[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Stranger Things Season 4 “Chapter Three: The Monster and the Superhero.”]
“Everybody looks at me like I’m a monster,” an emotional Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) tells Mike (Finn Wolfhard) the day after her rollerskate smackdown on school bully Angela (Elodie Grace Orkin). As hard as she tries to fit in, she continues to feel like an outsider. “I don’t belong,” she says. Mike relates his own history of being bullied. But this is different. Eleven sees that people are scared of her, including Mike, who she feels doesn’t love her anymore. “You can’t even write it,” she states, pointing to his cold “from Mike” letter sign-offs. Mike denies this and tries to convince Eleven that she is not a monster. “You’re a superhero,” he tells her.
This sentiment is shared by Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser), who comes back into Eleven’s life following a visit from the U.S. military’s Lt. Colonel Sullivan (Sherman Augustus). The military believes Eleven is still alive and somehow involved in the recent goings-on in Hawkins. After playing dumbfounded in front of Sullivan, Dr. Owens makes his way to California to warn Eleven and recruit her for another important mission. And his interference comes just in time, as Eleven finds herself in the back of a police vehicle being transported to juvie for her attack on Angela.
Dr. Owens tells Eleven that Hawkins is in danger (when isn’t it?), and she’s the only one who can save it. Every time the creatures of the Upside Down return, they come back stronger, smarter, and deadlier. Her friends are doing their best to fight it, but “they can’t win this war without you,” he tells her. Of course, as Eleven points out, she doesn’t have her powers, so how much help can she really be? That’s when Dr. Owens tells her he’s been working on a way to bring her powers back, even stronger than before. We knew Eleven wasn’t going to remain powerless forever, but it’ll be interesting to see how the show goes about bringing them back and what changes they come with.
Hawkins is in need of serious help. The public paranoia over Chrissy’s brutal death only increases after Fred’s (Logan Riley Bruner) body is found under similar circumstances. The football jocks are tearing through town, beating up any nerd they see in their continued hunt for Eddie (Joseph Quinn). Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) is caught in a crisis of conscience, stuck between appeasing his new football buddies and protecting his old friends. And the Dark Wizard Vectna continues to grow stronger, seemingly able to pick and choose which head he wants to jump into next to corrupt and kill.
The Rental Rats are on the case, enlisting Nancy (Natalia Dyer) in their quest to get to the bottom of what’s happening. This makes for some exciting groupings we haven’t seen as much in previous seasons. Max (Sadie Sink) gets to tag along with the always entertaining Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Steve (Joe Keery) duo, and, more intriguingly, Nancy is paired up with Robin (Maya Hawke). The group splits up as Max and co try to get information from school guidance counselor Ms. Kelly (Regina Ting Chen), and Nancy and Robin search the library archives for pertinent details relating to locked up family murderer Victor Creel.
Robin realizes she’s getting on Nancy’s nerves with her nervous talkative nature and dismissive attitude towards the Victor Creel theory. And she senses that her close relationship with Steve might be causing some of the tension. Robin clarifies that she and Steve are just friends, though she doesn’t mention her sexuality. Nancy shrugs it off as if she doesn’t care, but it’s clear that she cares. And so, too, does Steve, who, in the words of Dustin, “flung himself” at Nancy earlier in the episode. Given that Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) is a mopey dope-head, I’m completely fine with Nancy and Steve becoming an item again.
Nancy’s Victor Creel theory ends up having some merit. Robin comes upon an old article from The Weekly Watcher where Victor claimed that an ancient demon killed his family. So maybe Victor was telling the truth? If so, this Dark Wizard creature has been around a long time and is only growing more powerful. And that’s devastating news for Max, the latest person infected by Vecna’s influence. After rooting through Ms. Kelly’s office and finding that Chrissy and Fred were both seeing her and suffering from similar symptoms, Max realizes that she, too, has been going through the same thing.
Where are the adults during all this? Well, Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Murray (Brett Gelman) are off on their own adventure. After an awkward family dinner of risotto and a side-helping of teenage tension, Joyce makes up a lie about attending a business meeting in Alaska. “It’s where the Britannicas are,” she states. But, of course, the real reason for the trip to The Last Frontier is to deliver the $40,000 in cash in exchange for Hopper’s (David Harbour) freedom.
Hopper, meanwhile, is doing his own part in his planned escape. After “Enzo” (Tom Wlaschiha), the prison guard, informs him that he has a pilot waiting in Alaska to collect the cash, Hopper barters with a fellow prisoner to help break him out of his ankle chains. This means Hopper willingly has his ankles battered with a sledgehammer so that he can maneuver the chains off his feet. It’s a gnarly bit of business. Hopper has been put through the wringer, and I’m not sure his escape plan will be as simple as a quick cash exchange.
The stakes are being raised with every episode, even if some of the plot lines are showing signs of repetitiveness — which makes these overstuffed run-times all the more frustrating. In particular, the stories in California and Russia are in need of a shove forward, which is hopefully happening with at least one of them, now that Eleven is heading back to regain her powers.
Stranger Things, Season 4, Streaming Now, Netflix