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How ‘Stranger Things 4’ Sets Up the Final Chapter

Flayed minds, full hearts, can't lose.

A teen girl with short buzzed hair wearing a white protective vest enters a mechanical hallway; still from "Stranger Things 4."

“Stranger Things 4”

Courtesy of Netflix

In case you had any doubts, “Stranger Things” isn’t over, and it intends to go out with a bang.

Stranger Things 4: Volume 2” dropped July 1, with two super-sized episodes and a conclusion to Season 4’s Vecna storyline — allegedly. After nine episodes and 13 hours, the big bad is not gone but resting, biding his time until the next Season– um, fight.

Here’s where everything wrapped up in “Stranger Things 4,” and where we go from here.

[Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers for “Stranger Things 4,” Episodes 8-9, including the ending.]

One To Eleven

A blonde man in a white coat intimidates a teen girl with buzzed brown hair inside a playroom; still from "Stranger Things 4."

“Stranger Things 4”

Courtesy of Netflix

After unmasking the monster Vecna as Henry Creel a.k.a. One a.k.a. Dr. Brenner’s first experiment at the end of “Volume 1,” Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) goes after her old Hawkins Lab compatriot armed with this knowledge. Unearthing the memory of banishing One to the Upside Down also jump-started her powers, allowing her to defeat Brenner (Matthew Modine) and escape the facility.

Time and tentacles have not dulled One’s memory. When El arrives in the Upside Down, piggybacking off the link in Max’s mind, he recognizes her immediately. El tries to talk him down one last time, insisting that he’s not who Brenner and the Upside Down turned him into.

“He is the monster, Henry, not you,” she pleads, referring to Brenner. (Henry actually killed his whole family, so this is debatable.)

They fight as only they can, two superpowered children raised by an ambitious, abusive warden, but it’s a three-pronged attack that brings Vecna down. Steve (Joe Keery), Robin (Maya Hawke), and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) attack his physical form in their world, while Hopper (David Harbour) decimates a Demogorgon back in the Russian prison. In order to destroy Vecna once and for all, the team is going to have to split up and hit him where it hurts — violently, vehemently, and at the exact same time.

It should be a victory, but when Will (Noah Schnapp) finally returns to Hawkins, he tells Mike (Finn Wolfhard) it’s not over.

“He’s hurting, but he’s still alive,” Will says, clearly terrified. He remembers how the Mind Flayer thinks, just as El remembers how he manipulated her. Again, knowing Vecna’s identity and his past before the Upside Down will only help the Hawkins crew defeat him — and this time El has her powers, stronger and more driven than ever.

Max and Munson

A redheaded teen girl wearing headphones levitates above the ground, her eyes white; still from "Stranger Things 4."

“Stranger Things 4”

Courtesy of Netflix

Season 4 introduced the metal-loving D&D-obsessed conformity-hating Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn), who dies in the Upside Down fighting Vecna’s monsters while trying to clear his name and save the world. It’s a noble arc, calling back to Eddie’s instincts of self preservation back in the early episodes when he fled from the site where Vecna claimed his first victim. (To be fair, this is a completely rational response to your drug customer suddenly levitating, contorting, and bleeding from the eyes.)

It’s a poignant sacrifice, but Eddie is also the newest character who we’ve gotten to know the least. “Volume 1” seemed to foreshadow Steve sacrificing himself to save his many children — he even gets attacked by the same bats that end up killing Eddie — and in the end, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) still lost a brotherly mentor.

Though not as new, Max (Sadie Sink) is another character who joined the show after Season 1, who faces death at Vecna’s hands in both “Volume 1” and “Volume 2.” It’s a powerful arc, providing one of the most memorable musical moments on TV this year, and Max does die — temporarily. She’s in a coma, which Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) describes as a miracle, but El sees as a failure because she couldn’t find her friend’s consciousness and bring her all the way back. Wherever Max’s mind is, you can bet Vecna will go searching for her too, as soon as he regains his strength. Protecting Max remains central to this fight (and our hearts).

The Heart

Three older teens in coats and carrying weapons enter a dark, spooky house; still from "Stranger Things 4."

“Stranger Things 4”

Courtesy of Netflix

“Stranger Things 4” did not pass up a single opportunity to rekindle the attraction between Steve and Nancy through shy looks and shared views, and Steve eventually declares that he pictures her as the mother of his six future children. It’s a little wild, but it works, in especially safe hands with Keery’s charisma that has buoyed the show since Season 1.

But nothing ultimately happens with Steve and Nancy in “Stranger Things 4.” They have more pressing matters to attend to, flambéing Vecna’s body and shooting at him until he’s neutralized, but what about the two days that followed, the days the finale skips? By that time, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) makes his triumphant return to Hawkins, and it’s genuinely jarring to see him and Nancy together when they’ve spent the last 13 hours apart. Who are these strangers, and how can fans root for them again? “Stranger Things 5” has a hell of a love triangle to resolve.

Not much happens with the other couples as well, with everyone realistically tabling their crushes in the face of certain doom. Lucas and Max share some tender moments before Vecna gets to her, and by finale’s end he’s just grateful she’s alive and hoping she wakes up. Mike and El push through their old-married-couple patch and are as strong as ever — their relationship is so strong and foundational to the show that any strain on it feels contrived and derails the narrative. Next time, let’s let the Hawkins power couple reign and destroy Vecna side-by-side.

The Mind Flayer

A shadowy, many legged monster hovers above a decimated, burned landscape; still from "Stranger Things 2."

“Stranger Things 2”

Courtesy Netflix

“Volume 2” delivers another major reveal about Vecna: He is the Mind Flayer. While exploring the Upside Down, Vecna came across this swirling smoke and used his telekinetic abilities to harness and manipulate it, transcending his human form and breaching the Upside Down when Eleven accidentally opened the gate ahead of Season 1.

And because the Upside Down is a hive mind, that means Vecna is literally everything. He’s what killed Billy (Dacre Montgomery) and the others in “Stranger Things 3” and went for Eleven. He’s what possessed Will in Season 2, and he’s the demogorgons and demodogs and dear departed Dart. This isn’t necessarily a shocking twist, but like the first part of One’s identity, it’s an exciting one. It makes everything about the Mind Flayer instantly more compelling because now it’s personal.

What does that mean moving forward? Vecna’s identity gives “Stranger Things” higher emotional stakes overall, with a fleshed out character and backstory to now pair with the sinister supernatural of the Upside Down. One and Eleven will have to face off again, but it can’t be a repeat of “Stranger Things 4” — so what new element will escalate their conflict for a final showdown?

“Stranger Things 4: Volume 2” is now available on Netflix.

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