The Most Shocking Moments Of Stranger Things Season 4, Vol. 2

Spoiler warning: This feature contains major plot spoilers for "Stranger Things" Season 4, Volume 2, now streaming on Netflix.

The penultimate season of "Stranger Things" hit Netflix this weekend and introduced even more traumatic and heartbreaking moments for Hawkins' young heroes. For most of Season 4, Volume 1, the once tight-knit group crafted three separate battle plans to save Hawkins which scattered them around the world. Hopper, Murray, and Joyce are in the Soviet Union. El is running for her life while trying to reclaim her powers. Mike, Will, and Argyle are looking for El as the courageous Eddie, Steve, Robin, Nancy, Lucas, Erica, and Max devise a scheme to take Vecna down with a ton of fire-power. Splitting up the core characters — and their new recruits — for seven previous episodes led fans to assume everyone would reunite to defeat Vecna in Volume 2.

In a way, they do, but it's hard not to feel the on-set limitations that shooting "Stranger Things" during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic brought. What is apparent is how much Netflix invested in the series' spectacular effects, visuals, and spine-tingling monster design. Thanks to its reportedly $30 million budget per episode, "Stranger Things" swings high for the finale's apocalyptic finish. While this season's battles are dripping in lush, crimson gothic vibes, some storyline choices hindered character beats while others nailed plot reveals. 

Vecna's plan all along was... simple?

Once Season 4, Volume 1 of "Stranger Things" revealed Vecna's identity, it was hard not to wonder what his nefarious plan for Hawkins was. Surprise! It's world domination! While his powers — connecting to others on the mortal plane through their feelings of hopelessness and then absorbing them — crafted a powerful metaphor about depression to explore, Vecna's reasoning for doing so ends up being nothing more than a familiar (and one-note) plot beat. We learn in Season 4, Volume 2 that Vecna only sought to kill four individuals to open four gates. With each murder, a gate from the Upside Down into Hawkins opens. Vecna wants to bring the Upside Down with him into Hawkins to destroy humanity. He then plans (somehow) to rebuild what remains of Earth into a plane he rules. Frankly, I don't know why the neutral evil Vecna would care to rule anyone, but at least this rationale showcases Henry's unquestioning belief in himself as a white cis male.

By "Piggyback," Vecna only had one kill left: Max. This ninth-hour battle setup by the Duffer Brothers, who wrote and directed the season finale, harkens back to the Hellfire Club's D&D campaign from earlier in the season. The odds of winning aren't good, but everyone risks one more roll of the dice, standing up to fight. Even if Vecna's motive for his sinister acts is disappointingly bland, its stakes pay off.

Eddie's heartbreaking (but heroic) death

Despite Eddie's death feeling inevitable due to this season leaning on the character's desire to be as courageous and selfless as he is in a D&D campaign, it still hits hard. Of all the characters this season, Joseph Quinn's Eddie Munson brought such vivacity, pathos, and the best parts of the late '80s to early '90s era Christian Slater to "Stranger Things." More than most of the characters this season, he's not easily definable. On the surface, he's a guitar-shredding, metal-loving, perpetual senior who sings of anarchy and weed. It's easy to see how we're expected to feel about the counterculture character. Refreshingly, Eddie is also a deeply feeling individual who has profoundly vulnerable conversations with Chrissy and Dustin, too. He's aware of how he's perceived and plays into that expectation, even if it hurts his feelings — except when the town assumes he must be a murderer.

After helping Dustin reach safety in "Piggyback," Eddie reenters the battle against Vecna to better their team's odds of succeeding. He's killed by Vecna's bats. How he dies feels analogous to how everyone in his life treated him. The town and residents of Hawkins gossiped, physically and emotionally abused Eddie and slandered him. Over time, this ate away at his trust in others and himself. Only Dustin knows of the heart, the zaniness, and the bravery to inspire others to be their weirdest selves that is Eddie Munson.

Max's resurrection

Technically, during the finale of "Stranger Things" Season 4, Max dies. This time, the Hawkins teens and their ever-growing list of monster-fighting allies fail. The timing of Max's death is gut-wrenchingly unfair. Moments prior, Max and Lucas just reconciled and planned a movie date that will now never happen. Max says she can't see or feel anything, and the camera lingers on her until she takes what we think is her final breath, but as Lucas sobs over Max's body, El appears. We learn in "Piggyback" that El has gained more control of her ability to enter others' mindscapes. Like Vic in Joe Hill's "NOS4A2" novel, El's psychic powers now extend to reaching others on a plane that has physical repercussions in the real world.

El uses Max's fondest memories of life to resurrect Max. However, Vecna's attacks left Max mortally wounded with broken limbs and possible paralysis. Season 4 ends with Max in a coma. El fears that while her body is back, Max's life force is forever gone. Hopefully, the final season of "Stranger Things" will bring Sadie Sink's Max back to life so the two can hang out. Season 3's Max and El had such genuinely teen conversations about gender constructs, like why El doesn't need a guy's permission (especially Mike's) to make decisions and why Wonder Woman is important, that I'd love to see deepen in Season 5.

Eleven's brand new power

Most of "Stranger Things" Season 4 spends its time with a powerless Eleven. At first, it was intriguing to see how this version of El deals with conflict in the world. Despite wanting to, psychic-blasting a bully away in high school isn't an option for her. Seeing El struggle to adjust to "normal" life as she dealt with the emotional fallout from the Battle of Starcourt felt grounded. However, once El leaves the world of Lenora, California, and the evasion of military forces and Dr. Brenner's team begins, that storyline weakens. El's quest to regain her powers is less about self-discovery, a choice that would have landed the empowerment narrative the Duffer Brothers seemed to be going for, than about others instructing her how to heal. Dr. Brenner forces her to relive traumatic memories to regain her powers. Dr. Owen and Dr. Brenner discuss her fate while she's in the room, even though she could have addressed them. Her speech patterns frustratingly regress, infantilizing her. 

While Season 4, Volume 2 doesn't ret-con this narrative misstep, it makes the wise choice to level up Eleven. By Season 4's end, El learns her powers can do more than harm others and communicate with them psychically. Her powers can bring someone back from the brink of death. While it's not clear yet how this works, we see El resurrect Max in the season finale, opening up power questions for Season 5 to handle.

Vecna created the Mind Flayer

Hands down, the best part about the Duffer Brothers' two-part Season 4 finale is how it thoughtfully connected the big bads of all prior seasons. During Eleven and Vecna's psychic battle, viewers learn an essential fact about the Upside Down. When El blasted Henry/One to bits years ago, the strength of her power also unlocked a gate to the Upside Down. The remains of Henry reformed in this world, rebuilding him into Vecna, an undead creature who still has a connection to the psychic powers he wielded in life. Vecna discovered mysterious particles in this realm that he then used to craft the Mind Flayer.

Previously, Hawkins' young heroes assumed the Mind Flayer was one of many monsters native to the Upside Down. In reality, the creature is an extension of Vecna, a sinister tool he used to find Eleven in hopes that she'd join his realm and further his world domination scheme. If Eleven had only killed Henry, Hawkins would never have known of the Upside Down.

Hawkins devastated

So much of what goes on in the Upside Down is unknown to the citizens of Hawkins, Indiana. In a very "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" way, the town is in a perpetual state of denial, handwaving strange events with explanations that don't quite add up or are rooted in sensationalism like Season 4's Satanic panic rationale. While there's no giant snake eating a high school in this season finale, the show does finally give the town indisputable proof that something supernatural is afoot. By Season 4's end, Hawkins is split in half. Although news outlets like the Hawkins Post report that it was a devastating earthquake that killed 22 people with others still unaccounted for (like our beloved Eddie), the sky is thundering with crimson storms. Plants are swept with ash. Darkness falls on the citizens of Hawkins.

Overall, pushing Hawkins into a dark dystopia setting works well. Not only does this choice bring apocalyptic stakes for the show's final season, but it creates compelling (albeit harrowing) consequences for our heroes. We see innocent people struggle to find food, clothing, and shelter. What the Hellfire teens do (or don't do) has repercussions for those outside their world-saving bubble, a fact they never had to wrestle with before.

Eleven decides to never forgive Papa

Papa's death in Season 4 of "Stranger Things" didn't come off as much of a surprise. However, how El handled it certainly did. Similar to prior seasons' storylines, Papa and El reconcile only to have her captor betray her for his own goals. At this point, Papa's storyline felt tired. His character never grew and repeated the same mistakes over and over. In Season 4, El accepts Papa's help to regain her powers under the condition that he promises to let her do this her way. Of course, Papa straps his explosive-collar back onto El in the final hour, as he doesn't want to lose the chance to experiment further with El's capabilities.

El escapes his grasp while a fleet of special-ops agents tries to shoot her down. As she makes her getaway to the surprise arrival of the Surfer Boy Pizza van, she runs into a dying Papa. Although she decides to say her final goodbyes to him, she doesn't grant his quest for forgiveness. Papa asks her to understand why he did everything connected to the kidnapping and raising of psychic children with unstable powers for decades. She says nothing, leaving him to take his last breath alone and knowing that none of his "children" will give him the half-baked redemption he desperately wants. Good riddance, Papa!

Vickie and Robin's lackluster romantic arc

Early in Season 4, Robin discusses with Steve how scary it is to flirt directly with Vickie, as she's unsure if her crush is queer, too. Additionally, she's unsure how she'll react to knowing Robin's sexuality. Fear of coming out in a small town during the '80s is a concern that the show handles fairly well despite never once (to its detriment) acknowledging that it's taking place during the height of the AIDS epidemic. In Volume 2, there's a straight-fakeout "reveal" in which Vickie kisses her boyfriend that lands weirdly. Yes, it makes sense that Robin, who is crushing hard on Vickie and is a worrier by nature, would see that and assume the worst. But the show, through Steve's response, could have suggested Vickie is bi. It almost goes there — but not quite.

Thankfully, Vickie returns in Season 4's final episode. She and Robin share an anxiously charming conversation while making sandwiches for Hawkins' citizens affected by the aftermath of Vecna. If the Duffer Brothers are going to keep this romance building slowly, it would be easy to write in an "accidental" hand touching and mutual blushing moment. Fingers crossed that Robin gets at least that in Season 5.

Eddie's most metal jam session in the history of the world

While I will never forgive the Duffer Brothers for killing off Eddie Munson, I loved that he got the honor of performing the most epic jam session ever. Despite knowing that Eddie loved to solo on the electric guitar, I honestly never imagined we'd see his gnarly "Master of Puppets" riffing in the Upside Down. Eddie brings all his thrashing love to the Metallica song, distracting Vecna's bats so that the heroes of Hawkins can destroy Vecna's body. 

It's a beautiful addition to Eddie's final moments. He accomplishes something no one else in history can claim. That makes the burn of his too-soon demise sting a little bit less, as we know that he'll at least have that parting memory. Within days of the scene's release, millions of TikTok users praised and lovingly crafted tributes to Eddie's guitar skills.

While Eddie died in the Upside Down, it's possible he could return in some form to the show's final season. It's still unclear how a dead Henry came back to life after dying in the undead realm. Perhaps Eddie's heavy metal spirit will get an encore.

The unneeded brutality of Lucas and Jason's fight scene

Jason's storyline was entirely unnecessary. He only served to antagonize the town. Season 4 already had the pressures of small-town murder and Satanic panic to do that. Like a classic Stephen King villain, Jason is a white conservative jock who quotes Bible passages to inspire widespread hysteria in Hawkins. Yet, the show never explores how this mindset infects the town with intolerance. Living in a post-Capitol Insurrection world, it's hard not to see the show's "apolitical" stance of framing the story as the weirdoes vs. a conservative mob as a cop-out.

Frustratingly, it gets worse. When Lucas attempts to convince Jason to trust him, Jason says he "should have known" Lucas would betray him. That mico-aggression acknowledges Jason's racism, but Lucas' Blackness never gets a voice. When they fight, Jason's attack choices depict the same anti-Black violence we've seen tragically countless times in the real world. It's as if the world of "Stranger Things" wants to evoke Black Lives Matter themes while handling them as if we exist in a world pre-George Floyd's murder. The fight's existence feels like a misguided attempt to give Lucas a "hero moment." However, it loses sight of how deeply triggering this encounter must have been for Lucas.

The worst part is no one asks why Lucas is hurt post-fight.

Mike is oblivious to Will's feelings

Seasons 1 and 2 of "Stranger Things" largely revolved around the disappearance and reappearance of Mike's best friend, Will Byers. When Will went missing, Mike called his house every night. A couple of years later, things have changed. Since Will moved away to California, Mike has only called him twice. When the two reunite after being apart for six months, Mike keeps dismissing Will each time he attempts to speak to him. Mike doesn't even notice when Will is sobbing beside him in a car. If he does, his not asking Will why proves a deeper shallowness in Mike's character than we've seen thus far.

Will even painted a D&D-inspired portrait of Mike with a heart on his shield. But once Will learns Mike feels insecure dating El, he tells Mike that El asked him to paint the portrait for him. Will then delivers an emotional speech expressing his feelings as "El." That almost coming-out moment goes over Mike's head. Thankfully, Jonathan hears that monologue and later embraces his brother, saying he loves him unconditionally.

Fans have theorized that Will is in love with Mike for some time. "Stranger Things" cast and crew promised that the "bread crumbs" were no accident, and Season 4 would confirm Will's sexuality. The show hinged marketing around Will coming out, leading many (myself included) to feel queerbaited. The Duffer Brothers have since stated that the duality of that speech will be explained in Season 5. 

Will's connection to Vecna isn't broken

"Piggyback" ended with a panic-inducing reveal for diehard Will fans. Will's connection to the Mind Flayer, aka Vecna, is not broken. Seriously, can Will Byers ever catch a break? Minutes before the season finale's credits roll, Will tells Mike that now that he's back in Hawkins, he can sense Vecna's feelings and location. He knows Vecna is hurt and nearby.

Although it's unclear how this reveal will play out in the last season of "Stranger Things," it nevertheless shows the Duffer Brothers' decision to put Will's life at risk again. However, there's a chance Will's connection to Vecna could pave new roads for the character to explore, including having a more active role in the group's heroic adventures. For most of Season 4, Will sat in a car and acted as Mike's emotional support system and side-kick. My theory is that Will could become an empath and a detector of Vecna, an ability that the team could use to track Vecna's location. Fingers crossed that this reveal won't have Will used as bait, captive, or victim in Season 5.

Vecna can still end the world

Technically, Vecna won. Right before El blasts Vecna's mindscape form into particles, he tells her as much, too. Although El ultimately brought Max back to life, she was still dead for over a minute. Based on what we know so far about Vecna's plans, this means that it's wholly possible that Max's death still counted. Maybe one minute was all that it took for that fourth gate in Hawkins to open. Earlier in Season 4, Volume 2, Vecna shows Nancy a vision of Hawkins splitting in half with magma erupting through their hometown streets. As soon as the Hawkins teens battle with Vecna ends, the town is hit by a massive earthquake that looks a lot like the premonition Nancy saw, but the carnage soon stops.

Two days after the big battle in the Upside Down, Vecna's presence returns. His dark shadow eclipses the world of Hawkins, and even Will confirms that he's coming. Based on this ending, it seems like Vecna is recovering, and the four gates were opened.

Steve confesses his feelings to Nancy

Whether you love or hate Steve and Nancy's relationship, it's impossible to deny that the way Steve chose to confess his romantic feelings was surprisingly sweet. There was no dramatic confession of fated love or direct confrontation. Instead, Steve quietly tells Nancy of a "silly" daydream he has to one day be a father of six with an RV that the Harrington family will use to take summer vacations. When Nancy exclaims that six is a lot of kids, Steve nods to the cast of motley teens in the back of the RV he's driving. Charmingly, this dialogue adds more depth to babysitter Steve's investment in the teens of Hawkins. Whether or not Steve receives that happy ending, it's heartwarming that he gets to live a version of that dream out, albeit in a terror-filled landscape, throughout the past four seasons.

Later, Steve tells Nancy he always imagined she would be beside him. Importantly, he doesn't ask for anything more like how she feels about him or what their future might be. He tells her that he's closer to being the man she deserves and apologizes for how he acted when they were a couple. As the show continues its Steve-Nancy-Jonathan love triangle, it's refreshing to see a Steve who's secure in himself and respectful of Nancy's boundaries.