(This article contains spoilers for Stranger Things Season 4 (Volume 2). i.e. Episode 8: Papa and Episode 9: The Piggyback).
Fans waited for five weeks. The journey from May 27 (Stranger Things Season 4: Volume 1) to July 1 (Stranger Things Season 4: Volume 2) saw everyone’s minds head into overdrive as they tried to figure out things and draw conclusions. Some theories came to fruition on July 1, whilst others didn’t. However, the two movies (oops episodes) had everything. Insane CGI, well-written scenes, action, emotion, and surprises provided audiences with a payoff that made the wait worth it.
normally i would say don't listen to vecna, but he has a point here. ST4 Vol. 2 is now streaming. pic.twitter.com/YNw89Xguoa
— Stranger Things (@Stranger_Things) July 1, 2022
Stranger Things Season 4 (Volume 2) episodes (Papa and The Piggyback) had scenes that would have made viewers open their eyes with wonder and even clasp their hands over their mouths in shock. Here’s a look at the recap, review, and what the penultimate season’s ending means for the final season.
Stranger Things Season 4 Episode 8 (Papa): Recap
‘Papa’ had to deal with advancing the story from four different locations. i.e. Hawkins, the road to NINA, Nevada, and Russia. It began right with what audiences were waiting to see. As Nancy Wheeler was trapped in Vecna’s lair, many were keen to see IF she would escape. Those who had watched the trailer may have been curious about the HOW. It wasn’t really much of a bother, as Vecna only used Nancy as a messenger to pass on a chilling warning to Eleven.
"I want you to tell Eleven everything you see.”
— Netflix (@netflix) July 1, 2022
When Nancy narrated her experience with Henry/001/Vecna, Max picked up on certain things as she, too, had been trapped in the dream. It is from here, in Eddie Munson‘s trailer, that the group saw a ‘Fake Rambo’ advertisement and decided to arm themselves for battle. Part of the plan involved Max turning off Kate Bush’s song to be the bait.
let's settle this. drop what you call our monster of the hour ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/jSKU4alLs2
— Stranger Things (@Stranger_Things) July 1, 2022
Once night fell, the Hawkins group went full speed ahead with the plan that saw Erica, Lucas, and Max head to Creel House to bait Henry and attack him on all fronts.
On the other front, we saw the story proceed in the Soviet gulag. Hopper, Joyce, Murray, Yuri, and Enzo made it out of prison, but faced a small problem. Their air support had taken a hit and a return to America depended on Yuri. The sly smuggler opted to live up to his nature with clever wordplay emerging yet again.
Whilst at the Russian storage house, Murray, Hopper, and Joyce came up with a plan to assist the kids without traveling. They picked up on the ‘hive mind’ and opted to re-enter the gulag and weaken the monster. Enzo had to ensure that Yuri played his part and got Katinka (his helicopter) up and running. One romantic subplot progressed as Joyce and Hopper (Jopper) finally shared a moment.
Eleven showcased her rediscovered powers and lifted NINA in Nevada. However, Dr. Brenner and Dr. Owens were divided between keeping her and letting her go to Hawkins. El wished to do the latter after learning of Henry’s emergence. This feud saw Brenner betray Owens, jab Eleven with a syringe, and eventually carry her away from the army and redeem himself in his final moments.
The Jonathan, Argyle, Will, and Mike group had little to do in ‘Papa’. However, their on-screen time was important as one line from Will, after he revealed his painting to Mike, summed up the characters’ evolution and served as a sign of things to come for the next four hours.
“…Without heart, we’d all fall apart.”
Stranger Things Season 4 Episode 9 (The Piggyback): Recap
‘The Piggyback‘ began with the Hawkins group discussing the four phases of their plan to end Vecna. It was vital for them to be in sync across dimensions for this to work out. When Erica signaled the trio of Robin, Steve, and Nancy, they entered Creel House to begin their attack. Unfortunately, the hive mind activated and trapped the trio in vines.
This unforeseen distraction was not the only one as the Hawkins High Tigers caught hold of Erica and Lucas. Simultaneously, Vecna-Lucas trapped Max and caused her to flee to her happy dream.
— Netflix (@netflix) July 1, 2022
Erica remained pinned on the grass and Lucas was at gunpoint. He fought back in a brutal brawl with Jason and seemed down and out before Max levitating saw him fight back and overpower the school jock. This scene had the potential to make viewers despise Jason and experience catharsis when he got split with the opening door.
Eleven piggybacked and dealt with 001 with the help of Jonathan, Argyle, Will, and Mike and blasted Creel away. However, that was when Vecna wasn’t expecting her presence. He returned and dominated 011 before carrying her out of Max’s happy dream to his lair. After tying El down, Vecna secured Max to a pillar and spoke about the true monsters and who really freed him. 001 provided a chilling glimpse into the Upside Down and showed his hand.
Also in the Upside Down, Eddie Munson and Dustin put on a concert for the ages to draw the Demobats away from Creel House. Having accomplished their mission, the duo proceeded to the exit. However, Munson realized the bats would follow, and displayed heart as he “didn’t run” and sacrificed himself for Hawkins.
🤘LET THE SHOW BEGIN. VOL 2 IS NOW STREAMING 🤘 pic.twitter.com/QDO89bnNay
— Stranger Things (@Stranger_Things) July 1, 2022
Mike, spurred on by Will’s painting and message, reached into Eleven’s mind and motivated her to “fight.” This saw her trap Creel, somewhat save Max, and set him up for Steve, Robin, and Nancy to incinerate.
As Max fell to the ground, Lucas caught her broken body and screamed for her to stay with him. It seemed unlikely, as she claimed she couldn’t see or feel anything. Her encounter with Vecna saw her eyes bleed, all limbs snap, and her heart temporarily stop.
Murray, Hopper, and Joyce teamed up in Russia to battle the Demodogs and Demogorgon. Hopper was inches away from the ‘jaws’ of death before Joyce stunned the Demodog. When they retreated into the pit, Murray lit the creatures ablaze with a flamethrower before Hopper used a sword to finally cut down the Demogorgon.
This freed the Steve/Nancy/Robin group, helped Dustin have a heart-to-heart with Eddie, and allowed El to contribute to saving Max. ‘The Piggyback‘ concluded with relief efforts in Hawkins, a mass exodus, the group back together, chilling realizations about the future, Vecna’s warning, and no Max.
Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 2: Review
The nearly four-hour runtime was justified with the moving of pieces along the expected lines, pandering to and shocking the audience in equal measure, setting up the players for Season 5.
Season 4 saw a furthering of the 1980s horror tribute that completely broke away from the easy-going Season 3. It kept in line with the characters growing up and facing greater dangers, but remembering the past and trying to ensure it doesn’t repeat itself. This also can be seen as a take on the levels of a game getting harder as one advances. However, the themes, based on which characters drove inspiration in the previous seasons, shone through even in Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 2.
The theme of “heart” shone throughout, with every character displaying some aspect of it over the final two episodes on Netflix. This element hooked audiences and retained them amidst the grandeur of the cinematic scale feel. Without the displays of courage, ‘Papa‘ and ‘The Piggyback‘ would have felt like empty CGI fests.
I like the fact that the Duffer brothers let all four groups be present on-screen with no faction overshadowing the other. The convergence also was well planned, as every step they took was towards Hawkins or towards Endgame Vecna. This has been their game right from the first episode, with an explanation from the Upside Down’s only resident connecting all the dots to fill in the gaps that existed.
From this ensemble, all the characters shone and had that one stellar moment. This was good, as the Duffer brothers did justice to the entire cast in the battle vs Vecna. However, Dustin received the best moments. Two scenes featuring him were just incredible and provided appropriate epilogue-like closure to two characters’ time in the spotlight.
The infusion of classic 80s songs worked as it may have provided audiences with a blast from the past, i.e. something Stranger Things aims to do. While Volume 1 had the supremely famous ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)‘ and Baltimora’s ‘Tarzan Boy‘, numbers like Rock and Roll Hoochie Ko, Separate Ways World Apart, and Metallica’s Master of Puppets were seamlessly written into the final two episodes of Stranger Things.
The writers finally threatened several lead characters’ extremely strong plot armor. It may have even been pierced, but the Duffer brothers may opt to see comment sections and articles like this one before taking a call on it for good. We’ll have to wait till Stranger Things Season 5 to know if they actually eliminated a main character. Given that we’re questioning it is a good thing, as speculations will head into overdrive. It could have also served as a teaser/aim to prepare the audience for what’s next, as final seasons are usually fair game.
An offering with characters in multiple locations works when the edits show them simultaneously achieving a goal. Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 2 achieved this incredibly well. Vecna’s monologue combined with cuts to his hive mind simultaneously overwhelming Eddie/Dustin, Robin/Steve/Nancy, Hopper/Joyce/Murray, and Eleven/Max is executed well. One can say the same about the edits featuring all groups emerging from adversity and thwarting 001.
Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 2: Ending Explained
How did Will and Mike’s group know the name Vecna?
Before we get to the ending of this Netflix Original, one thing that confused me was Eleven’s companions identifying Vecna whilst at the pizza shop far away from Hawkins. As Eleven began exploring Max’s memory, Will’s question, “Any sign of Vecna… or the Mind Flayer?” struck me as odd. How would any of them know about the term Vecna being used to describe the threat from the Upside Down? Even if Eleven had shared the details of Henry/001, that’s all they would know; Vecna was a term coined in Hawkins.
Mike hadn’t seen Vecna in his element as he left Hawkins for California way before the mayhem began. Hence, even though he would not be unfamiliar with the word Vecna (thanks to his Hellfire Club membership), he wouldn’t be familiar with the Dungeons and Dragons villain‘s name being bestowed upon the big bad of Season 4.
Even though Will had spent time in the Upside Down, he wouldn’t have equated Vecna to a monster from the other dimension. Or did he know it all along and reveal it with an accidental slip of the tongue? He did add the words “…or the Mind Flayer” after a significant pause. Is this a sign that Will is hiding something? Jonathan did say that his brother had stopped sharing things. Season 5 could provide some answers to this.
Is Vecna still alive? What is falling on Hawkins at the end?
Minutes before the end credits rolled, we even got to witness Will’s aftereffects of the Upside Down. These had gotten stronger after his return to Hawkins. When conversing about Eleven’s defeat and hoping that she doesn’t have a chance to have another go at Henry, Byers revealed that Vecna was just beaten but not destroyed.
This even lent weight to Vecna’s taunts of the Hawkins gang’s assumption that they had won. His promise of “This is only the beginning” dawned upon viewers who may have believed that it was over.
In retrospect, the Duffer brothers provided the clues as Vecna’s charred body wasn’t found beneath the Upside Down Creel House. However, the charred Demodogs and Demogorgons were clearly visible in Russia. Hence, there were two options: a. Vecna surrendered the battle to prepare for the war. B. Vecna evaporated as Voldemort did in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows- Part 2.
While audiences may assume it is the former, the latter remains a possibility. Vecna could have evaporated, (resulting in no body being found) and manipulated himself into another being from the Upside Down. 001 could have also crafted a new vessel for himself; after all, he built the Mindflayer from dust.
Vecna’s promise “Hawkins will burn and fall, with the rest of this senseless, broken world. I will be there to pick up the pieces when it does and remake it into something beautiful,” and Nancy’s recollection of the vision Creel showed her came to life at the end.
The final scene saw particles rain down on a recovering Hawkins. Holly Wheeler termed it ‘snow’, but the protagonists realized it was from the Upside Down. These particles caused nature to wither away, signifying the complete opening of the gate between the two dimensions. 011, the only other person who can control such a thing, was present with everyone as they headed towards the red skies. Hence, it is clear that Henry Creel/001/Vecna is still around and behind the ash rain (Upside Down particles).
Could Vecna use Max and Will in Stranger Things Season 5?
Creel’s promise was fulfilled somewhat, despite not having entirely claimed a fourth victim. Although she made it back and her heart was beating, her mind was empty, which could mean that Vecna trapped Max’s soul and achieved his goal.
The display of Vecna having an army within the Upside Down makes for ominous signs to conclude the penultimate season. Demodogs, Demogorgons, perhaps another Mind Flayer, some new creature, and a much stronger Creel out for revenge is alarming for Hawkins. However, all the major players are back in Indiana, which makes for strength in numbers. It could also open the door for the concept of Trojan horses.
There is the possibility of Vecna using “Maxine“ and Will Byers (someone who can sense him) in his army as he pulls out all the stops in the final battle. If not, he could possess Will and find out what Eleven’s next move is before she even makes it.
With everyone back together for a final season, there won’t be scope left for unsaid things. Hence, the Jonathan/Steve/Nancy triangle will also be a major point in Season 5.
What’s your take on the ending of Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 2? Is Max really (not clinically) alive? Will Vecna use Will Byers as a vessel? Or could the Hawkins gang use him to see into Vecna’s mind and give them the advantage? Share your views on the same.
All episodes of Stranger Things are streaming on Netflix.