Stranger Things 4 comes to an explosive end with the final two episodes, “Papa” and “The Piggyback”. With each episode clocking in at over an hour (“The Piggyback” is almost two and a half hours), Stranger Things 4 Volume 2 has ample time to both wrap up the season’s arc as well as set up for the fifth and final season.
Much of the buildup for the finale is in “Papa”. Mike, Will, Jonathan, and Argyle manage to find Eleven in the middle of the desert, but she does the majority of the rescuing herself. Joyce, Hopper, and Murray try to figure out a way back to the United States. And everyone in Hawkins begins gearing up to take on Vecna.
“The Piggyback” is the climax and denouement, and in a nice twist, the final battle was fought on three separate fronts. While I expected everyone to reunite to fight Vecna, for once television followed the rules of physics and recognized that it was literally impossible for the California crew and the Russia gang to get to Hawkins in time to help. So everyone helped in whatever ways they could.
The plan concocted by the core group in Hawkins was actually pretty brilliant. Everyone had a purpose, and I feel like they planned the best that they could, but Vecna is just too powerful. Plus, he was able to see inside Max’s mind thanks both to their previous connection and the fact that he stole Eleven’s powers in season 3. If not for Eleven’s intervention, they would have surely failed.
Although, to be fair, they didn’t exactly win, either.
As with the ending of Stranger Things 3, the Stranger Things 4 finale is bittersweet. Yes, we’ve lost a character or two along the way, with people like Barb and Bob and Billy falling to the monster du jour. But as the core group has grown every season, it was inevitable that someone’s luck would run out. In “The Piggyback”, we lost Eddie and Max… sort of.
As much as I wanted Eddie to survive – I found him to be an incredible addition to the group in volume 1 – narratively, there was no way he was going to make it through the season alive. When the gang goes to stock up on weapons and virtually the whole town is there, you realize that Jason has incited a mob who all want Eddie dead and are now fully armed to the teeth. While Eddie’s sacrifice may not have been necessary for the plan, it was important for Eddie to stand and fight and prove to himself that he wasn’t a coward.
I was gutted that no one really acknowledged Eddie’s death other than Dustin and Wayne Munson. (Wayne continually hanging new missing posters every time one was defaced was a particular kind of tragic.) By skipping ahead two days, we were robbed of seeing everyone else’s reactions to what happened. Not to mention, I am super curious how they all got out of the Upside Down.
But at least Eddie got to go out like a hero. A lot of people thought that the scene of him playing the guitar in the Upside Down would be about saving Nancy, but instead he picked the perfect song to distract the bat-creatures and buy time for Nancy, Steve, and Robin to try and take out Vecna. And while it seems ridiculous that Eddie went after the bats, I think that was for him more than anything. I think he thought he was saving Dustin. And I’m glad that Eddie’s uncle knows what happened to him.
Max’s death was heartbreaking. Sadie Sink and Caleb McLaughlin absolutely nailed that scene, with Lucas begging Max to stay, and Max sobbing that she wasn’t ready to die. Even though I suspected that Max might not survive, I’ll admit to being a little shocked when her limbs broke. I honestly thought, once Jason broke the Walkman, that Lucas would end up singing to snap her out of the trance.
To tell you the truth, I’m a little annoyed that El’s friendship with Max wasn’t enough to give her the final boost she needed to break free of the vines. I suspect it was because Mike has had very little to do for the entire season, and he needed to be helping, but I still wish that El could have saved Max with the power of friendship.
El’s powers have basically always been whatever the plot necessitated. I’ve never really had an issue with this because we don’t really know the full extent of her abilities, and in this sense, I’m actually glad. Still in Max’s mind after she dies, she does something. But we don’t get to see the immediate results of what she does. Suddenly, it’s two days later, and Max is in a coma. When El goes into her mind again, it’s empty and dark, leaving Max’s fate up in the air.
I don’t think that she’s brain dead – the doctors would have noticed that – but I do think that she’s missing a vital part of herself. It was said at some point that Vecna absorbs from the people he kills; I think he may have stolen Max’s “soul”, essentially. Hopefully, she will come out of her coma when Vecna is finally dead. But that may be a little too optimistic.
Honestly, probably one of the main reasons that Max didn’t die is because then they couldn’t have had the happy reunion scenes at the end of “The Piggyback”. It wouldn’t have had the same tone if they were there for a funeral. (Although I don’t know, they managed a happy ending scene just fine in season 3 after Hopper “died”. But maybe that’s because most of us didn’t believe he was dead.)
But of course, while the final battle is the biggest thing that happened in Stranger Things 4 Volume 2, there are a lot of character moments. For example, I loved the moment between Lucas and Max before Vecna came, where he asked her to go to the movies and she drew the picture in response. (I teared up to see that picture taped to the wall of her hospital room.) I also loved that this whole thing has brought Lucas and Erica closer together.
The biggest thing, I think, are the scenes where Will talks to Mike in the back of the van and Jonathan and Will’s heart-to-heart in the pizza kitchen. Those two scenes may be the only real “confirmation” we get that Will is gay. It’s pretty obvious that when Will is talking to Mike, he was talking about himself and not Eleven – his entire speech is about being different and being appreciated for that anyway. There is no way that wasn’t meant to be a “coming out” scene, especially considering that Will proceeded to cry against the window after.
Now, I want people everywhere to take notes on the scene between Jonathan and Will. First of all, I appreciate the semi-acknowledgment that the two really haven’t had much to do lately, let alone with each other. But most of all, Jonathan telling Will that he can talk to him about anything and that nothing he says or does will make Jonathan love him any less is basically word for word exactly what you should tell someone who you think may be queer and afraid to say it.
With that said, I seriously hope that they give both of them something more to do in season 5. So far Will only seems to be good for touching the back of his neck and looking behind him.
Of course, we cannot discount what Eleven goes through in “Papa”. She is finally able to confront Brenner and call him out for what he did to her and the other children. I was so happy that when he was lying there dying in the desert, begging her to say that she understood him, she turned around and just walked away. That was such a big moment for her; I mean, he literally just tried to re-kidnap her right before this happened.
But at the same time, he was right. She wasn’t ready to face Vecna. You get the sense that Eleven will never be powerful enough for Brenner, but he wasn’t wrong. Yes, El was able to defeat Vecna once, but did she really? All she did was banish him to another dimension, and he’s clearly leveled up since then. The knowledge that, while the Upside Down existed before, it was Vecna who set everything off, is insane. He shaped the Mind Flayer into what it became.
It’s clear that in “The Piggyback”, after everything has happened, Eleven feels guilty that she rushed into the fight, because she wasn’t enough to save Max. And saving Max was the whole reason she went after Vecna in the first place.
I do like the nod to The Empire Strikes Back. El lifting the tank is like Luke lifting the X-wing on Dagobah. Brenner tells her that she’s not ready to face Vecna (Vader), but she goes to Hawkins (Bespin) anyway. There is a temporary stay of evil, but it’s clear that they weren’t as victorious as they originally thought. You even have Max in a coma mirroring Han Solo in Carbonite.
Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention the Joyce/Hopper kiss. Four seasons in the making! I love that when he talked about how he dreamt about their date, all he could talk about was the food.
Stranger Things 4 ended on the most ominous note of any of the seasons. There is no way that this can be brushed aside or attributed to a satanic cult. (Well, then again, who knows what people will believe.) Whereas most seasons have a time skip, I don’t think that’s something that they can do in this case. They’ve opened the door to hell, and I don’t see how they can possibly jump any farther ahead than a day or two.
There are still some unanswered questions that I have. Does Vecna have a motivation other than “burn the world down just because”? Why did he fashion the Upside Down into a Hawkins replica? Was there a specific reason that there had to be four gates (deaths)? How did Henry originally get his powers?
I have no idea what will happen in season 5, but I hope we get the answers to some of these questions.
You can watch Farid’s reaction to the finale below!
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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