It was admittedly an odd creative decision to split the fourth season of Stranger Things into two unequal parts. While Part 1 (consisting of the first seven episodes) was a bit bloated, it nonetheless told a compelling story, set up some real stakes, and left viewers mulling over multiple cliffhangers. Fortunately, we don’t have long to wait to see what happens next, and Netflix just dropped an exciting new trailer foreshadowing what we can expect from the final two episodes, each of which clocks in at well over an hour’s run time. And things look pretty bleak for the Hawkins gang.
(Some spoilers for S4 Part 1 below, but we’ve tried to avoid revealing the biggest plot twists.)
Since the official trailer for Part 1 dropped in May, we’ve known that this season’s big bad hails straight from classic D&D lore. It’s Vecna, a once-powerful wizard who first became undead and then became a lich. Although Vecna (in the lore, at least) was destroyed, over time he achieved godhood. His left hand and left eye survived his bodily death and became powerful relics.
The series gives Vecna a very different backstory that connects the character to everything that has happened in Hawkins since the first season. He rather resembles Freddy Krueger from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, except he preys on people’s (especially teens’) negative thoughts and feelings rather than their dreams. The horrible fates of his victims lead to an outbreak of “Satanic Panic” in the wholesome town of Hawkins. And that’s all I’ll say about Vecna for now.
Meanwhile, the entire Byers clan, including Eleven (Milly Bobbie Brown), has relocated to Southern California, where Will (Noah Schnapp) and Eleven naturally find themselves high school outcasts. Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Max (Sadie Sink), Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Steve (Joe Keery), and Robin (Maya Hawke) remained in Hawkins, where Lucas’ newfound basketball abilities wins him admission to the popular crowd. (It must be said that the high school dynamics in the opening S4 episodes are unrelentingly cliché; this is not what Stranger Things does well.)
Hopper (David Harbour) is being kept prisoner by the Russians, but he’s plotting a breakout with a Russian guard nicknamed Enzo (Tom Wlaschiha). This involves sending a coded message to Joyce (Winona Ryder), who promptly hops on a plane to Alaska with Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman)—inexplicably leaving her kids at home and in the dark as to the true nature of her “business trip.” Then Eleven gets snatched and brought to a secret underground lair run by none other than her “Papa”: Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine). The remaining Byers kids hit the road to rescue her.
But does Eleven actually need rescuing? There were substantial flashbacks to Eleven’s early days in Dr. Brenner’s lab, before she tore open a gateway between our world and the Upside Down. We learned that a mysterious incident caused the death of nearly all the child subjects apart from Eleven, whose fragmented memories of that time seem to implicate Eleven as the culprit. (Prior seasons certainly established that she is capable of killing, albeit almost always in self-defense.) It seems Dr. Brenner has been recruited to help her recover her powers, lest Vecna’s activities enable the Upside Down to take over our world entirely.
Given the three distinct storylines in three separate locales, a lot went down in the first seven episodes, and things ended on three cliffhangers. Joyce reunited with Hopper as he escaped from his Russian prison, but they still have to find a way back to the US. Steve, Nancy, and D&D dungeon master Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn)—easily this season’s breakout character—got trapped in the Upside Down.
Dustin, Lucas, and Erica (Priah Ferguson) found another gate to rescue them, but Vecna snatched Nancy’s mind at the last minute, with Steve torn between trying to save Nancy right then or looking out for the younger kids in the “real” world. As for Eleven, she learned the truth about what really happened in the laboratory that tragic day—and the true nature of the threat her friends now face back in Hawkins.