'Stranger Things' Season 4 Recap: Episode 8 Easter Eggs and Ending Explained

Papa does not tell the truth as Eleven faces Vecna in the intense final episodes of Stranger Things 4. (Spoilers!)

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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Eleven and Dr. Brenner in Stranger Things
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Eleven and Dr. Brenner in Stranger Things

Eleven and Dr. Brenner face a reckoning in the Stranger Things season 4 finale.


Stranger Things is back for the final showdown. Season 4, volume 2 is now streaming on Netflix as the Hawkins crew face another battle with the evil Vecna, while Eleven faces her own demons when she forms a reluctant alliance with Dr Brenner, the man she once called "Papa".

The two extra-long finale episodes hit Netflix, Friday, July 1 (although Netflix crashed for some keen viewers). Episode 8 is titled Papa, while Episode 9 is called The Piggyback (here's our spoiler-filled recap of how episode 9's season finale changes what we think we know about previous seasons). 

Papa is named after the cruelly ironic name by which the Hawkins Lab kids refer to their captor Dr Brenner, while Eleven's other father Hopper struggles to get back to her. Here's our recap of episode 8's plot points, easter eggs and character arcs. Be warned: Lots of spoilers ahead.

spoiler alert

Stranger Things is a Netflix hit series set in the 1980s in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana. In the first season, a powerful psychic teen known as Eleven escaped a sinister government installation and joined forces with local nerds Mike, Dustin, Lucas and Will to fight monsters including the demogorgons and the Mind Flayer. In the first batch of season 4 episodes, the crew tried to stop the demon Vecna murdering local teens. Eleven reluctantly allowed Dr Brenner to reactivate her powers, in the process learning that she inadvertently created the demon when she zapped the Hawkins lab's first psychic teen, Henry Creel, into the Upside Down. Meanwhile sheriff Jim Hopper and Joyce tried to escape a demogorgon in a brutal Russian gulag.

Tell her everything you see

Vecna, also known as Henry or One, stalks Nancy through a nightmarish vision of the massacre at Hawkins Lab that led to young Henry Creel being sent to the Upside Down. But the demon spares her -- instructing her to tell Eleven everything she's seen. At least this gives the gang a chance to figure out Vecna's plan, which involves opening four gates to the Upside Down. That involves killing one more time. Which makes Max the perfect bait…

Meanwhile the Russians are experimenting on a demogorgon. Hopper shows what he thinks of their scientific method with a bullet, only to discover a whole lab full of monsters from the Upside Down and some kind of portal. File that away for season 5, I guess. But in the meantime, as much as I've enjoyed Hopper's action-packed adventures behind the Iron Curtain (and the antics of the madcap Yuri), I'm starting to wish they'd just get out of Russia already.

Back at the secret underground base, Brenner and Owens revive Eleven, who uses her powers to lift the Nina tank. (The tank is named for the 18th century Italian opera by Giovanni Paisiello and Giovanni Battista Lorenzi.) Brenner explains that when Eleven zapped Henry Creel to the Upside Down, she also crashed into a coma that wiped her memory. So essentially that moment was the origin story both for Vecna and for the lost, scared Eleven we've watched grow since season 1. Now she knows her own backstory, she makes a choice to fight for her friends.

In the Surfer Boy Pizza van, Mike questions whether he and Eleven are destined to be together, worrying he's just a random nerd who found Superman on his doorstep. Luckily Will gives him a painting and a pep talk. It's the kind of big cathartic emotional moment you might expect at the end of an episode, but this show isn't messing around.

The intimate moments between these characters are what make us love them so much. But from the moment Steve begins opening his heart to Nancy about his dreams of a big family of lots of kids, surely you have to start worrying about whether he's going to make it. The Duffer Brothers definitely know how to torture these characters (and us). Vulnerable moments between Mike and Will or Lucas and Max or Dustin and Eddie make you fear for the safety of these characters we know and love.

Where there's a Will 

As Will fights back tears, it's clear he isn't just talking about Eleven. Clearly his feelings for Mike run deep. Sadly both of the show's gay characters are crushed by their crushes in this episode, as both Will and Robin realize they're in love with characters who appear to be straight. This has drawn criticism from fans who criticise the tired trope of depicting tragic gay characters forever doomed to unrequited relationships (and all this right after Pride Month, too). Still, maybe there's hope for Robin in episode 9, as her Molly Ringwald-esque crush Vickie at least looks conflicted when she spots Robin.

Robin spotting Vickie in a redneck gun shop called The War Zone is a contrived moment, but it still kind of gets me in the feels, so let's allow it. Varsity-jacket-vigilante Jason Carver is also there, but this is slightly less unlikely as the basketball team are there for the same reason as the gang: They're tooling up for a fight.

Back in the Nina lab, Brenner betrays Owens, coldly prioritizing his experimentation over the battle to save Hawkins. In so doing, he reveals himself to be as much the villain of season 4 as Vecna -- instead of building to a redemption arc for the ruthless scientist, season 4 confirms him as the underlying villain of the entire show, as Vecna's creation and pretty much everything bad led back to his horrifying quest. Papa does not tell the truth, and Eleven realizes that she opened the gate to the Upside Down not because she's a monster but because Brenner was trying to fix his mistake. Millie Bobby Brown and Matthew Modine are so good in these scenes.

Eleven blows the door off the hinges, but Brenner drugs her. Which is just as well because it seems like she's going to use her powers to kill him, which would make her not a million years away from the murderous Henry-Vecna.

In the desert above, Argyle makes himself useful as he guides the brochachos to the Nina lab. But Colonel Sullivan has already breached the hideout. A full-on shoot-out ensues, complete with a sniper in a Huey picking off Papa. Fortunately the pizza van crew are just in time to distract the chopper crew -- and Eleven doesn't need 30 minutes or less to spectacularly take down the helicopter.

Brenner's final act is to free her from the shock collar. "I'm proud of you," he whispers, "my child. I've only ever wanted to protect you. Everything I did, I did for you." In his cruel and calculating pursuit of his own twisted ends, he may genuinely believe that kidnapping her as a baby and destroying her mother Terry's mind with electroshock therapy were for Eleven's benefit. Either way, Eleven leaves him to die in the dust.

Strangest things

  • Murray is the Starsky to Joyce's Hutch. That's a pretty '70s reference for a show set in the 80s, but it makes sense given that Joyce and Hopper are an older generation.
  • The music playing in the gun shop is by the appropriately named Rick Derringer.
  • Everybody likes Judge Reinhold, don't they?
  • Eddie dons a mask of serial killer Mike Myers from the Halloween slasher movies (which, incidentally, was originally a mask of William Shatner's face).
  • What else would play as you take off in a hot-wired Winnebago but a blast of Creedence Clearwater Revival?
  • The epic climactic song playing as Max, Lucas and Erica enter the lion's den of the Creel House is Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) by Journey.
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