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The wait is over. Stranger Things 4 finally arrived Friday morning with its first volume of seven episodes, ending the show's three-year drought and setting up much of what looks like the endgame for the series overall. What began as the story of the Hawkins kids dealing with new threats and new adventures after six months apart coalesced into the story of a larger fight, leaving lots of loose ends for the second volume of the season, and the upcoming fifth and final round of episodes, to tackle further down the line.
Obviously, we know that some answers are already coming. The final two episodes of Stranger Things 4 will land on Netflix July 1, wrapping up this portion of the narrative and setting the stage for the final conflict in Season 5. In the meantime, though, there's quite a bit to chew on, from revelations about the Upside Down itself, to the coming battle and the role each of our heroes might have to play in it. So, now that we've seen the super-sized first seven episodes, let's dig into the biggest lingering questions we have.
**SPOILER WARNING! Spoilers ahead for Stranger Things 4 Part One**
1. What does Eleven's breakthrough mean for her powers?
Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) ended Stranger Things 3 with the loss of her powers after an all-out effort to drive the Mind Flayer out of Hawkins. She begins Stranger Things 4 in the same place, frustrated by the missing part of her and the apparent inability to get it back. That changes when her old pal Dr. Sam Owens (Paul Reiser) and her old "Papa" Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) return to offer her a way back via an experimental memory treatment known as The Nina Project. The idea is that, by journeying back through her own memories of her time in Hawkins Lab, she can reactivate what helped her harness her powers in the first place.
After slow initial progress, Eleven does finally seem to fully succeed in recapturing her powers at the very end of Episode 7, by recalling exactly what happened during the 1979 massacre at the lab. The massacre, it turns out, was actually the fault of One (Jamie Campbell Bower), Brenner's original student who'd tricked Eleven into removing the chip that inhibited his powers so he could slaughter everyone in the lab. In the midst of their psychic battle, Eleven used One's own advice against him, tapping into her memories of bullying at the hands of the other children and the brief moment when her mother tried to take her out of the lab to reach a new level with her powers and banish One into the Upside Down (more on that later).
Through the NINA machine, Eleven is able to relive that moment when her powers hit the next level, and it seems Brenner and Owens' hope that it would reawaken her gifts was correct. The question now is: How strong is she thanks to the effects of NINA? Is it the same old Eleven, or did unlocking that repressed moment of violence against One supercharge her even more? It'll be really interesting to see what she can do once she gets out of the lab again.
2. How will the Soviets respond?
While Eleven works to reclaim her powers, Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Barry (Brett Gellman) journey to Alaska, then to Russia, in an effort to bust Hopper (David Harbour) out of the Soviet prison where he's languished in secret for six months. Though they're waylaid by an opportunistic smuggler, they finally arrive and infiltrate the prison just as Hopper is preparing to engineer his own escape by winning a battle against the Russians' captive Demogorgon, which they've been feeding prisoners to in a kind of gladiatorial battle. It's a haphazard, thrown together collaboration, but together they seem to pull it off, and Joyce and Hopper reunite at the end of the episode.
Now, of course, there's the little matter of getting out of Russia in one piece, with no apparent means of transportation out of the country. But what's most interesting about this dilemma is not how Joyce and Hopper will make it through. They have a number of options when it comes to figuring that out. No, what's most interesting is what the Soviet response might be, if they're willing to give any response at all. It's clear that they've done their own work with the Upside Down in the past, but aside from the captive Demogorgon, we don't really know where that work now stands six months after the Battle of Starcourt. Will the Soviets step up their side of this supernatural war, or will they just fade away from the plot?
3. What about Brenner's other children?
This isn't really a lingering question from Stranger Things 4 directly, but a lingering question within the series overall. Season 2 introduced the idea that some of Brenner's former patients are still out there in the world, living on the run, using their powers to get what they want. Now a war is coming and Brenner and Owens are pulling out all the stops to make sure they're ready for all-out psychic warfare. So...where are those other kids? Have they made any effort to find them? Will Eleven try to convince some of them to join the fight?
4. Where does the war leave everyone else?
This is a big, open, super complex question, but it bears asking: If forces like Owens and Brenner have teamed up to fight this "war" with Eleven at the center and Hawkins as the main front, how do all of our other heroes factor in? We're talking about a battle here not just between two dimensions of existence, but between opposing factions within a secretive governmental operation. Meanwhile we've got Nancy and Steve still in the Upside Down, the Hawkins faction of the kids on the run from the law and their parents, Mike and the Byers boys fighting to track Eleven down without even knowing what's happening, and Hopper and Joyce in Russia. Will they all just...pick their place in the fight and go for it? Will Brenner and Owens ultimately decide they're worth having around? Will the scrappy monster hunters of the first three seasons have a place in the bigger war machine? There's some tension that feels like it's very much worth mining.
5. What happened to the Upside Down in 1983?
Stranger Things 4 unpacks several interesting revelations about the mythology of the show, and one of the biggest is that the Upside Down is not just a ruined version of our world, but a ruined version of our world where time apparently stopped on November 6, 1983, the day the first gate was opened and the Demogorgon abducted Will Byers. It's not the first time the Upside Down was breached -- Eleven opened a small fissure in 1979 when she fought One and banished him there, where he transformed into Vecna -- but that day seems to have changed everything forever, and that leaves several big questions.
The biggest, of course, is what was the Upside Down before then? In Vecna's transformation scene it looks more like a dark stormscape with no real signs of civilization, which suggests that in 1983, Eleven did more than just open a gate. It's possible that moment shifted all of reality itself, moving everyone into an alternate timeline and destroying the timeline-that-was, making that what we now know to be the Upside Down. But if that's true, where did Vecna go in the first place? Then there's the question of the Mind Flayer, the apparent master of the Upside Down's hive mind. Perhaps by opening the gate, Eleven made contact with the Mind Flayer, and the creature imprinted its own dark version of our reality onto its world, creating the ruined, tentacle-covered Hawkins of the Upside Down as part of a larger effort to learn about our world and eventually conquer it. Whatever the answer is, we're bound to learn more soon, because it's clear the Upside Down is more complicated than just another dimension.
6. What does Vecna really want?
The seventh episode of Stranger Things 4 finally spells out the origin story for the Upside Down monster known as Vecna. He was Victor Creel's son, born with dark psychic gifts and killer tendencies, who eventually fell under the care of Dr. Brenner and was finally banished by Eleven after rampaging through Hawkins Lab. Now, he's reaching through from the Upside Down, making psychic connections with teenagers, and using their deaths to open more gates into Hawkins.
Why? Dustin's theory is that he's the "five star general" of the Mind Flayer, constructing an invasion plan for our world by slowly opening gates and sowing fear and division. It would certainly make sense given what we know about the hive mind nature of life in the Upside Down, but Vecna's own words suggest a more personal motive. Even if it's just a thirst for his own brand of power, or a quest for revenge, it doesn't seem like Vecna is a figure who can be counted on to stand aside for another leader when the time comes. His true nature, and how it factors into the larger mythology of the Upside Down, is something we might not fully understand until the end of the series, but we're definitely far from done with him yet.
Perhaps more answers are in store when the final two episodes of Stranger Things 4 debut on Netflix July 1.
Looking for more sci-fi TV? Check out shows like Resident Alien, Brave New World, Project Blue Book, Eureka, Heroes, Intergalactic, and more streaming now on Peacock. Looking ahead, SYFY has new series The Ark in the works from original Stargate film writer/producer Dean Devlin, as well as Stargate SG-1 producer Jonathan Glassner.