season had opened with the same scene painting Eleven as the murderer. Turns out, it was never Eleven, but the orderly, better known as Henry Creel, the reportedly dead son of Robert Englund's character Victor Creel, who killed everyone in the hospital. Even wilder: Henry was the first test subject of Brenner's, 001.
Herny explains to Eleven how he ended up in the lab, confessing to murdering his sister and mother using his powers, and urging Eleven to join him. She refuses and the pair fight. At first, it looks like Eleven will lose, but she eventually overpowers Henry after remembering her birth mother. All the while, Nancy, having not managed to pass through the gateway and having her mind transported around the Upside Down, is subjected to flashbacks from Vecna's childhood.
Eleven pins Henry to the wall with her mind and sends him to the Upside Down. In the other dimension, he bursts into flames as he is struck by beams of crackling energy, and ultimately becomes Vecna.
Vecna and Eleven's powers explained
In season 3, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) lost her powers after a nasty run-in with the Mind Flayer. In the first part of season 4, she unsurprisingly gets them back – but regaining them takes a lot out of the Eggo-loving teen.
After Dr. Sam Owens (Paul Reiser) approaches her and tells her that a war is coming – a war they will lose if Eleven doesn't get her powers back – she agrees to let him "help her be a superhero again". Owens ferries her off to an underground compound in Nevada where he re-introduces her to Brenner, aka Papa, the scientist who used to experiment on her back at Hawkins National Laboratory.
They introduce her to NINA, a sensory deprivation tank that Brenner is certain will restore Eleven's gifts. Eleven questions the men's motives and tries to escape, but they drug her, shave her head, and force her in. Submerged, her mind is sent back to September 1979, and her time at the lab.
"If this all happened, why don't I remember it?" an emotional Eleven asks Brenner later, to which he replies: "Because you do not want to. Our brains have a defense mechanism in place to protect it from bad memories, from trauma. You buried these memories long ago."
This upsets Eleven, as she tries to piece her fragmented recollections together, and mistakenly comes to believe that she slaughtered several doctors and her fellow test subjects back during that period. You know, Volume 1's violent opening sequence? At Brenner's request, she goes back into the tank, convinced that it will continue to strengthen her now-present, but weakened abilities.
In episode 7, 'The Massacre at Hawkins Lab', season 4's big bad Vecna is revealed to be Henry Creel, the "dead" son of Victor Creel. He was also the very first test subject at Hawkins Lab – and the reason why Brenner started experimenting on superpowered kids in the '50s. In actuality, it was Henry who killed everyone seven years ago, and Eleven stopped him, inadvertently sending him into the Upside Down. As older Eleven goes over the traumatic event, it's suggested that her full powers have returned.
Henry's origins are fairly mysterious: we do not know how the young boy got his powers. However, we are shown that Eleven and the others are all genetically enhanced using Henry's DNA. How exactly that works, we're not completely sure, but Brenner fears the amount of power Henry has – and that's why he worked on training a new version of him.
For more on Vecna, check out our super in-depth guide to his surprising origins here.
How does Vecna select his victims, and how does he kill them?
"Everyone Vecna targets has something in their life... something that's..." Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) stutters, as he tries to reach out to ex-girlfriend Max (Sadie Sink) and explain Vecna's victim-selecting process in episode six, 'The Dive'. "Hurting them," she interjects. "Haunting them."
Their theory is spot on. Vecna's first casualty is Chrissy (Grace Van Dien), who was suffering from body dysmorphic disorder, while his second is Fred (Logan Riley Bruner), who's struggling to overcome his guilt over a hit-and-run he was involved in last year. His next is Lucas' basketball teammate Patrick (Myles Truitt), who Lucas suspects was being beaten by his father. It seems as if Vecna is drawn to their sorrow, as if it makes them vulnerable to him somehow.
In the final episode of Volume 1, Vecna – or Henry, or One, or whatever you want to call him – reveals his true identity to both Eleven and Nancy, and he spells out his manifesto to the former in a roundabout way.
"Humans are a unique type of pest. Multiplying, and poisoning our world, all while enforcing a structure of their own; a deeply unnatural structure. Where others saw order, I saw a straitjacket. A cruel, oppressive world dictated by made-up rules," he says. "Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, each life a faded, lesser copy of the one before. Wake up, eat, work, sleep, reproduce, and die!
"Everyone is just waiting, waiting for it all to be over. All while performing in a silly, terrible play day after day. I could not do that. I could make my own rules, I could restore balance to a broken world."
After terrorizing his potential victims, subjecting them to headaches and waking nightmares, Vecna climbs inside each of their minds and crushes their spirits inside the Upside Down, which subsequently causes their bodies to twist all out of sorts in the real world. It's bloody, bleak stuff. It appears he goes for teens who have "weaker" minds, perhaps as they are not the "predators" he likens himself to. He seems to idolize killer spiders because of their murderous ways, seeing him like them. He wants to rid the world of the weak, and escape being under the control of an oppressive world. He's a villain who believes he is doing the right thing – and there's nothing as scary as someone with a twisted mind and a wrong sense of self-worth and self-belief.
The significance of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’
Winona Ryder wore a Kate Bush badge to the Stranger Things season 4 premiere in Los Angeles, and fans just assumed that she was randomly expressing her appreciation for the iconic British singer. Turns out, there was a reason she was wearing that button...
In episode 4, Vecna sets his sights on Max and forces her to see increasingly terrible visions. After the gang work out that Chrissy and Fred died soon after hallucinating things, they start scrambling to come up with a way to help Max before it's too late. Their quest points them in the direction of the only known survivor of a Vecna attack, Victor Creel, so Nancy and Robin set off for Pennhurst Mental Hospital to talk to him.
At the facility, Victor recalls how his wife Virginia, and their children Alice and Henry, died at the hands of an invisible force. He tells them that the youngsters passed away while he was imagining himself in France during World War II, a memory forced upon him by Vecna – and how a wrongly ordered shelling led to a baby dying. Victor also told them that it was a tune that shook him from the "living nightmare" – Ella Fitzgerald's 'Dream A Little Dream of Me'.
"Music can reach parts of the brain that words can't, so maybe that's the key... a lifeline?" Robin ponders, as Nancy replies: "A lifeline back to reality."
Putting two and two together, Nancy and Robin call a desperate Dustin and inform him of their revelation. As Max slips into a trance, Dustin asks Lucas what her favorite song is and the guys fetch out a tape of Kate Bush's 'Running Up That Hill'. They put it in her cassette player, position her headphones over her ears, and eventually, the music makes its way to "Max" in the Upside Down. It creates an opening to the real world and gives "Max" the strength to wound Vecna and run through it. Miraculously, Max survives to fight another day.
Throughout the rest of Volume 1, Max is seen frequently listening to the same track, presumably to keep Vecna at bay.
Is Billy in Stranger Things 4?
When Volume 1's episode titles were announced, episode 4's, 'Dear Billy', swiftly got our attention. Some fans even thought it might be an indication that he'd be back in season 4. Well, he is, but not in the way you might have hoped.
As Vecna closes in on Max, he takes over her mind and transports her consciousness to the Upside Down. In the alternate dimension, she's confronted by Vecna posing as Billy (Dacre Montgomery).
"I think there's a part of you, buried somewhere deep, that wanted me to die that day," he says menacingly, acknowledging how Billy sacrificed himself to protect Max, Mike, and Eleven during the Battle of Starcourt in season 3. "That was maybe, even, relieved... happy. That's why you stood there, isn't it, Max? It's okay, you can admit it now. No more lies. No more hiding. It's why you feel such guilt, why you hide from your friends, why you hide from the world, and why, late at night, you have sometimes wished to follow me into death. That is why I am here, Max, to end your suffering once and for all."
After that, Vecna reveals his true form and "Billy" isn't seen again.
What are Mike, Will, and Jonathan up to?
In the first volume of Stranger Things season 4, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Will (Noah Schnapp), and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) undoubtedly get the least amount of screen time. In fact, the trio aren't in episode 7 at all.
When we last saw them, though, they had journeyed from California to Salt Lake City, Utah to find Dustin's genius girlfriend Suzie, and ask her to help them locate "The Nina Project". One of the guards who was posted at the Byers house instructed them to find it after he was fatally shot by a shady government type and suggested that it's where Eleven is being kept.
Using her father's computer, sneaky Suzie (Gabriella Pizzolo) manages to pinpoint The Nina Project's whereabouts in Nevada using its IP address and geo-location software. In episodes 8 and 9, we'll presumably see them travel a state over as they try and rescue El, not knowing that at this stage, she's somewhat willingly working with Owens and Brenner.
What’s going on with Steve and Nancy?
At the start of Volume 1, all of the romantic relationships on the show are, well, rocky. Eleven is struggling with the fact that Mike won't use the words "I love you" in any of his letters, Joyce and Hopper are oceans apart, Lucas and Max have split up, and Jonathan is gearing up to tell Nancy that he wants to stay in California for college.
As is always the case with Stranger Things, different sets of characters embark on their own adventures, and this time around, Steve (Joe Keery) and Nancy spend a lot of time together – and several characters comment on their obvious fondness for one another. Initially, the pair help Dustin and Lucas keep Max away from Vecna, and later, the twosome find themselves in the Upside Down along with Robin (Maya Hawke) and Eddie (Joseph Quinn).
Steve is the first to travel to the other side, having been sucked into an underwater portal while the gang were trying to find a gate at the bottom of Lover's Lake. Without hesitation, Nancy dives in after him, followed by Robin and Eddie. When things settle down, the latter tells Steve to get her back and that Nancy's willingness to save him "was an unambiguous a sign of true love as these cynical eyes have ever seen." Tie all that in with Nancy's brief chat with Robin about her's and Jonathan's current problems in an earlier episode, and it looks like a reconciliation between the former sweethearts is on the cards.
Is the Upside Down not toxic anymore? And why is the Upside Down frozen in time?
We wish we could answer this confidently but we're just as stumped as you are when it comes to the rules of the Upside Down. In Stranger Things season 1, Brenner and the like would wear hazmat suits whenever they ventured near the alternate dimension, and its environment has definitely negatively affected the likes of Will, Hopper, and poor Barb physically. But in Stranger Things season 4, Nancy, Eddie, Robin, and Steve seem fine walking around inside it.
Our only theory is that the Mind Flayer was what was making the Upside Down inhospitable and now that it's gone, it's no longer toxic – or as toxic, at least. We know that Vecna is technically human, too, so that might play a part in its changing atmosphere.
There's also the question of why the Upside Down is frozen in time. November 6, 1983, was the day that Will disappeared – the day that Eleven connected with a Demogorgon in the Upside Down and cause the events in the series to take off. It wasn't the first time Eleven opened up a gateway to the Upside Down, as we see, in the flashbacks, that she opened a gate back in 1979. Hopefully, an answer to this question will come soon.
How does Hopper escape the Russian prison?
Hopper's story is fairly separate to the main events in Volume 1, but that doesn't mean it's not interesting. Technically, we do see Hopper escape the Russian prison in the first part of Stranger Things season 4 – only he gets captured and sent right back to the gulag. With the help of Murray (Brett Gelman) and Joyce (Winona Ryder), though, we'll almost definitely see him step foot on US soil again in part 2.
At the start of season 4, Joyce receives a mysterious box in the mail that contains a porcelain doll. On the outside of the box are a bunch of Russian stamps, which prompts her to call Murray and ask for his advice. He tells her to smash the doll to see if there's anything inside, and lo and behold, there is; a note that reads 'Hop is alive!'
Soon, they're put into contact with two chaps called Dmitri/Enzo (Tom Wlaschiha) and Yuri (Nikola Đuričko), and are instructed to bring them $40,000. They're also told that upon their arrival, the money will then be swapped for Hopper. Predictably, the plan does not go smoothly, as Yuri drugs the hapless twosome. They overpower the double-crosser, though, and hatch a plan to sneak into Hopper's prison by pretending that Murray is Yuri, Yuri is Murray, and Joyce is, well, still Joyce.
The ruse gets them inside the lock-up's walls, just in time to see Hopper and a bunch of other inmates – Dmitri included, after Yuri ratted him out – being forced to fight a Demogorgon for the officers' entertainment. Fortunately, having dealt with the creatures before, Hopper knew it was coming and fashioned a fire-tipped spear to use against it but with nowhere to run, the flames start to diminish. Murray and Joyce watch the horror unfold initially, but the former holds a higher-up at gunpoint and waltzes them into the control room. He orders the man at the station to open all the doors. When he doesn't oblige, Murray kicks all of their butts, while Joyce opens the doors.
Dmitri and Hopper squeeze through one, but his spear goes out before the gateway has time to shut again. As the Demogorgon approaches, screeching, Hopper thinks fast and launches the spear at the monster, piercing its face. He is then reunited with Joyce, and the pair share a long, sweet hug.
What's coming in Stranger Things season 4, part 2?
Now that we, and the characters, have learned who Vecna truly is, it seems safe to assume that the final two episodes of Stranger Things 4 will center on our heroes waging war on the "dark wizard". Eleven may have defeated him in human form back in 1979, but his Upside Down-dwelling self is still out here killing folks in Hawkins in 1986... He's likely to be harder to beat this time, too. During his confrontation with Eleven at the lab, Henry/One explains that he grows stronger every time he takes a life, and now that he's killed Chrissy, Fred, and Patrick, he's probably much more powerful as Vecna than he was as human Henry.
There are a few scenes in the season's official trailer that have not aired yet, like Eddie shredding guitar, Erica (Priah Ferguson) wandering around with a UV light, Nancy aiming a gun at an unseen enemy, and Eleven in the Upside Down. We've also set to see Joyce, Murray, and Hopper actually make it back to Hawkins, so it almost makes sense that episode 8 is 85 minutes long, and episode 9 is almost a whopping two and a half hours.
Might Vecna survive both? It's certainly a possibility. The Mind Flayer is gone, and the tagline for season 4 is "every ending has a beginning", so it seems the Duffer Brothers regard this chapter to be the first part of a grander conclusion. Episode 8 is called 'Papa', which will likely center on Brenner, while the finale is called 'The Piggyback', which is much more obscure. Fortunately, we don't have to wait too much longer until Stranger Things season 4, part 2 lands on Netflix, and we'll have a clearer idea on what's in store for Eleven and the gang going into Stranger Things' fifth and final outing.
Stranger Things 4, part 1 is streaming now. Volume 2 is set to arrive on July 1. Check out our Stranger Things season 4 release schedule for more details. If you've already binge-watched all seven episodes, why not check out our list of the best Netflix shows for some viewing inspiration.