What defines us? Like really defines who we are deep down? Are we the way that we see ourselves, or, in reality, are we actually the way that others see us?
The characters of Stranger Things have been wrestling with this all season; specifically Eleven, Hopper, and Steve. They believe they exist in the world a certain way, but have they defined themselves all wrong? Have they misconstrued their self-image? Will they ever be able to see themselves the way that others do?
This is what’s explored in Stranger Things, Season 4, Chapter 7: “The Massacre at Hawkins Lab” where Eleven’s past is not the way she envisioned it. We will do a plot summary, explore some themes and connections, and point out some 1980s references.
If you’ve not caught up yet, you can read my reviews of the previous 6 episodes here:
Chapter 7: “The Massacre at Hawkins Lab” Plot Summary
There’s a lot to cover in the final episode of Volume 1. We start with the crew fighting the hell bats in the Upside Down. Eleven seems to be making progress revisiting her past but Brennen says she’s regressing. Is he still trying to control her? Eleven will need to take one final trip into her past to uncover the real truth of who she is and what has driven her. Is she a monster–or a superhero?
Dustin, Max, and Lucas are interrogated and Nancy is taking care of Steve in the Upside Down. Something is there between the two of them, and even cynical Eddie can’t ignore the love staring him down. This is when he lets Steve know where he really stands. Dustin thinks he’s a bad-ass, and Eddie thinks he’s Mr. Perfect. Steve has lost a lot of his identity this season, and this has mistakenly shaped his self-image. Hearing how others view him may be the jolt he needs to reclaim his identity.
Back in Russia, Joyce and Murray have arrived at the prison. Eleven is back in the past where Brennen is trying to find who attacked her. She has been bullied since her days at the lab, right up to modern-day high school. Number 2 (can’t help but think of Austin Powers here…) attacked her.
Dustin figures out why the watergate exists. Eleven had opened one, the Russians had opened another. Vecna has been killing teens because it creates a psychic connection that opens more gates. We could assume this psychic connection is only accessible in those with a past trauma, and this now applies to Nancy. She has done a good job of suppressing her guilt for Barb’s death, and Vecna has accessed this.
But it looks as if the Mind Flayer is still in control. If the Demogorgons are his foot soldiers–then Vecna is his General. The crew in the Upside Down finds the Wheeler house, but it’s the house as it was on November 6, 1983: the day Will went missing. When this happened, it seemed to freeze everything in the Upside Down, in time.
The Upside Down crew discovers how to communicate through the lights. Murray and Joyce witness the Russian prisoners battle the Demogorgon and Eleven learns that the other numbers are going to kill her. The lab assistant has been most helpful. Did she kill them in self-defense? That at least would be justified. But it seems as if Brennen planned for them to kill her because she’s become too powerful. The assistant leads her to a part of the lab where she can escape.
The crew in the Upside Down communicates with the real world via a Lite Brite to find out how to get back. Both crews bust out the bikes. Nancy tries to get through, but this is when Vecna hijacks her mind. The Demogorgon attacks the prisoners like it’s the Rancor in Return of the Jedi. But Hopper escapes it and is reunited with Joyce.
Eleven finds out what she’s really capable of and it turns out the assistant is actually #1. We find out that it was number 1 that destroyed all the kids. She isn’t the monster she perceived herself as. Nancy witnesses what is really going on. While in the Upside Down, she travels back to the day the Creels move into their home.
It turns out number 1 was Victor Creel’s son. He could manipulate time. Taking lives allowed him to get stronger. Victor did not know his son actually caused the murders, and he went to jail for seeming crazy. They took number 1 to the lab to be studied by Brennen, where it looks like they cloned him into the one through 12.
Number one tries to get Eleven to join him as he realizes how powerful she is. The two face off in a very Luke Skywalker/Darth Vader way, but as he’s about to kill her, Eleven travels back to the moment she was born and witnesses all the genuine love her mother had for her. This love powers her to destroy number one and it was this act that opened the gate into the Upside Down that we first saw in season 1.
This is why Eleven had to escape, and she knew how because number one had shown her. And when number one hurtled into the Upside Down, he has his Anakin transforming into Vader moment: Number one is Vecna.
Themes and Observations
Besides the struggle with self-identity, there is a very simple love triumphs over evil theme, here. Eleven always believed she was a monster and felt like this would forever define her. But in those locked away memories was her true identity: she is a superhero, and she could harness this with (and without sounding too cheesy, or like Huey Lewis) the power of love. Number one is filled with hate and evil, but the love-filled Eleven could defeat him.
The characters of Stranger Things have struggled with identity this whole season, but they are starting to resolve this struggle. Steve is starting to view himself the way others do. We have seen Eleven’s journey, and even Hopper realizes he is more valuable to the world alive–even if it’s just to Joyce. When he gets out of the prison and sees her, it’s like he’s escaped the prison in his mind and we see him smile and relax for the first time.
- I love the hell bats still seem like the Flying monkeys
- The Upside Down journey has an obvious Mordor feel to it, but also a bit of Labyrinth, and even some Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
- Hopper seems to rip his shirt perfectly in time to the music
- I also feel Hopper sounds like he’s doing his best Harrison Ford impersonation
- Hopper stuck in the pit feels like Luke, Chewie, and Lea trying to escape the garbage chute in the Death Star
- The escape tunnel in the lab has definite shades of Andy escaping Shawshank
- What an amazing shot of the bike riding in the Upside Down transitioning to the bike riding in the real world
One last thing. Steve mentions how he “inhaled a bunch of that crap floating around” and I don’t think random throwaway lines exist here. Either he’s about to become possessed, or get infected and possibly die. I think a major character bites the dust this season and was this our insight into it?
This one is a big deal to me–even though it might not interest you–and it has to do with that simple shot of a can of Coca-Cola Classic. If you followed season three, you know it featured New Coke. This was in 1985 when Coca-Cola discontinued its original formula and introduced an entirely different beverage. It went over terribly and the backlash was severe. It was so bad that they had to discontinue New Coke within a few months and bring back the original formula that they now called “Coca-Cola Classic.”
This is significant because it would now have been available in 1986 and it was a nice little nod to the existence of New Coke, and its inclusion in the Stranger Things world.
You can read the entire story of the New Coke disaster right here.
- The Lite Brite was a classic 80s reference, as was that Minute Maid juice box Erica was drinking.
- A great reference to Ozzy Osbourne biting the head of a bat
- It can’t be a coincidence but the word “Guar” was spelled out on the Lite Brite for the word ‘guarded’ and it has to be an acknowledgment to the heavy metal band Gwar that was formed in 1984
Phew, what a journey. Episode 7 ended with a twist I don’t think anyone could have seen coming. For years, everyone has wondered who number one was. Well, now we know, and we see his connection to the Upside Down and everything we know about Stranger Things.
This had a Tom Riddle/Voldemort/Harry Potter feel to it, but we know Vecna/Number one will probably want to stop at nothing to find and destroy Eleven. She is regaining her powers, uncovering her true self, and could possibly be stronger than ever.
Will she be powerful enough to take down both Vecna and the Mind Flayer? To sum up Volume 1: we all have to let go of our demons—either real or imagined. Will the characters of Stranger Things be able to? We’ll find out on July 1st….