Matthew Modine Knows A Lot More About Papa's Past Than Stranger Things Has Let Us See

When "Stranger Things" season 1 implied Matthew Modine's Dr. Martin Brenner was killed off-screen by a demogorgon, anyone and everyone remotely familiar with the clichés of the horror genre didn't buy it for a second. Sure enough, Eleven's (Millie Bobby Brown) insidious "Papa" resurfaced in season 4, a little banged-up but otherwise no worse for wear and back to controlling his "daughter" under the guise of helping her regain her powers.

The dynamic between Eleven and Dr. Brenner has always been a toxic one, starting with Brenner taking Eleven away from her birth mother and subjecting her to all sorts of dangerous and harmful experiments with dire consequences for the world at large (as we've come to see). Yet, there's no doubt Brenner also cared for Eleven and the other children in his experiments — or, rather, he believed he cared about them. In truth, Brenner's callous outlook and inflated ego made it easy for him to play God without second-guessing himself.

To his credit, Modine never played Dr. Brenner as anything less than a deeply-flawed human incapable of fully grappling with the reality of his terrible actions, even at the end of his life. When interviewed by Hollywood Life, the actor attributed this to the unseen backstory he devised for the character, starting with how Dr. Brenner survived the demogorgon attack:

"I wasn't given an explanation from ['Stranger Things' creators Matt and Ross Duffer], so I had to create one in my own mind. And, you know, that's an actor's responsibility with every role that you play; you have to create a backstory. And while my backstory may differ from the Duffers and the other writers that they employ to write these episodes, or the fan books that get written, I have a very specific backstory for my character."

Being Dr. Brenner

It would have been easy for Dr. Brenner to come off as a purely malicious being. He very much fits the Dr. Frankenstein archetype, seeing himself as the caring mentor figure teaching his subjects how to control their deadly abilities and never questioning if he's the one crossing a line with his behavior. It's in his smaller, quieter moments and gestures that his actual humanity starts to peek through, some of which was Modine's doing. He explained:

"You know, in the first episode of season 4, when I realized that [10's] been killed — that was a very emotional moment, because I believe that Dr. Brenner loves each of those children in their own special way. Had another actor been portraying Dr. Brenner, he may or she may have chosen to not pay any attention to the dead child at all. To take him into a loving embrace and to feel Dr. Brenner's loss was crucial and essential to me and the way that I was going to portray the character."

In the case of Eleven, it helps that Modine and Brown have a real-life relationship paralleling that of their characters (though, of course, it's much more healthy). "Millie and I, because we've been working since she was 11 years old, that relationship in the love that we have for each other is something that is palpable," Modine added. "It's something that goes beyond the words, but then you feel the emotional connection between those two people. And Millie and I worked very hard to bring that to the audience."

Indeed, Dr. Brenner's final scene with Eleven in "Stranger Things" season 4 only lands as strongly as it does thanks to Modine and Brown. Kudos to both of them for filling in the gaps in the show's storytelling.