Netflix’s Stranger Things
4×09: “The Piggyback”
Directed & Written
by The Duffer Brothers
* For a recap & review of 4×08, click here.
* Season 5 recaps/reviews to come!
Nobody’s keeping an eye on Yuri outside working at the helicopter, at least not closely enough. He’s purposefully sabotaging things to keep them from taking off too fast. Inside, Hopper and Joyce are getting changed when she gets a look at his ravaged body, the scars all over him. He feels bad for sending her a message in the first place, endangering her because of it, but she doesn’t regret coming to find him one bit. Then they get a little suggestively sexy, and then outright sexy. Been a long time coming. Except they’re interrupted by the phone ringing. Hopper finds out Dr. Owens, Eleven, and everybody else “went off the grid.” But they can help everyone in Hawkins from Russia, because of the particles kept inside the prison. That also means going back into the prison.
Back in Hawkins, Nancy and the gang are ready to enact their plan. They’re heading out with their weapons, going to the gate in the trailer park. They all head through the gate, weapons in tow, back to the Upside Down. Nancy, Robin, and Steve head one way while the “decoys“—Eddie and Dustin—head in the other direction. On the road, Jonathan and the others are at a gas station. Eleven thinks of her mother, and she thinks of Billy, too. She has an idea of how to help Max, by going into her mind, piggybacking from Max’s mind into Vecna’s mind. “Mindfight,” baby! Now they’ve got to get one of those tubs ready so Eleven can enhance her powers. That means they need salt. Argyle figures Surfer Boy Pizza is the perfect place to not only get the salt but also other materials for a makeshift tub.
At the Creel house, Max, Erica, and Lucas search for Vecna. It isn’t long before Erica believes she’s found him. Thus begins Phase One of the plan. Erica heads outside and across the road to a park, and a man notices her. Soon word leads back to Jason and the jocks. Not good for anybody.
In the Upside Down, Dustin and Eddie are at work with their decoy business inside Eddie’s trailer, grabbing his axe. Nancy, Steve, and Robin are making their way through the woods. Steve has another chance to talk with Nancy alone as they go, admitting his mention of kids and a family to her previously involved her as part of that family. And eventually, they all get to the Upside Down Creel house.
In the real Creel house, Max heads towards where they believe Vecna to be and she shuts Kate Bush off. She calls out to him: “Hey, asshole.” But he does nothing, at least initially. Then the light Max holds begins to pulsate, and so she heads upstairs with it. At the Surfer Boy Pizza shop, Mike’s made some nice glasses for Eleven to wear, then they talk about their relationship before Argyle interrupts with pineapple pizza, which Mike considers “blasphemous.” In back, Will watches on with melancholy. Jonathan tries to distract Will by talking about a childhood incident of the little brother getting a toy stuck up his nose. He wants Will to be able to confide in him, admitting he’s been distant and high. He already knows the secret Will’s clearly hiding, he just wants his younger brother to feel safe with him.
And soon, Eleven’s psychic power tub is ready to rock.
It doesn’t take long for Eleven to see Max and Lucas at the Creel house. Unfortunately the plan isn’t going how Max envisioned it. So she tries talking to Vecna about her darkest thoughts. She admits that she thought terrible things about Billy, that Vecna was right when he said she wanted her brother to die. This doesn’t sit right with Lucas, wondering if Max has ever felt the same way about him as she did Billy. It’s just Vecna twisting things into an ugly vision of reality, because Max is under his spell again. Eleven sees all this unfolding and she’s determined to get back to help her friends in Hawkins. So she works hard to slip into Max’s mind, finding herself in “a Max memory.”
Phase Three is now underway as Eddie rips the axe to “Master of Puppets,” dedicating his shredding to Chrissy. The use of Metallica draws the creepy bats away from the Creel house, allowing Steve, Nancy, and Robin a chance to head into the Upside Down Creel House. Shitty time for the jocks to show up, chasing Erica, who’s outside at the park signalling for the others. All the while Max is trapped in a prison of her own memories by Vecna, seeing Billy in a psychotic rage locked away, trying to get at her. Max goes back to a memory of dancing with Lucas and it transports her away from there, at least for the time being.
In Russia, Hopper, Murray, and Joyce are back inside the prison, where there are only more dead bodies and chaos since they left. Every Russian they find is dead or dismembered, or both. One man left living said gunfire shattered the tanks and the other monsters “came alive.” The particles? It’s called “the Shadow,” and it went into… somebody. And it’s not gonna be a good scene for Hopper, Murray, and Joyce. Big Jim wants to use the prison pit to draw all the monstrous things in and cook them.
Eleven searches Max’s memory to find young Max skateboarding. She’s looking for anything out of place when she notices “a memory within a memory,” a table with turntables on top. In the other memory, at the school dance, Max sees balloons popping, spraying blood, then everything gets darker and starts to change. In the original memory, Eleven sees the sky getting dark and fiery on the horizon. Then Lucas gets interrupted by Jason, who thinks Max is under some kind of occult spell from the Hellfire Club. Jason pulls out his gun and orders Lucas to wake Max up. Oh, shit.
“I’m gonna die someday. But not today.”
Things are getting tough in the Upside Down. In the Creel House, Nancy, Steve, and Robin are being attacked by the house’s tentacles while across town, Dustin and Eddie must deal with an onslaught of bats. Dustin and Eddie are heading back up to regular Hawkins when Eddie lets Dustin go, but decides to stay, potentially sacrificing himself to buy their friends more time. None of it’s quite as harrowing as Hopper having to go back into the mix with monsters in that Russian prison. There’s one Demogorgon isolated on its own, so Hopper lures the thing towards the pit.
In the dance memory, Max sees a door leading back into the Creel house towards Vecna. She can’t escape him. Vecna pins Max to the wall. At the same time, Lucas is trying to talk Jason down back in Hawkins, giving a crash course on Vecna and the Upside Down, but the “raging psychopath” refuses to listen. He fights Jason, and in the middle of it Max’s Walkman gets broken; fuck!
Suddenly, Vecna lets go of Max because he’s in the grip of Eleven. A terrifying reunion. Eleven sends Vecna blasting through the bleachers. But that’s not going to stop an entity as powerful as Vecna. No, there’ll be further battle between him and his younger powerful nemesis. Eleven tells Vecna she’ll kill him again if he touches Max. Then, the battle begins as Vecna tosses Eleven around brutally. He gets her in his grip, lifting her off the ground and pulling her to him. Then he sends Eleven into his mind lair, tying her up so she can watch all the horrific things he has planned. Vecna already has Steve, Nancy, and Robin trapped, and now he’s brought Max. Eleven attempts to appeal to Vecna’s better nature, talking about Papa and all he did to Henry years ago. He tells her that Papa didn’t make him into what he is now; it was her who did it when she blasted him away. He wandered through that other plane of existence until he found the Shadow, through which he’d birth the monsters that terrorised Hawkins.
We see Eddie being torn apart by bats, and the others choked by the Creel house’s tentacles, and the Demogorgon about to feast on Hopper’s head; everyone’s in grave danger. Vecna wants to make Eleven watch all the destruction, starting with Max. He lifts Max up, preparing to kill her. Eleven can’t do anything, but at the pizza shop, Mike reaches out to her, telling her: “I love you.” Will encourages Mike to be the heart of the group, and Mike spills his guts to Eleven, hoping it’ll help keep them tethered. “You‘re my superhero,” Mike says. His words help Eleven break free of Vecna’s grip. She gets loose just in time to save Max from death, though poor Max has her arms and legs broken.
In Russia, Joyce electrocutes the Demogorgon, saving Hopper, though more, bigger monsters aren’t far behind. They’re able to lure the monsters into the pit, where Murray saves the day with the flamethrower, scorching all the monsters into barbecue. This weakens the hive mind, which also lets Steve, Nancy, and Robin free of the tentacles, letting them continue up to find Vecna. In the mind lair, Eleven has Vecna pinned down, and he tells her: “This is only the beginning; the beginning of the end.” One Demogorgon remains alive in the Russian prison, so Hopper has to use a sword to kill it. At the same moment, Nancy, Steve, and Robin set Vecna aflame. And the mind lair starts to evaporate in smoke. Robin tosses another molotov cocktail at Vecna, then he gets a few sawed off shotgun blasts from Nancy.
While Joyce, Murray, and Hopper are thrilled to find Yuri has come for them after all, things aren’t so great in the Upside Down, where Dustin holds a dying Eddie in his arms. Dustin wants to save his friend, but Eddie knows the end is near. Such a heartbreaking moment. Eddie’s become of the best characters on Stranger Things. His sweetness underneath the heavy metal exterior, especially when it comes to Dustin, was so beautiful. It hurts to say goodbye to such a great character, and to see how it affects Dustin. Not to mention poor Max, who’s blind and broken to bits in Lucas’s arms, fading away fast while he tries to keep her alive. Max was also one of my favourites and for her to die after all this is just total devastation. It was bound to happen with some central characters, but it hurts no less.
Suddenly the clock rings four times, and the Creel house starts opening up, releasing the Upside Down into reality. The ground across Hawkins is splitting, effectively opening a massive gate that engulfs the entire town, sucking whole buildings under. In the darkness, Eleven watches Lucas holding Max, and she’s unwilling to let Max die. She puts a hand over Max, thinking of their shared memories from when they first met, recalling all that good energy. Will it work?
Two days later, people are leaving Hawkins in droves, right as Eleven, Mike, Will, Jonathan, and Argyle pull up to town. For all anybody else knows it’s a massive earthquake. More than twenty people have died already. News reporters and soldiers and cops are all over the place. At least the gang are reunited in one place again. Most of them, anyway. Lucas is at the hospital reading Stephen King and Peter Straub’s The Talisman to Max, who’s alive but in a coma after her heart stopped for a whole minute.
Some of the gang help out with relief efforts after all the people displaced from Hawkins. Robin gets a chance while making sandwiches to talk with her crush, Vickie. Dustin runs into Eddie’s uncle and tells the man about being with Eddie when the earthquake hit; he gives the uncle Eddie’s guitar pick necklace. At least it’s closure. Dustin is a sweetheart for comforting Eddie’s uncle, calling Eddie “a hero.”
Mike and the gang head up to Hopper’s cabin, which is an absolute wreck. They want to clean the place up for Eleven, so she’s able to stay relatively hidden. Just needs a bit of elbow grease. While Mike and Will have a chance to talk, Will says he can feel Vecna since they arrived in Hawkins, still connected to Vecna and the Upside Down after what happened to him originally, when all this madness first started years ago.
Out of nowhere, a black car pulls up to the cabin. Except it isn’t government men seeking Eleven, it’s Hopper coming home. Another wonderfully sweet reunion. Eleven lost Papa, but regained the only father she ever truly knew. She’s just as happy to see Joyce back, too. After all the tragedy, at least those left still have each other and they’re together. That doesn’t actually mean everything’s over, though. Will still feels Vecna and the Upside Down, plus there’s a strange snow falling over Hawkins, more like ash, and it’s killing the life around it.
There’s still a Season 5 for us to anticipate. Buckle up for the wait.