Stranger Things Season 4, Episode 4 Ends With One Of The Best Scenes In The Series

Read with caution: There are spoilers for "Stranger Things" Season 4 Volume 1 below.

When you combine corrupt scientists and government officials with a group of courageous, nerdy kids — one of whom is literally a superhero — you're bound to have a blast. "Stranger Things" has frequently placed Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) at the show's center, and her telekinesis abilities have allowed her to enjoy some of the most badass culminating moments. "Stranger Things" Season 4 Volume 1 changes that a bit. The events that drive this season feature a different character at the center, and arrive at a haunting, emotionally potent crescendo at the end of episode 4, "Dear Billy."

Over the years, "Stranger Things" has given us some pretty fun moments. Remember back in season 1 when El managed to mind-flip a van overhead to protect her friends? When Steve gave Dustin advice on how to get fabulous hair like him? And Dustin and Suzie sang "Never Ending Story" and saved the world? "Stranger Things" Season 4 Volume 1 has its fair share of applause-worthy scenes — this season is darker than ever, the kills are more brutal, the big bad is way more frightening than its Demogorgon minions, and its victims all have something in common. But if there's anything that the show's resident group of nerds has taught us, it is that there's no problem they cannot solve. 

So, in the fourth episode, when chief antagonist Vecna — a gnarly demon-looking humanoid — targets our very own Max (Sadie Sink), the group work together to pull their friend out of her trance. The episode ends with the single greatest scene in all of "Stranger Things."

Running up that hill

Sadie Sink's Max Mayfield joined "Stranger Things" during its second season and quickly became one of the show's most fundamental players. In season 4, Max is the emotional center of the show. She is seen reeling from the traumatic death of her brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery, who sacrifices himself at the end of season 3) and distances herself from her friends and loved ones. She's soon targeted by Vecna, the ancient villain who preys on troubled teens, induces disconcerting visions, and puts them in a dream-like trance before brutally murdering them. Vecna is nothing like the Demogorgons or the Mind Flayers of the past — which means the gang cannot square off against him in the same way they have dealt with monsters before.

When Max learns she is experiencing the same symptoms as Vecna's previous victims did — headache, nightmares, out-of-body experiences, and depression — she writes letters to everyone she loves so they may read them after the Upside Down gets her. But for her late brother Billy, Max writes a heart-wrenching page confessing how much she misses him, which she recites at his grave. Vecna then takes over Max's mind, and she finds herself in the Upside Down. Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Robin (Maya Hawke) meet Victor Creel (Robert Englund, who plays an inmate at Pennhurst Mental Hospital), who was falsely convicted of murdering his family. After a brief conversation, they put two and two together — Victor saved himself from Vecna's curse decades before by finding something that brought him back to reality: music. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Steve (Joe Keery), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) work together and are able to put Max's headphones on her before she begins levitating over Billy's grave.

A lifeline back to reality

A central theme in "Stranger Things" is the close-knit friendship shared by the gang. From playing Dungeons & Dragons in Mike's basement to standing together during the battle at Starcourt Mall — Will, Mike, El, Dustin, Lucas, and Max have been best friends. Their friendship ultimately helps defeat Vecna — in a sequence that is as poetic as "Stranger Things" can get. In the Upside Down, Max hears her favorite song, Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill," play, and a portal to the real world opens. Max holds onto that visual for dear life. She soon realizes just how much she wants to return to her reality. In the real world, Max begins to levitate over Billy's grave, appearing to seemingly meet the same horrific fate as suffered by Vecna's other victims, while her friends look in horror.

As Vecna is about to strangle Max in the alternate dimension, she closes her eyes, and the many memories she has shared with the gang flash before them. Shopping and ice cream with El, celebrating Halloween with the boys, skating with Mike, and slow dancing with Lucas — Max allows her memories, her reality, to permeate through her. At the same time, her favorite song grows louder in the background, and the ongoing montage mirrors the deep red hues of the 1985 hit music video. When Max can finally break free and run back to her friends, the entire scene works as a beautiful illustration of her strength, the gang's resilient friendship, and their refusal to give up on each other. 

The power of memories

"Stranger Things" Season 4 Volume 1 is terrific, it is a return to Hawkins that is worth the wait and doesn't feel a year too late. The Duffer Brothers deliver a fourth season that is satisfying for the show's growing community of fans — it might have one too many characters but it refuses to buckle under that pressure. It's the show's boldest and most ambitious chapter yet that delivers performances these actors have always been capable of — and finally gives Sadie Sink her due. She's a young actress with an unbelievable acting range that makes her shine as the season's MVP. 

Sadie Sink gracefully carries the weight of her character's emotional trauma, Max's aloof demeanor doesn't make her cold — just a regular teenager who has suffered extraordinary tragedy. Her performance makes "Dear Billy" the first volume's most successful chapter. Sadie Sink displays the extent of Max's grief and guilt with great sensitivity in a movie-length episode that is a stunning, visceral combination of horror, ancient mythology, and, if I may so, strength.

"Stranger Things" Season 4 Volume 1 hits Netflix on May 27, 2022. The season's two remaining episodes will follow on July 1, 2022.