Note: “Stranger Things” Season 4 Volume 1 spoilers follow below.
If you’re here, that means you’ve reached the “Stranger Things” Season 4 Volume 1 ending – and for that you should be applauded. The seven new episodes clock in at a mammoth runtime, serving up fans with super-sized episodes including a humdinger of a finale.
Speaking of which, that ending leaves things on a pretty massive cliffhanger, with a huge reveal regarding the season’s main villain Vecna as well as some backstory filled in for the “Stranger Things” mythology overall. If you’re a bit confused as to how it all connects, what it means and how it’s setting up the final two episodes (Volume 2 will be released July 1), read on below.
Exiting the Upside Down
As things wind down in the final episode of Volume 1, our Hawkins group – Steve (Joe Keery), Robin (Maya Hawke), Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Eddie (Joseph Quinn) – are finally making their way out of the Upside Down with the help of Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max (Sadie Sink) on the other side.
They’ve discovered that every place Vecna killed someone, he opened a gate to the Upside Down. But you’ll notice as the Upside Down folks are biking their way through the alternate Hawkins, they notice those creepy bat creatures corralling around Creel House – foreshadowing things to come.
Once at the trailer park where Chrissy (Grace Van Dien) was killed, they discover there is indeed a gate, and the gang makes their way back to the real Hawkins. One by one they exit, until only Nancy and Steve remain in the Upside Down. But as Nancy makes her way up the rope, she comes out the other side and is suddenly transported to… her backyard swimming pool.
Yes indeed, Nancy finds herself at the site of her own trauma (you know, the stuff Vecna feeds on), as dearly departed Barb (or at least her corpse) makes an appearance, taunting Nancy. We cut back to Steve to see that Nancy hasn’t actually grabbed onto the rope, and her eyes are rolling back into her head just like all of Vecna’s other victims.
In the Upside Down, after crawling out of the pool, Nancy finds herself at the same discombobulated version of Creel House that Max happened upon earlier in the season. Vecna taunts Nancy, telling her she was close to the truth, and asking how “old, blind, dumb Victor” was when they visited the institutionalized Victor Creel.
This here is the cliffhanger on which we leave this particular group…
The Massacre at Hawkins Lab
Meanwhile, as Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is still in the tank remembering her own traumatic event, we flashback to her time at Hawkins Lab during the bloody incident that has been teased all season. Peter Ballard (Jamie Campbell Bower), the orderly who’s been so kind to Eleven, tricks her into removing his tracking device (which also apparently served as something of a powers-inhibitor), and he’s the one who murders everyone at the lab. He is also, he reveals, the very first of Dr. Brenner’s (Matthew Modine) patients.
Yep, Peter is 001.
This builds to a confrontation between Peter and Eleven in the playroom, in which Peter – who’s now taken on a different demeanor – calmly explains his backstory. You see, that whole Creel House murder mystery has ties directly to Peter. He was the young son of Victor Creel, and as a kid, he knew he had some kind of psionic powers – powers that scared his parents.
Feeling like an outcast (“Something was wrong with me,” Peter says. “All the teachers and the doctors said I was ‘broken’”) and oppressed by the world – and finding inspiration in the black widow spider, of all things – he started exploring his own powers. He realized he could not only cause physical harm, but also reach into the memories and minds of others.
He reached into his parents’ minds and saw them “as they truly were,” noting that while they presented themselves as “good, normal people” to the world, it was all a lie. “They had done things,” Peter says. “Such awful things.”
He began mentally tormenting his parents, riddling their minds with terrible memories, and while his father was convinced it was a demon, his mother “somehow knew” it was actually her son doing all this. She called a doctor to lock him away, so Peter took matters into his own hands — he killed his sister and mother and pinned the crimes on his father. Not yet familiar with the limits of his powers, however, he passed out and was then mistaken by authorities as an attempted victim of his father’s. “It nearly killed me,” he tells Eleven.
It was then that he was taken into the custody of the aforementioned doctor – Dr. Brenner. This is how 001 was born.
He says Brenner didn’t just want to study Peter, he wanted to control him. “When Papa realized he could not control me, he tried to recreate me,” he says. “He began a program, and soon others were born. You were born.”
In a true Kylo Ren/Rey moment, Peter tries to get Eleven to join him. “You are better than they are,” he says. “Superior. That is why you frighten [Papa]. If you come with me, for the first time in your life you will be free. Imagine what we could do together. We could reshape the world, remake it however we see fit.”
A fight between the two ensues (no lightsabers, alas) and while Peter initially has the upper hand, Eleven finds her strength in a memory of love (not pain, as Peter previously suggested) from her birth mother and launches Peter into the wall.
The Upside Down Is Born?
Eleven continues pushing and pushing 001 until he begins dissolving into a flurry of ash. As the intensity grows, a red gate portal materializes behind him – seemingly the first gate into the Upside Down. It begins to close as we follow 001 into this alternate dimension, which is full of lightning and fire and mountains (and does not yet mirror Hawkins exactly… hmm…)
As the lightning strikes 001 and he continues to fall, his body grows more and more disfigured, until it becomes crystal clear that we’re witnessing the creation of Vecna. The scene hard cuts to Vecna in the Upside Down in the present-day, and zooms in on his arm to reveal his “001” tattoo.
Peter is 001, and 001 is Vecna.
And that’s the end of “Stranger Things” Season 4 Volume 1.
This cliffhanger leaves us with a number of questions leading into Volume 2 — namely, did we just witness the origin story of the Upside Down? Did Peter, aka 001, aka Vecna “reshape the world” as he promised Eleven, except in an alternate dimension?
And where does the Mind Flayer come in? Dustin theorizes that Vecna is a Captain in the Mind Flayer’s army, but could the Mind Flayer himself be Vecna? And is there hope for Vecna to turn good in the end? And why is he opening up so many gates? What is his endgame?
There’s much to chew on, but we now leave Volume 1 knowing Vecna’s identity and with Eleven likely gaining all of her powers back, so it seems to be setting up another (more spectacular) showdown between Eleven and her old pal at some point either in Volume 2 or “Stranger Things” Season 5, which will be the final season of the series.
Luckily we don’t have long to wait to find out what happens next. “Stranger Things” Season 4 Volume 2 is due to premiere on Netflix on July 1.