Vecna From Stranger Things Season 4 Is An Allegory For Depression

Warning: there are spoilers for "Stranger Things" season 4 below.

"Stranger Things" season 4 is here — and it's bigger, more ambitious, and the scariest chapter set in Hawkins yet. Vecna, the sci-fi show's latest big bad, is the most terrifying monster in the show's history — and makes the previously introduced Demogorgons and Mind Flayers look like lackeys. With Vecna's design, "Stranger Things" pays homage to several classic monsters in both appearance and intention, particularly Freddy Krueger from "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and Pennywise the Dancing Clown from "It."

Vecna is startling to look at — the latest "Stranger Things" monster appears as a humanoid with a demon-like, skeletal face, and tendrils that he uses to torture and strangle his victims. Vecna is brains and brawn; he is a calculating entity that attacks teens who are at their lowest, towering over their lives with his unchanging shadow, eliciting fear in every moment that passes. It soon becomes evident that the antagonist is an allegory for depression and trauma, solely preying on those isolated by their grief.

Vecna is the absolute worst

When Vecna's murderous rampage begins, we're still in the dark about the why and the who. We meet his first victim, Chrissy Cunningham (Grace Van Dien), your resident high school popular girl. She's the head cheerleader and dating the most popular guy on the basketball team. That doesn't mean life's great and that Chrissy doesn't have her demons. In one scene, Max (Sadie Sink) hears her throwing up in the school bathroom, indicating that she suffers from an eating disorder. Shortly after, the scene reveals that Chrissy suffered emotional abuse from her mother over her weight. Vecna uses this to his benefit, tapping into her most private memories, replaying her mother's words to her through trance-like visions. It's haunting, but worse when you learn that Vecna aims to exhaust his victims psychologically before murdering them with great brutality.

The creature then chooses his next target, Fred Benson (Logan Riley Brenner), Nancy's partner in journalism, who is tormented by his involvement in a car accident that he never took responsibility for. Vecna induces frightening visions in Fred's mind that reflect the faces of the deceased, which disturbs him to no end. And when he's done playing games, Vecna takes Fred down too, in the same way he did Chrissy, snapping his bones and gouging his eyes all from the sanctuary of the Upside Down. For Vecna's victims, their mind is a prison. The creature doesn't need to appear before them to oppress them. The psychological warfare he imposes on them is cruel enough.

Vecna inflicts disturbing visions on trauma survivors

There's not much we learn about Vecna until he targets his third victim ... our own Max. To discover the parallels between the creature's first two targets, Max and company break into Hawkins High School, where they access the deceased students' files in the counselor's office. Max learns that they suffered from identical symptoms: severe headaches, nightmares, trouble sleeping, and nosebleeds — all of which she began experiencing some days before. Max, too, is having a challenging time this season. She's wrestling with the death of her brother Billy who sacrificed himself to save Max and her friends, and she witnessed him get violently impaled by the Mind Flayer during the Battle of Starcourt Mall. She is haunted by nightmares where she's forced to relive the traumatic experience repeatedly, which isolates her from friends and her family, leaving her alone for Vecna and his games.

This creature is impossible to defeat because he has the power to probe the psychological stress and declining mental health of his victims. He uses their tragedy to further his own agenda and take complete control of their lives. Unable to set aside their fears and escape from the depths of their depression, his first two victims are killed violently.

But not Max.

Vecna represents depression and trauma

Max's mental health is not a mystery in the show: she's suffering in every moment, unable to flee the anguish of her traumatic past and the paralyzing hollowness of her survival. But she wants to try. So, when Vecna is about to possess Max, her friends play her favorite song and it pulls her out of her defenseless trance. She finds a lifeline back to reality and focuses on the best thing about her life — the friendship she shares with Eleven, Lucas, Dustin, Mike, and Will. It's a poignant scene that explores the power of friendship, and how Max's trauma and depression were on the brink of consuming her whole, but she wanted to fight for a second chance. Max takes the first step to run back to her reality, and from then on, she has the unwavering support that she needs.

Throughout the seven episodes, Vecna strategically preys on those going through a tough time, planting his darkness on his victims and depleting their energy to grow powerful. The antagonist perfectly works as a metaphor for depression because the narrative consistently explores how our mind is a very dark place, and sometimes, we're surrounded by darkness. We might feel overwhelmed and helpless. But if we focus on the light at the end of the tunnel, and maybe run towards it like Max does, it will be enough.

Whether Eleven and her friends will find a way to beat Vecna this season remains to be seen, but here's what we know for sure: as long as Vecna's victims can find a connection — any connection back to their lives, they will, in that moment, certainly beat him at his own game.

The first seven episodes of "Stranger Things" season 4 are now streaming on Netflix. The final two episodes of the season are slated to be released on July 1, 2022.