[Ed. note: As you might’ve guessed or hoped for, this post goes into detail about the end of season 4 of Stranger Things.]
Upon its release, Stranger Things 4 part 2 was a doozy, and not just because of the run time. In the final run of episodes, the whole cast of characters finally converged on Hawkins and beat Vecna — sorta.
Though they survived the battle, the war still looms in a very real way, as Vecna’s efforts to merge the Upside Down and regular world are a bigger threat than ever now that four rifts between the worlds scar the town they love. Plus, there’s still the Upside Down particle monster/shadow that Joyce and Hopper glimpsed in Russia.
All this sets up a pretty major final season for the streaming juggernaut, in which I’m sure the Upside Down monsters will be worse than ever. Knowing that the end is so close, naturally every lingering question feels a little more weighted than it might otherwise. While Stranger Things is known to inflate some episode lengths, there’s still a (relatively) limited window to wrap up the journeys of everyone in the cast. And that’s all before we get into solving their latest Upside Down problem.
What happened to Vecna?
Although Nancy, Robin, and Steve’s ground offensive successfully incapacitated Vecna — they both shot him out a window and burned him extensively — by the time they got outside he had vanished, leaving just a soot mark on the Upside Down ground.
Does that mean that Vecna is well and truly dead? No, at least not according to Will. His Upside Down Spidey senses told him that One/Vecna/Henry is still very much alive. “Now that I’m here, in Hawkins, I can feel him. And he’s hurting, but he’s still alive,” Will told Mike. “It’s strange, knowing now who it was this whole time. But I can still remember what he thinks, and how he thinks. And he’s not going to stop. Ever. Not until he’s taken everything and everyone. We have to kill him.”
What does that mean for Hawkins?
A few days after Vecna’s attack, many of the people of Hawkins are already moving away from the “earthquake” that caused the massive rifts through town. The Upside Down seems to be bleeding through to our world, as vines make their way through the rifts and up buildings, electrical storms pop up, Upside Down dust starts to rain down, and the infected ground kills the plants surrounding the town.
Will’s Upside Down Spidey sense lets him know the storm clouds are setting in. And soon everyone in town is looking up, trying to make sense of what happens now. Though our cast of main characters certainly knows better than the regular townspeople what’s spreading through the air and beneath their feet, they don’t look any more capable of stopping it — yet. When Eleven looks back at the town in the final moments of episode 9, it’s clear the Upside Down is starting to take over Hawkins. As Vecna told Eleven: “This is only the beginning. The beginning of the end. You have already lost.”
Is Max dead?
No, but Eleven can’t find her, even in her own headspace. Max held out for as long as she could, but Eleven’s victory in the psychic duel and Steve, Nancy, and Robin’s victory in the Upside Down came too late. He had already started the process of killing Max, suspending her in the air and systematically breaking her bones. Once Vecna was dispatched, Max fell and woke up from the trance, but told Lucas she couldn’t hear or feel anything. She died shortly after.
El refused to accept this and used her powers to bring Max back to life — to a point. We last see Max in the hospital, where she’s in a coma the doctors aren’t certain she’ll wake up from. When El touches her hand to mind meld with her, she finds Max’s brainspace totally empty. Where Max’s mind has gone — and if it can return to her body again — is one of the biggest questions heading into the final season. Though I’d be hard-pressed to believe this is the last we’ve seen of Max on Stranger Things.
Will Hopper and El still have matching haircuts in Stranger Things 5?
Who knows. Maybe they’ll really bond over it during this period and grow it out together. They could even complete the look with matching father-daughter outfits.
OK seriously: What is going on with Will?
Although Will finally got to show Mike his art and talk him up, it almost immediately prompted Will to sadly bawl by himself as he looked out the window. As he described the thought process behind his painting, Will spoke about how hard it was to be different than other people, and was fairly clearly emotional about it.
Though Mike continued to be oblivious all season to what Will is going through, Jonathan (fresh off the weed) finally clued in. While prepping the sensory deprivation tank/pizza freezer for Eleven, Jonathan told Will that he’s sad about how distant they’ve been. “I don’t want you to forget that I’m here. I’ll always be here, no matter what, because you’re my brother, and I love you,” Jonathan said. “There is nothing in this world — absolutely nothing — that will ever change that.”
Unfortunately, after a hug, Will went back to playing a supporting character and we didn’t get any resolution for whatever was going on with him throughout the entire season. In Part 1, when he was melancholily consoling Mike, he again talked about El in a way that felt like he was talking about fears he has himself. “Sometimes it’s just scary to open up like that and say how you feel,” he told Mike in a charged moment in episode 5. “What if the people you care about the most don’t like the truth?”
While he might just have been that bent out of shape about the issues in Mike and El’s relationship, is it possible there’s something more happening with him and his own coming-of-age story? Some feel that it’s building up to a story about Will coming out to his friends and family. But as of Stranger Things 4, it’s unclear.
Are Nancy and Steve going to get back together?
Just when you thought Stranger Things was done with a love triangle, we’re back studying amorous trigonometry again. After spending the whole season trying to find the perfect girl, Steve finally came clean to Nancy that she was the one in his fantasies about raising six Harringtons and road tripping around the country. Hearing this, Nancy seemed intrigued, or at least flattered.
She certainly was interested in defending how much Steve had “grown up” to Jonathan, her boyfriend she’d been estranged from (physically and emotionally) throughout Stranger Things 4. Although they finally ended up back together in Hawkins, the season ended with those two awkwardly dancing around if they still make sense together. He apologized to Nancy for being distant, but also still lied about his plans to hopefully attend the same college as her. And it’s clear the events of this season left Nancy reconsidering her feelings toward Steve. All in all, it doesn’t seem like it’s clear skies for Jonathan and Nancy, Vecna or no.
Where will the Russians factor in?
It took the entire season for the children to learn that Joyce, Murray, and Hopper were in the Soviet Union, let alone that they were aiding the fight against Vecna’s forces by attacking monsters connected to the hive mind. Ultimately, the Hopper rescue mission to Russia was vital, but it often felt pretty auxiliary to the rest of the season.
Still, important discoveries were made: The Soviets are continuing to make contact with the Upside Down and seem to have made better headway than Brenner into figuring out exactly what its deal is and how to harness its monsters. Joyce and Hopper stumbled on a (now gone) lab of Demodogs, other Upside Down monsters, and a “particle monster” that resembled the primitive form of the Mind Flayer.
Is the American military still looking for Eleven?
Though they were neutered as a plot element once Eleven downed their helicopter in the Nevada desert, they were (for a time) very concerned about how Eleven would handle her powers. Now that she’s come into her own and Hawkins, Indiana has seemingly turned into one massive gate, one would think the military would have a bone to pick with her — and/or an apology note for not helping her stop this! What better time to mend fences and work together than the end of the world?
Will there be a time jump in season 5?
Although the final moments of Stranger Things 4 seem to set up going right back into battle, it’s likely that there’s going to be a time skip. For starters, Mike said El didn’t feel she was ready to fight Vecna again, and so she might have to train with Yoda more to access the true depth of her powers. Plus, Vecna is still recuperating, and if Max is going to get into the action, she needs her body to heal in addition to Eleven finding her missing mind.
The Duffer brothers have said in interviews that a time jump is likely, in part because they have to cover for the fact that the cast keeps growing. “I’m sure we will do a time jump,” Ross Duffer told TV Line in June 2022, noting the fact that the young stars are aging rapidly. “Ideally, we’d have shot [seasons 4 and 5] back to back, but there was just no feasible way to do that. So these are all discussions we’re going to have with our writers when we start the room up.”
While it’s hard to imagine the foundation of Hawkins can withstand too much time lapsing in between seasons, it would certainly give El more time to train and Max time to heal up.
No seriously — will we ever get “Running Up That Hill” out of our heads?
Now there’s a heavy synth remix in the mix? Hoo boy. Here’s to the Kate Bush resurgence!