Volume 1 of Stranger Things season 4 answered some questions we've had since the beginning of the show... and left us with even more. The seven-episode drop—which took the paranormal Netflix hit to new levels of horror—ended with its first feature-length episode that saw all factions of the Hawkins crew facing off threats from the Upside Down, including the show's new, ultimate Big Bad, Vecna.
The first humanoid monster from the Upside Down, Vecna is inspired by famous ‘80s and ‘90s movie villains like Freddie Kruger, Pinhead, and Pennywise, and just as terrifying as any of those bad guys. We see the full force of his powers as early as episode 1, when he murders popular cheerleader Chrissy in the most gruesome way. The skeleton-like figure has vines protruding from his back, large claws he uses to pierce his victims' eyes, and a creepy gravelly voice.
His M.O. is to psychically link with teens affected by past trauma, and torture them with visions until he eventually kills them. In the deaths, the victims, including Chrissy, student newspaper editor Fred, and basketball player Patrick, enter a trance and levitate before their eyes are gouged out and all their bones are snapped.
The Hawkins-based gang—Max, Dustin, Lucas, and the teen contingent minus Jonathan—do learn that one way to break Vecna's trance is to play the victim's favorite songs (leading to a stellar sequence soundtracked by Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill"). We also learn that Vecna's murders date back to the '50s, when he put a curse under Victor Creel's house and killed his family, leaving Creel blinded and falsely imprisoned. Now the Upside Down version of the Creel house is where Vecna lives.
As for the effects of Vecna's murders, every time the monster kills a human, he makes another tear between dimensions that become gates to the Upside Down. The gates open whenever there's a psychic link between a creature from the Upside Down and a person from the surface, which explains the portal that Eleven first made when she psychically contacted a demogorgon in season 1. Vecna's ultimate goal is to open more gates and help the Mind Flayer take over the world.
El's new life in California is disrupted when Dr. Owens recruits her to take on Vecna, claiming he can bring back her lost powers through a mysterious training. When the pair arrives in the underground bunker, it turns out that Eleven's "papa," Dr. Brenner, has developed an experiment involving a NINA sensory deprivation tank that will allow Eleven to revisit her time in Hawkins Lab, specifically the lead-up to the massacre that opens the season.
As she relives her memories of learning to use her powers, and being bullied by some of the older kids, she befriends a lab orderly who tells her that she reminds him of "One," the first child to be tested at the lab. Though Owens says One never existed, the orderly tells El that she's being lied to, and also admires the strength of her powers.
In episode 7, the orderly tries to help Eleven escape the lab through a tunnel, but says he can't join her because of a tracker on his neck. El offers to help him and takes off his tracker with her powers...but it turns out it's not just a tracker. Without it, the orderly reveals his own psychic powers, and that he is One. He then leaves El in a closet, where she hears screams and later emerges to the dead bodies of the kids, attendants, and guards. One massacred everyone himself, as revenge for the treatment he endured as the first test subject, including torture undertaken under Papa's command.
Then comes the biggest reveal so far in Stranger Things history: One is Victor Creel's son Henry, who was born with strange powers and was ostracized during his childhood, feeling oppressed by the monotony of human life. After moving to Hawkins, the boy began practicing his powers, reaching into animal's minds and later haunting his parents (causing the so-called curse).
When his mother attempted to get him "fixed," Henry killed her in a familiar fashion: she levitated, her bones snapped, and her eyes were gouged out. He later did the same to his sister and (he believed) his father, but he overestimated his powers and fell into a deep coma. When Henry emerged from the coma, he was under the control of Dr. Brenner, as the scientist's first test subject. At some point, his powers were suppressed, possibly because he was murderous, and he became an orderly.
After the massacre, Eleven refuses to team up with Henry/One. They fight and El wins, in the process sending One into the Upside Down through a gate. As he enters the dark dimension, he changes appearance, through a lightning strike and his affinity for spiders. He is now Vecna, with the final shot of Volume 1 revealing a 001 tattoo on Vecna's wrist.
The goal of the experiment that takes up most of Eleven's storyline this season, and leads up to the Vecna/One/Henry Creel reveal, is to revive her powers so she can save Hawkins from the mysterious (at the time she doesn't know it's Vecna) killings. When he recruits her, Owens says that El, who has been afraid that she's a monster instead of a hero, needs to embrace both the good and bad sides of her, something that Brenner echoes later on. Though that's the reasoning behind the return to the past, the first hint of Eleven's re-emerging powers comes when she tries to escape the bunker, releasing a burst that knocks out the guards.
As she befriended One in her memories, the orderly told her that she channel a memory that triggers anger and sadness to make her powers stronger. But in the finale, she wins the fight by bringing up both a sad memory and one filled with love, recalling her mother holding her in the hospital when she was born and telling her she loves her. Though we don't see whether she has regained her powers in the real world after the fight—we have to wait for Volume 2—the discovery that nuanced combo of memories strengthened her powers may come up handy in her second round with Vecna, or just help out her journey of self-discovery.
In episode 6, the elder teens of the Hawkins Gang, plus new addition and Hellfire Club leader Eddie Munson, find one of Vecna's many gates under Lover's Lake, and Steve is sucked through it into the Upside Down. Nancy, Robin, and Eddie dive in after him, saving him from monsters and making their way to that dimension's version of Nancy's house. They use Will's light trick from the first season to communicate with Dustin, Max, Lucas, and Erica, who lead them to the gate in Eddie's trailer, where Chrissy died.
After Robin and Eddie make their way through the gate, Nancy falls under Vecna's spell, with the monster channeling her guilt over Barb's death. After the super-sleuth gets a detailed flashback of the truth behind the Creel murders, Vecna begins showing her visions of Barb dying while Nancy was hooking up with Steve. By the end of Volume 1, Nancy is still under the monster's thrall and she and Steve are still on the Upside-Down side of the gate. So, the return of the Nancy/Steve/Jonathan love triangle will have to wait.
After Eleven gets arrested for attacking her bully, and later goes to the bunker with Owens, Mike and the Byers brothers are left with some of Owens' agents to protect them from Vecna and the other contingent of government agents who think El's been doing the murders and want to kill her. The boys escape from an ambush with the help of Jonathan's stoner buddy Argylle, and a dying agent tells them to call "Nina" (saying the name of the sensory depravation machine) and leaves them a number to find El.
The number leads to a computer, so to track it, the boys road trip to Salt Lake City to enlist the help of the only computer nerd they know besides Dustin, his girlfriend Suzy. After some convincing involving a story about a "SuperNintendo," the "Neverending Story" singer tracks the NINA machine to Nevada. We can assume that the boys will be headed that way to bring Eleven to Hawkins in the new episodes.
Hopper has it truly rough in season 4, as he's regularly beaten up while performing manual labor in a Russian prison. The intrepid police chief's plan to have a prison guard ask Joyce and Murray for a ransom, and get a smuggler to fly him to the duo upon payment, was brilliant until the smuggler decided to take all the money for himself and collect a bounty on Joyce and Murray too. Luckily, after taking down the smuggler and surviving a plane crash, the duo are able to sneak into the prison.
There they find Hopper, guard Dmitri, and other prisoners about to be fed to a mysterious monster, a.k.a. a demogorgon. Hopper is able to keep the monster at bay by igniting his spear with vodka and a lighter, while Joyce and Murray overtake the control room and open an escape door. Joyce and Hopper finally reunite with a tearful embrace. Now the Hawkins trio just have to get out of the country and back to Hawkins without getting imprisoned again.
Even with the help of this super-sized breakdown, there are still so many questions that the Duffer Brothers have to answer. Is Eleven returned to full form? How is everyone going to get to Hawkins and reunite? Will Nancy break out of Vecna's trance, and if so, with what song? Will the show's couples make it out of the season together (and alive)? Is there actually a way to seal off the Upside Down forever now that Vecna and the Mind Flayer know there's another dimension out there to conquer (or is it possible to kill the Big Bads)?
While the fate of the people of Hawkins and the Upside Down itself are probably things for season 5 to tackle, several of these questions could be answered in Volume 2. While most details are still under wraps, the titles for the two feature-length episodes are "Papa" and "The Piggyback." We'll be waiting with baited breath to learn what happens to the Hawkins gang come July 1.