Stranger Things Season 4 Episode 5 Review: “The Nina Project”

How does fear drive us? Does it make us do things we didn’t think we were capable of? We like to think we will step up when the pressure on but is this always the case?

In Stranger Things episode 5, “The Nina Project,” Eleven has to go through a journey–both physically and psychologically–in pursuit of regaining her powers. She’s had to resort back to her previous self and even though it may seem like a regression, appears to be critical if she’s going to move forward.

So what is Nina, and how does it/she play into all this?

In this breakdown of “The Nina Project,” we will review the plot, explore some themes, and observations, and point out some of the 1980s references. If you want to catch up with the earlier reviews, you can check them out here:

“The Nina Project” Plot Summary

This episode is intense right off the bat. Eleven is in danger and we hear of a mysterious “Nina.” It turns out, 12 hours prior to the events of the last episode, Eleven was taken to a top-secret location in the desert. She and Sam go to an underground bunker, which is like an old missile silo. Very War Games-ish, which will come up again in a bit. 

Surprise! Brennen is back, and they begin the training of Eleven. This involves her resorting back to her shaved head state. Back in Russia, Hopper is getting worked over, and Joyce and Murray are on the plane with Yuri to be sold. 

In Hawkins, Max is drawing what she saw in the Upside Down the same way Will did when he discovered the map. Her drawings connect together to reveal the Creel house. Back at the lab, Eleven is stuck in a labyrinth that keeps repeating itself, but this is her subconscious as she’s back floating in a sensory deprivation water chamber. This Machine is Nina. She can’t escape from the rainbow room and we learn that project Nina relates to the opera. 

In this opera, her lover was killed in a duel and she buries the memory as if it never happened. Has Eleven done the same thing with her murderous rampage from 1979? Suppressing this memory also suppressed her powers. She might not be able to move on until she makes peace with this and stops suppressing it. This seems to be the point of Project Nina.

Back in California, the boys rather horrifically bury the dead body of the agent. They also learn about a phone number that can lead them to Nina. When they phone it, it sounds like an early dial-up modem. None of the kids would know of the internet yet, but it reminds them of a movie with government and computer connections: War Games. They realize they need a hacker and the closest one is Suzie-poo herself in Utah. 

Hopper talks about his experiences in Vietnam, including handling Agent Orange. He saw all the disease and fallout this chemical caused, and was it the cause of his daughter’s death? The agents find the possible portal in the trailer and Patrick hears the grandfather clock while at Chrissy’s funeral. 

In Hawkins, the kids are in the Creel house and find glowing flights. This seems to be connected to mind control with lights from 1979. Are these two years connected, or just a filmmaking technique? 

Patrick and Jason pursue Eddie in the lake until Vecna destroys Patrick. Eleven seems to regain her powers in a moment of anger and fear. She has been able to put herself into the younger version we knew from the first season. She has tried to escape but has accepted Brennan as Papa. 

Themes and Observations

I feel there are themes of having to let go of the past. Hopper needs to do this if he is to ever be free of the guilt of his daughter’s death. Eleven also seems to need to let go of this possible carnage she caused in 1979. Holding on to this guilt will only burn you in the long run. It’s like carrying around hot coal: it will only cause you pain. At some point, you need to put it down. 

Hopper also thinks he’s carrying this trauma forward and destroying everything he holds dear. He willingly had Sarah knowing of the problems that might happen, and he’s brought Joyce to Russia, knowing it may end in her demise. 

What motivates us and drives us? Hopper seems to be driven by finding something to replace his void of Sarah. Is that Joyce? Ultimately, he just wants happiness. Same thing with Eleven; what motivates her. She has been trying to suppress her past memories and pretend she has this new life, but she hasn’t come to terms with it all yet. She’s also motivated by fear and embarrassment and that seems to be when her powers kick back in. 

The episode ends with the song Il Mio Ben Quando Verra. The lyrics reference the lover not being there:

When my beloved comes

to see his love in grief

beautiful flowers will cover

the sunburnt shore.

But I do not see him,

Alas, my beloved does not come.

Eleven is full of grief and refuses to see it. She is trying to cover up the sunburnt shore with flowers the way she has tried to make her life look all rosy to Mike. And remember, this seems to be happening 12 hours ago. How far has she progressed to where we are on the current timeline?

Movie-wise, I love how this episode is fully acknowledging Freddy Kruger attacking kids in their dreams. Vecna has really mirrored parts of A Nightmare on Elm Street. He seems to pick them off one by one–just like Freddy. 

Anytime War Games is referenced, I love it. And I find a lot of the underground scenes reminiscent of the Abyss. There’s also a great action sequence on the plane and it seems to crash, just like in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. 

1980s References

There’s not a ton in this episode, but it’s worth pointing out how 1986 was the early days of the internet–just not as we know it. There was computer networking and ARPANET and this laid the foundation of the internet as we know which Tim Berners Lee officially began in 1989. 

I love that Murray has been fighting kids in his Karate class the same way Kramer did. 

I thought some of the musical score in the desert sounded very Alan Silvestri-ish with hints of Back to the Future. 

We also see a classic Simon game and we can’t ignore the classic perm on Mrs. Wheeler. 

Final Thoughts

Eleven’s journey seems like it may take her to hell and back–literally. She–like Hopper–is going to have to deal with her past trauma at some point. It seems like she’s given in and recognizes where she comes from. 

We can’t bury the past. It eventually has to be unearthed. Sometimes we need to take a few steps back if we are going to start moving forward.