[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Stranger Things Season 4 “Chapter Two: Vecna’s Curse.”]
The law of television dictates that if there’s no body, then there’s no death. Joyce (Winona Ryder) references this trope herself when debating with Murray (Brett Gelman) about Hopper’s (David Harbour) fate. “I didn’t see a body,” she says. “That’s because he evaporated!” an incredulous Murray retorts. Of course, Hopper wasn’t vaporized; just as everyone expected, he survived Season 3’s cataclysmic explosion and was captured by the Russians. Hopper is still alive… barely.
This episode catches us up with the imprisoned Hopper, now at the mercy of the Soviet Union, who had been operating in an underground lab in Hawkins. Locked up on the other side of the world, the former Hawkins chief of police is tortured via a variety of methods, from human punching bag to gas mask asphyxiation. The Russians want answers that he can’t give them because, in reality, he doesn’t have a clue what is going on in Hawkins. But rather than kill him, his captors shave his hair and put him into forced labor, becoming a cog in the machine of the Motherland.
Hopper always has a plan, though, and even behind bars, he’s found a way to get a message to Joyce. That’s where the babushka doll comes in. There is a phone number on the letter contained inside, signed by “Enzo,” in reference to the restaurant Joyce and Hopper set for their date. Despite Murray’s reservations, he helps Joyce as she calls the mysterious Enzo (Tom Wlaschiha), who picks up from a Russian payphone. He wants $40,000 in return for Hopper’s freedom. It’s only when hearing a lady in the background of the call do Joyce and Murray realize what’s going on. The lady calls Enzo a slang word often directed towards police… or guards, as in, prison guards. Murray believes Hopper has bribed a prison guard in exchange for his freedom.
While Joyce and Murray set about on a trip to Alaska to deliver the cash as instructed, over in Hawkins, a new mystery has emerged. Police have found the brutalized body of cheerleader Chrissy in Eddie’s (Joseph Quinn) family trailer, and it’s set the town on edge. “This town is cursed,” a concerned citizen tells a local news reporter. “The devil lives in Hawkins.” She’s not wrong. Hawkins’ dark underworld is again bubbling to the surface, and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Max (Sadie Sink) can sense it. That’s why they’re so desperate to find Eddie so that he can explain his side of the story.
The rest of the town isn’t so quick to give Eddie the benefit of the doubt, especially not Chrissy’s boyfriend Jason (Mason Dye) and his football buddies. Jason quickly points the finger at “that freak” for killing his girlfriend. He describes Eddie’s Dungeons & Dragons club as a satanic cult led by a warped mind that can’t separate reality from fantasy. Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) tries explaining to his teammates that D&D is just a role-playing game (RPG), but he backs down for fear of exposing himself as a nerd in front of his new jock friends.
In the previous recap, I mentioned the Satanic Panic that rattled the U.S. throughout the 1980s and ’90s. Dungeons & Dragons played a significant part in the public fears. One of the most famous cases involved anti-occult campaigner Patricia Pulling, who blamed her 14-year-old son’s suicide on a D&D curse. She went on to form Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD), an advocacy group that claimed the increasingly popular RPG encouraged devil worship. The group gained some traction among conservative Christian media properties as well as mainstream outlets, though its beliefs were widely discredited, and they never won any gaming-related lawsuits.
Dungeons & Dragons has been such a core part of the Stranger Things lore since the start, so it makes sense the show would cover the public backlash against the game. It’s also interesting in that, while the accusations against the game are fabricated, Hawkins does exist within a world where D&D-style monsters and curses lurk among mundane suburbia.
Eddie quickly becomes a prime suspect in Chrissy’s death and probably doesn’t help himself by running and hiding. Determined to clear Eddie’s name, Dustin and Max interrupt Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin’s (Maya Hawke) work shift at Family Video to set up base. Despite Steve and Robin’s complaints, the Eddie drama is a welcome distraction from bitching about their shared romance troubles. It’s also fun to see the Scoops Troop reunited, though I guess they need a new name. Rental Rats? There’s also a great gag when Dustin searches the rental records to find Eddie’s dealer Reefer Rick, identifying the guy by his penchant for Cheech & Chong movies.
The Rental Rats eventually locate Eddie hiding in an abandoned boathouse on Rick’s land. Eddie is paranoid and afraid and doesn’t think anyone will believe his story. “Try us,” says Max. Eddie tells them about Chrissy’s frightening possession. “It’s like something was inside her head,” he explains. “I didn’t know what to do, so I ran away. I left her there,” he continues with regret in his voice. Luckily for Eddie, he’s talking to people who have encountered their fair share of spooky, supernatural goings-on. “There’s another world beneath Hawkins that sometimes bleeds into ours,” Dustin tells him. “We thought [the monsters] were gone, but they’ve come back before, and they might be back again.”
Those monsters are most definitely back with a vengeance, as we see when Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and her managing editor Fred (Logan Riley Bruner) visit the trailer park to do some investigative snooping. Nancy is always searching for the truth, and she manages to snag an interview with Eddie’s uncle Wayne (Joel Stoffer), who tells her it’s not in his nephew’s nature to hurt anybody. Wayne reveals that the murder scene reminded him of the crimes of Victor Creel, a patient imprisoned at Pennhurst Mental Hospital for the gruesome murders of his family.
While Nancy is preoccupied with Wayne, Fred begins seeing creepy Upside Down visions just like Chrissy did. He’s drawn towards the woods, where he sees the same grandfather clock that Chrissy saw. A group of skeletal-looking figures dressed in black scare Fred away, out onto the road where he’s faced with a burning car wreck. “Murderer, murderer,” these ghouls repeat as a demonic figure approaches Fred, clasping his head and leading to the same bone-snapping death that Chrissy suffered. Dustin refers to this monster as Vecna, a Dark Wizard of the D&D world.
The events in California seem relatively normal compared to the torture prisons of Russia and the demonic murder plots in Hawkins, though not any easier. Eleven (Mille Bobby Brown) is reunited with Mike (Finn Wolfhard) for a spring break get-together, but her refusal to tell the truth about her situation irritates Will (Noah Schnapp). Eleven continues to present the perfect high school life, where she has lots of friends and is invited to all the cool parties. But Eleven’s lies are exposed when school bully Angela (Elodie Grace Orkin) interrupts their date at RinkOMania. She’s dragged onto the roller rink and called a “snitch” while the Surfaris’ “Wipe Out” plays, adding insult to injury. Eleven’s planned perfect date ends with her flat on her back and covered in chocolate milkshake.
Mike and Will argue as they try to find Eleven. Mike is upset that Will didn’t tell him about Eleven’s problems sooner. But Will says he had no idea El was lying to him in all those letters. However, what’s really bugging Will is that Mike has barely called him in the past year. “We used to be best friends,” he snaps. However, before the argument can escalate, the boys are distracted by Eleven, who finally snaps and cracks Angela in the bridge of the nose with a roller skate. Is it wrong that I cheered at a teenage girl getting clattered in the head? I mean, come on, she deserved it, especially for mocking Hopper’s “death” in front of Eleven.
“What have you done?” Mike says as blood trickles down Angela’s face. Eleven flashes back to her part in the laboratory massacre, where she was asked a similar question by Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine). “What did you do?” as if she is an out-of-control monster. While certainly not as high stakes as murder, Eleven’s current predicament echoes Eddie’s. Both are perceived as freaks and are likely to be blamed for society’s ills. And without her powers, Eleven might not be able to fight back much longer.
Stranger Things, Season 4, Streaming Now, Netflix
World News || Latest News || U.S. News