‘Stranger Things’ Season 4 Volume 1 Ending Explained: The Origins of Vecna Revealed

Once more, the Duffer Brothers have us at the edge of our seats. But what went on in the mid-season finale?

After a three-year-long hiatus, a new batch of Stranger Things episodes has finally arrived on Netflix. And, once more, the Duffer Brothers managed to drag us to the edge of our seats with an electrifying season finale. Well, sort of. Season 4 of Stranger Things isn’t quite over yet: split into two parts, the show’s final run will only air its last two episodes on July 1. This gives fans an entire month to take in everything that happened in Season 4, Volume 1, and get even more pumped for the upcoming ultimate battle for Hawkins. But what exactly is there to take in? What happened in this quasi-finale?

“The Massacre at Hawkins Lab” focuses on three of the four main storylines of Stranger Things Season 4, all of which will probably converge into a single plot by the season finale. The only main characters left out of Volume 1’s seventh episode are Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), Will (Noah Schnapp), Mike (Finn Wolfhard), and Argyle (Eduardo Franco), who conclude their hunt for the address of the Nina Project on Episode 6 after a long and tumultuous road-trip to Utah. The rest of the characters are all scattered in small groups across the United States and Russia, fighting monsters and dealing with repressed memories. The bulk of the gang is back at Hawkins, dealing with the threat of Vecna and the town’s newest satanic panic. Meanwhile, in the Nevada desert, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is undergoing memory-jogging sessions to recover her powers and help her friends. Far from the ruckus, Hopper (David Harbour) prepares to face the Demogorgon in a gulag while Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Murray (Brett Gelman) put their rescue plan into motion. With geography on our side, let’s break down “The Massacre at Hawkins Lab”, one place and plot at a time.

The Demogorgon Prison

Captured by the Russians after the events at Starcourt Mall in Season 3, Hopper tried to escape the gulag to no avail with the help of prison guard Antonov (Tom Wlaschiha). Betrayed by Yuri (Nikola Djuriko), Hopper and Antonov were sent to a special part of the gulag, in which prisoners are fed to a mysterious creature with whom Hawkins’ former police chief is very familiar. After putting a damper on everyone’s good mood during their final supper, Hopper now has Antonov and their fellow cellmates believing they can beat the Demogorgon with fire. When the guards let out the beast, Hopper improvises a torch with a lance, a piece of fabric, some vodka from last night’s dinner, and a lighter stolen from one of the soldiers.

Though Hopper’s plan isn’t entirely wrong, things don’t go as smoothly as his cellmates had hoped. In the end, only he and Antonov are left standing after the Demogorgon picks the other prisoners out one by one. For a second, it even seems like the unlikely duo also won’t make it, but, thankfully, their battle has an unexpected foreign audience. Having traded places with Yuri, Murray has convinced the prison warden that he is there to deliver prisoners, taking advantage of Yuri’s betrayal. After all, the smuggler had sold him and Joyce out alongside Hopper and Antonov. With a gun taken from Yuri’s stash, Murray takes the Warden hostage and tries to force the guards to open up the doors to the Demogorgon’s lair. His request is denied, as letting out the beast could risk the entire gulag’s crew, so Murray and Joyce simply knock some soldiers out and open the doors themselves. With a final throw of his fiery lance, Hopper escapes certain death and is reunited with his friends, with Antonov in tow.

Hawkins, Right Side Up and Upside Down

Image via Netflix

With Steve (Joe Keery), Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Robin (Maya Hawke), and Eddie (Joseph Quinn) disappearing through the Lovers’ Lake portal, a.k.a. Watergate, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Max (Sadie Sink), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) are left to wonder what happened and explain themselves to the Hawkins police. In Episode 6, the gang went on a field trip after Dustin’s compass malfunctioned in the woods, suggesting the presence of a portal to the Upside Down. The compass led them to Lovers’ Lake, and Steve decided to investigate. He did find something underwater, but, just as he reemerged to tell his friends what he discovered, a mysterious tentacle pulled him through the gate. Nancy jumped in the water after him, and Robin and Eddie followed suit. With the Watergate now guarded by otherworldly bats, the four teens are trapped in the Upside Down, looking for a way to defend themselves against Vecna and his minions. They head towards the Upside Down version of the Wheeler residence, where Nancy claims she has two guns stashed in her bedroom. Since, apart from the vines, everything in the Upside Down seems to be identical to the regular Hawkins, they figure the weapons might still be there.
Unfortunately, when they arrive at the Wheelers’, they soon realize things aren’t exactly as they remember it. Nancy’s guns are nowhere to be found, and her room seems stuck in a certain moment in time. More specifically, it looks like the room she had three years prior, on the very day that Will Byers went missing.
While Nancy muses over how time moves in the Upside Down, Steve makes another discovery of his own. In the Wheelers’ dining room, he can hear Dustin talking to Lucas and Erica (Priah Ferguson) about the Lovers’ Lake gate in the normal world. After being left in the woods by their older friends, Lucas, Max, and Dustin were captured by the police and taken to the Wheelers’ home, where the Wheelers, the Sinclairs, and Mrs. Henderson (Catherine Curtin) are fretting over their children. The trio makes up a story about going swimming in the dark, but the adults don’t seem convinced. The general belief and concern is that they were helping out Eddie, who is now being hunted by the police and by a pitchfork-holding militia led by local basketball star Jason Carver (Mason Dye). As the cops interrogate Max to see if the story holds up, Dustin and Lucas fill Erica in.
Together, Dustin, Lucas, and Erica come to the conclusion that Vecna must be opening portals to our world through a profound psychic connection with his victims. After all, it was through her psychic connection with the Demogorgon that Eleven first opened a gate to the Upside Down. They conclude that there must be a portal in every murder scene. So, when Nancy, Robin, Steven, and Eddie find a way to communicate with them through the lights, inspired by Season 1 Will, the trio is able to tell them that they can make their way back to Hawkins through Eddie’s trailer. Thankfully, the Wheelers already had bikes in 1983, and, therefore, can get to the Upside Down trailer pretty fast. On the “Right Side Up”, Lucas, Dustin, Erica, and a now-cleared Max ditch the cops and their families, taking their own bikes to the trailer park.
The portal inside Eddie’s trailer is on the ceiling, right where poor Chrissy (Grace Van Dien) took her last breath in the season’s first episode. With an improvised rope made out of sheets and a mattress to cushion their fall, Robin and Eddie make their way back home. Nancy and Steve, on the other hand, are not so lucky. As Nancy explains to Eddie early on in the episode, every living thing in the Upside Down is connected, like a hive mind. So, as the kids are making their escape, Vecna is warned about their presence. When Nancy crosses the gate, it is not Eddie’s trailer that she sees, but a vine-covered pool very similar to the one where her best friend Barb (Shannon Purser) lost her life in Season 1. While Steve tries to bring Nancy back to reality, Vecna guilt trips her about Barb’s death and fills her in on his backstory.

Vecna is none other than Henry Creel (Raphael Luce), Victor Creel’s (Robert Englund) son that went into a coma after his family was murdered. It turns out that it was Henry the one behind the massacre of the Creel family in 1959, not Victor or any kind of demonic entity attached to the house. The boy was moved by a deep feeling of inadequacy and disgust for humanity as a whole, aggravated by the discovery of his father’s war crimes. However, young Henry couldn’t control his powers that well and ended up overexerting himself. Though his imprisoned father was told that the boy had died after a month unconscious, he was actually taken by Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine), becoming the first subject of the Hawkins’ experiments — the legendary Number One.

The Ruth and Hawkins Labs

In the Nevada underground test facility, Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) isn’t satisfied with Eleven’s slow progress in recovering her powers. So, in order to accelerate her development, Dr. Brenner decides to show her the most traumatic of her memories. The event in question is the Hawkins Lab massacre that gives the episode its title, in which nearly all the children and staff of Brenner’s research group were killed. Eleven had blocked all memories of the incident, but, after recovering some of them, she now believes she was the one responsible for the murders – and, so far, so does the audience.

But things aren’t as simple as they seem. It turns out Lenora Hills High wasn’t the first place in which Eleven experienced heavy bullying. As a child, she was often anxious during the experiments and unable to show the full extent of her powers, which led the other kids in the lab to make fun of her. Things only got worse after she beat strongboy Two in a telekinetic battle, prompting him and some other kids to beat her up and threaten to kill her. However, even in this hellhole, Eleven found someone that was kind to her: a friendly orderly played by Jamie Campbell Bower. The orderly told Eleven all about Dr. Brenner’s real plans for her, that he was afraid of her powers and wanted her dead. Thankfully, he also offered her a way out. In return, all Eleven had to do was remove the chip that kept the orderly under Dr. Brenner’s control, making him as much a prisoner as the lab’s test subjects.

Naturally, nothing the orderly told Eleven was true. Soon, he revealed himself to be One, a child Dr. Brenner told Eleven was nothing but a myth. One proceeded to kill the lab’s guards, as well as the rest of the staff, telling little Eleven to wait for him in a closet. Then, he moved into the Rainbow Room, where he murdered all the unsuspecting kids. Feeling uneasy, Eleven walked out of the closet only to discover the Hawkins Lab had been turned into more of a horror movie than it already was. She arrived at the Rainbow Room just as One was breaking the bones and gouging out the eyes of one of the older children. Seeing Eleven visibly upset, One tried to convince her that she shouldn’t feel pity for those that harmed her, but Eleven’s goodness was much stronger than her fake friend’s words. She tapped into her saddest and most anger-inducing memories, just like One had instructed her, and found the strength to defeat him, ripping the skin off his bones and banishing him to the Upside Down. Or, in other words, creating Vecna as we know it.

“The Massacre at Hawkins Lab” ends with a close-up of Vecna’s left forearm showing the number 001 tattooed on his wrist. If Dr. Brenner’s plan works, Eleven will come out of her memory immersion with her powers back in place, ready to take on One and save Hawkins once more. However, they must move quickly, because Lieutenant-Colonel Sullivan (Sherman Augustus) is hot on Eleven’s trail, and he believes she’s the one responsible for everything that has happened to Hawkins so far.

Stranger Things Volume 2 premieres on Netflix on July 1.

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