It’s no secret that Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) is back for the highly anticipated new season of “Stranger Things.” The character, who hasn’t really been seen since Season 1, was a huge part of that inaugural year and has left a long shadow over the rest of the show. But if you’re a bit fuzzy on the details, we’re here to help – we’ll catch you up to speed on the return of “Stranger Things’” original big bad and how he’s back in the mix for season 4.
Spoilers for “Stranger Things” Season 4 follow.
In the first year of “Stranger Things,” we’re introduced to Dr. Martin Brenner, the lead scientist at the Hawkins National Lab. Brenner is responsible for what would commonly be referred to as fringe science, with experiments into remote viewing and telekinesis. Historically, the Hawkins National Lab experiments are based on real-life programs like MK Ultra, which was involved in everything from remote viewing to brainwashing and potentially had a hand in the Manson murders that rocked southern California in the summer of 1969. In terms of pop culture touchstones, the closest one to Hawkins National Lab is probably The Shop, a shadowy organization that has appeared in Stephen King novels “The Stand” and “Firestarter.” There’s also heavy “Altered States” references and Brenner himself seems to be modeled on a more malevolent version of Peter Coyote’s Keys character from “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.”
But back to the Lab’s experiments.
What made the experiments carried out by Hawkins National Lab even more deranged was the fact that they were carried out on children, who were stripped of their names and instead given numbers, tattooed on the inside of their forearm. One such test subject is Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), whose remote viewing and general psychic abilities have allowed her to access a dark, monster-infested mirror dimension that our heroes quickly dub the Upside Down. (Brenner’s perverse relationship with Eleven sees her referring to him as “Papa.”) It’s her infiltration of the Upside Down and her subsequent escape from the Hawkins Lab that drives much of Season 1’s narrative, as she befriends a group of goofy kids and hides from both sinister government forces and otherworldly creatures.
Death by Demogorgon
By the end of the first season the Demogorgon, a creature from the Upside Down that is named after a character from the kids’ Dungeons & Dragons campaign, has abducted one of the kids, killed another and is now coming for Eleven. Finally this beast, who has a face that opens up into a series of toothy petals, has its big showdown with Eleven. But before the Demogorgon and Eleven face off, it attacks various people in the Hawkins National Laboratory including, of course, dear Dr. Brenner. He is mauled by the Demogorgon and disappears off screen. Given the Demogorgon’s history of brutally murdering people and the fact that we never saw Dr. Brenner again (aside from some flashbacks/hallucinations in season 2), it went a long way in suggesting that he had shuffled off this mortal coil.
There’s no way that he could have survived that kind of attack, right?
There is actually!
Dr. Brenner is once again the big bad of “Stranger Things.” Or is he? He returns in Season 4, seemingly to help Eleven regain her powers. But what is he up to? And how did he survive the attack?
We might not get much of an explanation on how he survived. Both Eleven at the end of Season 1 and Hopper at the end of Season 3 are presumed dead and just sort of … happen to survive. Brenner is rocking a single gnarly scar down one side of his face, not unlike Jon Voight in “Anaconda” (how’s that for a reference?), but at least in the first batch of episodes, no other characters have come up to him and asked, “Hey how did you survive that Demogorgon attack and where have you been the past few years?”
Maybe this will be addressed in the second half of the season (which drops in July), but so far nothing on that front. The point is: Dr. Brenner was supposedly eaten and now he’s back and there’s nothing we can do about it.