‘Stranger Things’ Season 4 Episode 1 Recap: What Happened to Chrissy?

 “Chapter One: The Hellfire Club” opens the door to a Hawkins that is much darker and even more horrifying than we ever thought imaginable.

Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 1 is finally here. Following the three-year hiatus after Season 3, Season 4 will hopefully provide us with answers to our most dire questions: Who is Vecna? Will El (Millie Bobby Brown) get her powers back? And of course, what the hell happened to Hopper (David Harbour)? But before we get to that, let’s unpack that wild, nightmare-fueled first episode.

The first 8 minutes of “Chapter One: The Hellfire Club” opens with a flashback to September 8, 1979, where we see Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine), a.k.a “Papa,” whom we last saw being attacked by the Demogorgon at the end of Season 1. Inside the Rainbow Room of Hawkins Lab, Dr. Brenner asks Number 10 to join him in a private room for “more lessons.” He monitors 10’s brain processing as he asks him to close his eyes and try to envision what he is drawing. After 10 guesses correctly, Dr. Brenner offers him a higher challenge and asks him to find Dr. Ellis. After a moment, Number 10 finds her in a room testing Number 6 but quickly realizes something is horribly wrong. The lights start flickering, and a panicked 10 tells Dr. Brenner that Dr. Ellis and Number 6 are dead.

Hearing the piercing screams outside the room, Dr. Brenner slowly approaches the door, which suddenly blows open and briefly knocks him out cold. When he wakes, he sees 10 next to him, dead. He slowly walks down the hallway and is horrified to see all the children and the guards, brutally murdered, their bodies bloody and mangled. Dr. Brenner enters the Rainbow Room where he sees more dead children, except for just one: Eleven. Eleven turns around, her gown splattered with blood, her eyes leaking blood. Horrified, Dr. Brenner utters, “What did you do?” And with that, the opening credits begin to roll.

After the opening credits, we are back in the present day. It is March 21, 1986. Eleven is writing a letter to Mike (Finn Wolfhard) telling him that she is “twice as happy now” and that she has given California a chance. Contrary to her cheerful letter, Eleven is actually being bullied by her awful classmates, with an absolutely wretched popular girl named Angela (Elodie Grace Orkin) as their ringleader. Meanwhile, as Eleven informs Mike, Joyce (Winona Ryder) has a new job working from home selling encyclopedias, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and his new long-haired best friend Argyle (Eduardo Franco) are always smoking “smelly plants,” and Will (Noah Schnapp) has been painting a lot, but El notes that he has been acting strange and wonders if he likes a girl. El writes that she can’t wait to see Mike in two days when he comes to visit them in California over break.

Meanwhile, Mike, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) – also now freshmen in high school – have joined the Hellfire Club at school, a Dungeons and Dragons club led by their fearless leader who has failed to graduate not one, but two years in a row, the charismatic Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn). Lucas, however, has also joined the school basketball team, much to Mike and Dustin’s dismay. Meanwhile, “Dusty-Bun” and Suzie (Gabriella Pizzolo) are still going strong, and Robin (Maya Hawke) and Steve (Joe Keery) are still besties who are both looking for love, but there is one member of the party who is noticeably absent: a grieving Max (Sadie Sink) broke up with Lucas and has almost completely retreated from the party ever since Billy’s death. Lucas tells her how worried he is about her – it’s like she’s not even here anymore, like she’s a ghost.

At the Hawkins High pep rally, Mike, Dustin, and Max meet up on the bleachers and watch, unimpressed, as Jason Carver (Mason Dye), captain of the basketball team who is dating head cheerleader Chrissy Cunningham (Grace Van Dien), gives a cringe-worthy speech about those in Hawkins who “perished in that fire,” (i.e. were possessed by the Mind Flayer). Jason says in these dark days, they all need something to believe in, so they will honor those who perished by… winning the championship game tonight. (Really, dude?) It dawns on Mike and Dustin that Lucas won’t be able to do Eddie’s D&D campaign, which is also tonight. Lucas begs them to ask Eddie to move the campaign, so they can come to his game. Mike flippantly mentions that Lucas has been a benchwarmer all season anyway, but Lucas says if he gets in with his teammates, they will finally be popular. Mike and Dustin obviously don’t care about popularity, but look at each other in resigned frustration, dreading asking Eddie to move his long-awaited campaign.

In California, El gives her presentation on her hero: her dad, Jim Hopper (we aren’t crying, there is just something in our eye). She shows off an awesome-looking diorama of her and Hopper’s cabin, complete with a hand-made figurine of Hopper. Her classmates, of course, mercilessly laugh at her, and Angela interrupts her to snidely point out the project was supposed to be about famous people. El, her eyes filling with tears, tells them her dad was famous – he was a local hero to the people and to her. El finally lets the tears fall as Angela gives a smug smile while the others continue to snicker. Later in the courtyard, Angela purposely sticks her leg out and trips El, who drops her diorama and watches as one of Angela’s lackeys steps on it, breaking the Hopper figure in two. As they laugh and walk away, El’s tears of embarrassment turn into tears of rage. In a horribly embarrassing reflex, she stretches her hand out and screams. Of course, El’s powers don’t work (but honestly, thank God they don’t, or else Angela would be very dead at that point, and El would have a lot of explaining to do.) Angela and the entire courtyard bursts into laughter. (Here’s hoping Angela gets eaten by a Demodog at some point.)

Back in Hawkins, Max is on her way to her recurring appointment with the school counselor, Ms. Kelly (Regina Ting Chen). She sees Chrissy leaving Ms. Kelly’s office, looking upset. During Max’s appointment, she claims that she is sleeping better and no longer having headaches. She is fidgeting and avoiding Ms. Kelly’s eyes. She is clearly still having nightmares about Billy’s violent end at the battle at Starcourt. We find out Max’s mom is drinking, struggling, and working two jobs now that Billy’s dad left them. In the bathroom, Max pops a pill, presumably for the headaches she has been having. She hears a girl throwing up in one of the stalls and asks if she is okay. It is Chrissy, who, bent over the toilet, asks her to go away. Max leaves, leaving Chrissy alone in the stall. Eerie music quietly begins to creep in as suddenly, Chrissy hears the voice of her mom, asking her if she is ready to try on her dress. Petrified, Chrissy scrambles to the corner of the stall as the lights begin flickering and her mom’s voice becomes distorted, and the bathroom stall door violently shakes, as if someone is trying to get in. Chrissy’s mom’s voice is suddenly demonic as she screams at Chrissy that if she doesn’t open the door she will “gut you like the fat pig you are.” Feet appear at the bottom of the stall – clearly the feet of our new Big Bad, Vecna, squelching and slithering. Chrissy screams, when suddenly, the voice stops, the feet are gone, and Chrissy is somehow alone again in the bathroom as if nothing happened at all.

We then meet the infamous Eddie Munson, head of the Hellfire Club. Eddie has big energy – jumping on the cafeteria table and boldly mocking the school for its conformity and the kids who “toss balls into laundry baskets.” Awkwardly, Mike and Dustin inform Eddie that Lucas is one of those conformers tossing those balls into laundry baskets tonight at the championship game, so they were wondering if he could move his campaign (which we learn is called “The Cult of Vecna”). Obviously, moving the campaign is a no-go, with Eddie tasking them with finding a sub. After failing to convince a single student in the school to be their sub, Dustin suddenly realizes exactly who they need: Season 3’s badass closet nerd, Erica Sinclair (Priah Ferguson).

Joyce, meanwhile, is on the phone with Murray (Brett Gelman), whom she has called to get his opinion on a creepy doll she received in a mysterious package from Russia that was sent to her that morning. Murray – with his usual chaotic energy – tells her it could be a threat and asks if she can undress the doll and look for a wire. Joyce sees that the porcelain is cracked and someone has tried to glue it back together. She drops a paint can onto the bizarre doll and is shocked to find a note inside the shattered porcelain that says in cut-out magazine letters: Hopper lives! (Of course, we knew that, but this is the first Joyce is hearing about it.)

Next, we get some insight into what Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan have been up to. At woodshop class, Argyle asks if Jonathan is going to mope around all break because Nancy isn’t coming to visit him. Jonathan defensively says that Nancy has work. In Hawkins, Nancy is having the same conversation with some dweeb named Fred (Logan Riley Bruner) on their newspaper staff, who is pestering her to give him the full story: why can’t Jonathan come to Hawkins for break? Clearly, there is trouble in paradise for Jonathan and Nancy, who apparently have a plan to go to a fancy college together, pending Jonathan’s acceptance.

We see Chrissy once again, cautiously walking into the woods. She strangely sees an eerie-looking grandfather clock inside one of the tree trunks. The clock chimes ominously when it suddenly cracks and a bunch of spiders comes spilling out. Chrissy stumbles back, where she bumps into Eddie. When she looks back, the clock is gone. She and Eddie sit down, and he admits that he was surprised that Chrissy, queen of Hawkins High, wants to buy drugs from him. Chrissy seems skittish and asks him if he ever feels like he is losing his mind. Eddie lets out a good-humored laugh and says “only a daily basis.” He reminds her they met once when he was in the middle school talent show, performing with his band. Chrissy’s eyes light up with recognition as she remembers the name of his band, “Corroded Coffin.” They share a sweet moment and admit that neither of them is who they expected. Eddie offers her a bag of weed at a discount, and Chrissy – looking skittish again – asks if he has anything stronger.

Finally, it’s time for the championship game. Poor Lucas looks out to the bleachers, and obviously, Mike and Dustin are nowhere to be found. Instead, we see them with Erica, an American flag draped around her like a cape, walking in slow motion like some straight-up D&D badasses. Initially, Eddie refuses to accept Erica as the sub, scoffing that it isn’t babysitting club, but Erica immediately gains his respect (he needs to bow down, obviously), when she slays him with her introduction as Lady Applejack, Chaotic good half-elf rogue, level 14.

We switch back and forth between the championship game and Hellfire’s epic “cult of Vecna” campaign. In a moment of tense anticipation, the Hellfire Club must decide if they want to risk killing Vecna with only two players left, Dustin and Erica. Obviously, these two aren’t going down without a fight, and they agree to fight to the death. Meanwhile, at the championship game, Lucas – to his shock – is thrown into the game after being a benchwarmer all season. Just as Erica miraculously makes a critical hit and destroys Vecna, Lucas makes the winning shot with one second left on the clock, marking the first time in 22 years Hawkins High has won the championship.

Max, who is listening to the game on the radio, cuts it off and goes into the living room where she cleans up her mom’s empty beer cans. She takes food outside for the dog and is surprised to see Eddie pull up to his trailer with Chrissy, an unlikely pair. Inside his trailer, Eddie looks for “Special K,” a street drug similar to LSD, while Chrissy waits in his living room. Suddenly, she hears the ominous, echoing chime of the clock. She runs into the other room hoping to find Eddie when she bursts into what appears to be her house. Her mother is there, her back turned as she works on a sewing machine. She tells Chrissy, her voice melting again into a terrifying demonic distortion, that she will look absolutely beautiful in the dress she is loosening up for her. She turns around and to Chrissy’s horror, her eyes are white, and her skin appears to be rotting. Chrissy races to her living room where she sees her dad, who turns around and reveals that his eyes and mouth are stitched shut. He thrashes in his chair, a panicked muffled yell trapped behind his sewn mouth. Chrissy hears wet squelching and gurgling as Vecna comes into view for the first time, slowly coming down the steps. He has human-like features, unlike the other monsters in the Upside Down, and he is covered in twisted, soggy plants. He tilts his head menacingly and tells Chrissy not to cry because her suffering has come to an end.

Back in the trailer, Eddie is petrified to find Chrissy standing in the middle of his living room, eerily still with only her eyes flickering in the back of her head. He tries desperately to snap her out of it but to no avail. As Vecna reaches his hand out to Chrissy, her body floats to the ceiling of the trailer. As Vecna’s claws grab her head, she flies up to the ceiling. Eddie watches in horror as all her bones start to twist and snap, her jaw breaks, and her eyes start to bleed until they completely pop out of the socket, leaving gaping black holes. It’s a horrifying and shocking conclusion to the first episode of Stranger Things Season 4, Volume 1.

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