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stranger-things-finale.jpeg

Are You Ready For 'The Stranger Things' Finale?

By Jen Maravegias | TV | June 30, 2022 |

By Jen Maravegias | TV | June 30, 2022 |


stranger-things-finale.jpeg

The two-part season finale of Stranger Things is about to drop on us like a pile of bricks. Let us look back to the long-ago of (checks notes) last month to remember all of the action they packed into the first seven episodes of this season. Here there be spoilers.

Things are not as bright as Eleven made them seem in her letters to Mike from sunny Lenora Hills, California. She’s been bullied at school, has no friends, and is generally miserable without her powers. Will Byers has a terrible haircut, his brother Jonathan is palling around with a hopeless pothead. Joyce is trying to sell Encyclopedia Britannica over the phone. But then (dun dun duuuuun) Joyce receives a creepy, Russian doll in the mail that includes a secret message. She’s off on her side-quest with Murray to connect with the Russian prison guard who is willing to help them rescue Hopper. Honestly, the less said about this storyline the better. It was an overly complicated device to keep Joyce out of everyone’s hair when things went horribly wrong.

Mike, who went to California over Spring Break, walks face-first into the awkwardness of The Beyers’ household. Eleven is desperate to keep up the facade of her popularity. Will is mad at her for lying to Mike and is feeling like a third wheel around the two of them. He might also have feelings for Mike? Maybe? There was definitely at least one scene that sure seemed like a “will they, won’t they?” moment.

There’s a big dust-up at the roller rink when Eleven’s bullies gang up and embarrass her in front of Mike. Eleven clocks the lead tormentor, Angela, in the face with a roller skate (hero), and lands in the local jail. This gives Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) the perfect opportunity to reacquire her as an asset ahead of the OTHER Government Guys who are hunting her down. Owens convinces her that a war is coming to Hawkins and brings her to Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) so she can get her powers back. She’s the only one powerful enough to kill the virus that is infecting the town. That entails reliving all of the trauma of her childhood in his previous testing facility. We get to watch young Eleven go through all of the tests, trials, and abuses that made her flee the facility in the first place. But wait, there’s more! Through her memories we get to see her interacting with a young man who seems like an orderly, or maybe an assistant. He wants to help her hone her skills and keep her safe from both the doctor and the other kids who want to hurt her. Eleven slowly starts to trust and see him as an ally and friend.

I knew something was up with that guy from the get-go. I thought he was a false memory for most of the season. But, as usual with Stranger Things, as the pieces of the puzzle come together, the potential reveal becomes more shocking.

But what about Hawkins? Nothing good is happening there either. Max is miserable over the loss of her brother at the end of the last season. She broke up with Lucas and is avoiding all of her old friends now that they’re in high school. Lucas is trying to distance himself from the weirdness of his past by joining the basketball team. Meanwhile, Mike and Dustin have glommed onto the local miscreant, Eddie Munson, and his “Hellfire Club” Dungeons & Dragons crew. They’re vying for Lucas’ attention to join their campaign against a character named Vecna and his cultists, but are straight up rebuffed when they ask him to choose between them and The Big Game. Womp womp. Sorry nerds.

Quietly, in the background of all of their personal drama, things in town are going upside down again. Kids are having headaches, nosebleeds, and waking nightmares informed by their darkest fears and secrets. Chrissy Cunningham, “The Queen Of Hawkins High,” experiences weird poltergeist sh*t in the school bathroom and ends up at Eddie Munson’s trailer looking to score some drugs and unburden herself of her troubles. But, before Eddie can do anything, Chrissy is swept up into an Upside Down horrorscape a la Nightmare On Elm Street. Chrissy comes face to face with this season’s Big Bad and leaves nothing but a broken corpse on Eddie’s ceiling in the real world.

Once this first murder happens, everything starts rolling downhill in Hawkins, and everyone gets involved. Nancy, and her editor, go to the trailer park where Eddie lived (before he ran away after Chrissy died) to investigate. Fred The Editor becomes the bad guy’s next victim. Nancy learns the story of Victor Creel from Eddie’s uncle. The deaths in the Victor Creel story sound like what happened to Chrissy. You can see the wheels begin to spin in Nancy’s brain. Can something that happened so long ago be connected to what’s happening in Hawkins now? What has been happening in Hawkins all along?

The whole town thinks Eddie is responsible for Chrissy’s death; everyone except Dustin, who recruits Max, Steve, and Robin to help him prove Eddie’s innocence. Now it’s a race to find Munson because the basketball team is after him, too. Jason Carver (Mason Dye), the very charismatic captain of the team, was dating Chrissy Cunningham. Jason has talking points stolen straight out of the Satanic Panic handbook that he uses to motivate his teammates into forming a blood-thirsty posse. Lucas is stuck in the middle. He doesn’t want to let on that he’s a reformed nerd and lose all of his cred with the team, but he also doesn’t want the team to kill his friends. Decisions, decisions, Lucas.

A note about Steve and Robin. How cute are they? I am in love with their non-judgemental, but very judgy, BFF relationship. I hope they both survive whatever is in store for the last two episodes. There’s been a lot of online chatter about “If they kill Steve, we riot” and I co-sign that sentiment. Despite his jealous quibbling with Dustin and Eddie (which is also adorable,) Steve is still the MVP of this crew.

Dustin’s team tracks down Eddie at his drug dealer’s place in the woods and they fill him in on the improbable history of Hawkins and The Upside Down. They give this season’s Bad Guy his name: Vecna. The namesake of the powerful, dark wizard, spell-caster from their Dungeons & Dragons campaign.

When the crew crosses paths with Nancy at the trailer park, they split up into two teams. Robin and Nancy head off to the library to dig into Victor Creel’s story. This is where a lot of hormonal teenage stuff comes into play. Steve obviously still has feelings for Nancy and Nancy obviously still has feelings for Steve. But they’re both in deep denial when separately confronted by Dustin and Robin about it. They better make out before the season ends, or it’s a giant waste. Meanwhile, Max has discovered that she has a lot in common with the kids Vecna has already killed and decides she’s probably in line to be his next victim. This brings us to the beautiful Kate Bush backed scene when she narrowly escapes Vecna’s home in The Upside Down.

As the season’s story progresses, we get closer to reuniting the whole gang and closer to the origin of The Upside Down. Lucas ditches the basketball team to join up with his actual friends to keep Max and Eddie safe. Mike, Will, and Jonathan travel to Utah to find Dustin’s girlfriend, Suzie (Gabriella Pizzolo), and trick her into using her hacker skills so they can figure out Eleven’s location. Suzie’s home is a madhouse of distractions. They eventually make it out of there and head towards Nevada, where Brenner’s secret lab is.

When Nancy and Robin travel to the asylum where Victor Creel is being held, the administrator doesn’t want to let them in. But Maya Hawke delivers a powerhouse monologue about sexism in the field of psychology and how deserving they are of an audience with Creel for their paper, which convinces him to allow the visit. Creel (a perfect cameo by Robert Englund) is living like Hannibal Lecter in a basement cell. His eyes were mutilated in a past suicide attempt so his face is scarred. He tells the girls the story of how he and his family were terrorized by what he thought was a malevolent spirit that killed their pets, caused vivid hallucinations, and ultimately killed his wife and children. We see all of this from his point of view through disjointed flashbacks as he tells the tale.

Robin and Nancy’s lies are discovered and they’re unceremoniously escorted off the premises at the same time as Max is having her Upside Down encounter with Vecna. Reunited in Hawkins, the gang heads to Creel’s abandoned house and break in, revealing decor and furniture that are familiar to Max from her time in Vecna’s Upside Down lair. The pieces are coming together; Vecna and Creel are definitely related, but how? And why? Just how long has The Upside Down existed? How long has Vecna slumbered?

The Duffer Brothers have a distinct M.O. with Stranger Things. The interweaving of multiple storylines that eventually all tie up into a wicked bow at the end of the season. This season is no different but there is a frustrating overabundance of stories being told all at once. It’s not confusing, but it is annoying to be pulled away from Hawkins as the gang explores Creel’s house for clues. Interludes set in Hopper’s Russian gulag, or on the road trip Mike, Will, Jonathan, and their stoner buddy Argyle are taking are the least welcome.

Hopper’s time in the gulag is cold, muddy, bloody, and generally a drag on the story. The guard he befriends (Game of Thrones’ Tom Wlaschiha) is sympathetic and the only interesting thing about any of it. Joyce and Murray are going through a lot of trouble to rescue Hopper, including being double-crossed by their contact, masquerading Murray as a Russian smuggler. Not to mention procuring the ransom the guard demanded and flying all the way to Russia, which is not as easy as they make it seem back in 1986.

In Hawkins, kids are still dying. This time it’s a member of the basketball team. The Parents are getting worried. There’s a town meeting that the sheriff quickly loses control of when Jason and the surviving members of the basketball team barge in. Jason channels the worst kind of evangelicalism to deliver a fiery sermon that ties all of the previous seasons’ tragedies to the “cult” Eddie Munson is leading. The picture he circulates is one of The Hellfire Club. Dustin’s mom, Mike and Nancy’s parents along with Lucas’ family (including super star sister Erica) are now part of the story. The police want to know where their kids are and what their relationship is to Eddie Munson. He’s still suspected of murdering Chrissy, and now two other kids as well.

Eddie’s hiding in the woods. When the gang catches up with him they compare notes and decide that although the other gates to The Upside Down have been closed, the original gate must be in the lake near where Eddie is hiding. The older “kids” ditch the younger ones, leaving them on shore as they motor out to the middle of the lake in the middle of the night. Steve pulls off his shirt and heroically dives in and finds the gate, which looks like a glowing red anus. As Steve makes his way back to the surface, a tentacle reaches out and pulls him back down, through the gate, and into The Upside Down. Nancy is the first to go in after him, followed by Robin and Eddie (albeit reluctantly.)

Steve is attacked by terrifying bat-like creatures with long, prehensile tails and gaping tooth-filled mouths. We all thought he was going to die for a minute there, didn’t we? Just when the audience was collectively prepared to burn down their devices, Steve is saved by his friends in an extremely badass scene where they beat a bunch of monster bats to death. But there are more of them. Robin puts the idea in our heads that Steve’s bites are infected — this may be important later.

For now, they’re all hiding from the monsters and Nancy rips up her skirt as a makeshift bandage for his wounds. See? Looooooooooveeeeeeeee. Everyone but them knows it. Their plan is to hoof it through the forest of horrors to the Upside Down location of Nancy’s place, where she has guns hidden in her bedroom. When they get there, they discover there are no guns because they’re not in 1986 in the Upside Down, they’re three years in the past. They’re in the day Will went missing in the first season of Stranger Things. They can hear Dustin calling to them from the real world and the fairy dust (Vecna dust?) swirling around a light fixture gives them the idea to use Joyce’s light-based method of communication to reach him. Dustin explains that they think there’s a gate at every murder site. So they jump on their bikes and ride through The Upside Down to Eddie’s place in the trailer park where the gate is in the ceiling. They re-enter the real world much the same way Diane and Carol Anne come back through in Poltergeist. This is why I love this show! It loves horror movies and Steven Speilberg.

Nancy slips and falls into one of Vecna’s mindscapes where she’s confronted by a mutilated vision of Barb Holland! Remember Barb? From Season 1? Who got lost at the pool? Yeah, that Barb! In The Upside Down, she’s still in the pool. As Nancy makes her way through the miasmic landscape the real truth about Vecna is revealed.

It is the story of Victor Creel’s son, Henry. Henry, the quiet one, had undiscovered powers like Eleven. He befriended a nest of black widow spiders and murdered his family pet. Henry, who killed his sister and mother and drove his father insane. Henry, who they thought died but was taken in by Dr. Brenner and brought to his institute as his first experiment. Henry, who became Number One and grew up to be the orderly Eleven knew as Peter Ballard. Then we see what actually happened when Eleven fled Brenner’s institute. It was not her who killed all of the other experiment’s subjects, it was Peter. The flashes of memory she’s always had of blood and destruction were never caused by her, they were caused by Peter. In her memories, we see Eleven fight Peter, power against power. It was Eleven’s fear — as she almost dies at Peter’s hands — that activates her true strength, which she uses to disintegrate Henry Creel/Peter Ballard and push him through the very first gate into The Upside Down, where he transforms into Vecna. Full circle!

The only exciting thing to happen in the Russian plot line happens in episode 7. Joyce and Murray are forced to watch Hopper and the other prisoners fight the Demogorgon that The Russians have been experimenting with. Thankfully Hopper actually has experience with this. While the angry monster attacks and kills the other prisoners, he fends it off with a torch while Joyce and Murray take over the facility at gunpoint. Hopper and the guard who befriended him are freed. Joyce and Hop finally reunite with a relieved embrace. That’s where we leave them.

At midnight on July 1st, the last two episodes of this season will be available to stream on Netflix. Episode Eight is an hour long and episode nine is two and a half hours long. That should give The Duffers plenty of time to tie all of the loose ends together. How will the gang use all of the knowledge gained over these seven episodes to defeat Vecna? Will Robert Englund make another cameo as Victor Creel? He’s got to, right? Hopper and Joyce need to get back to The States. Mike and Will need to find Eleven and bring her back to Hawkins. Nancy needs to escape The Upside Down. And Steve has to not die. Do not mess this up for us, Duffers.





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