And we’re back with the second episode of the super-sized season of Stranger Things. The Duffer Brothers may have had us wait for three years, but they’ve made up for it with a big season. Plenty happens in this episode, entitled Vecna’s Curse. Get ready because this is a busy episode. For this season, Stranger Things has brought back a big cast and added new members. All this means that this episode is very much splintered into several subplots with this big cast spread out from Hawkins to California to Russia.
Vecna’s Curse Catches Us Up With Hopper
Thanks to the promotional material for Season 4, we knew Hopper was alive and trapped in the Soviet Union. But The Duffer Brothers made us wait until Episode 2 to address the elephant in the room. How did Hopper survive? At the start of Vecna’s Curse, a flashback to the Season 3 finale shows us Hopper’s sacrifice – and what we didn’t see. As flames engulf the platform, Hopper jumps to a lower platform and, when he climbs out the other side, finds himself surrounded by Soviet soldiers. He’s promptly captured and finds himself in Kamchatka, a Soviet prison. Most of this episode dedicates itself to other subplots. However, we do see the guards shave Hopper bald and torture him before throwing him in a cell.
Fortunately for Hopper, a guard in Kamchatka sees some dollar signs – he’s the one who’s reached out to Joyce. Using the name ‘Enzo’ – the name of the restaurant that Hopper took Joyce to on their date – the guard asks for $40 thousand dollars. In return, he suggests he make sure that Hopper gets ‘unstuck’. Though Murray is reluctant, Joyce doesn’t hesitate to cobble together the money to get Hopper back.
The Hawkins Gang is on the Case
At the end of The Hellfire Club, Vecna turned poor Chrissy into a pretzel in front of Eddie. The next morning, Max wakes up to see local police congregating on Eddie’s trailer. When she catches a glimpse of Chrissy’s corpse, she beats a path for an old friend – Dustin. They head to the video store and, after catching Steven and Robin up on what’s happening, they try to figure out where Eddie is hiding. Robin figures out that Eddie is likely hiding out with a local drug dealer, Reefer Rick. They use the video rental history for every ‘Rick’ in Hawkins – only one has rented every Cheech and Chong movie. Eventually they finds Eddie hiding out at Reefer Rick’s remote house and convince him that they’re on his side. Following an exchange of information, Eddie and Dustin figure out what they’re facing – Vecna, a ‘dark wizard’.
… Eddie is likely hiding out with a local drug dealer, Reefer Rick.
But Dustin et al aren’t the only ones looking for Eddie. Not far behind, the Hawkins police are obviously anxious to catch up with Eddie, too. While they don’t find Eddie they police do catch up with Lucas and his jock pals at the local party spot. Though they never outright say what happened to Chrissy, her boyfriend Jason figures it out on his own. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t take it well. Despite Lucas’ best efforts to convince his teammates that Dungeons & Dragons is just a fantasy game, Jason thinks Eddie is some kind of a Satanist. Now they’re hot on Eddie’s trail with intentions.
Another New Character Has a Limited Shelf Life
Instead of joining Mike on his trip to California, Nancy does her high reporter thing. She’s on the case to figure out what happened to Chrissy. And she’s joined by her editor, the nerdy Fred. They don’t have much luck … and things ends worse for the duo. While they’re able to convince a police officer to let them into the trailer park where Chrissy died, Fred gets lost in the same kind of waking nightmare as Chrissy did in the previous episode. When the police officer looks up at Fred, he says, “Hey, I know you. You killed that kid.” Immediately, his face contorts into something inhuman. As Fred has a vision of crawling from a burning car wreck, the scar on his face opens and bleeds. When he comes back to reality he obviously doesn’t tell Nancy what happened.
Hey I know you. You killed that kid.
Unfortunately, it’s all over for poor Fred. Like Chrissy, he starts hearing and seeing the big old grandfather clock. Nancy and Fred do learn about Victor Creel, a man who killed his entire family and is still locked in a psychiatric facility. But Vecna’s curse continues to chip away at Fred. He has more images – this time of mourners at a funeral who call him a ‘murderer’. Before Nancy can figure out what’s going on, Fred suffers the same fate as Chrissy – Vecna levitates him from the ground twists and mangles his body.
Vecna’s Curse Travels to California
Meanwhile, in California, Vecna’s Curse divides its time between Jonathan and his stoner buddy, Argyle, and the reunited trio of Will, Eleven, and Mike. Not surprisingly, the airport meeting is awkward. Nancy hasn’t shown up. And Will immediately feels like a third wheel, deciding against giving Mike the painting he clearly made for him. As for Eleven, she’s pretty unhappy that the note on Mike’s flowers for her just say, ‘From Mike’. After dropping the kids off at a the Rink-O-Mani roller rink, Jonathan and Mike take off to smoke weed and hit golf balls. Jonathan confides to Argyle that he’s going to a local community college instead of joining Nancy. He admits that he’s afraid he is going to drag her down. But Vecna’s Curse doesn’t spend much time with Jonathan. With so many dangling story threads, he’s definitely getting the short straw.
What have you done?
Back at the Rink-o-Mania there’s a lot happening. Poor Will is stuck on the sideline watching Eleven lie to Mike about how great life is in California. Clearly, Will is bothered, but Mike brushes him off when Will tells him the truth. Everything quickly fall apart for Eleven when school bully Angela and her cronies show up at the roller rink. Still angry with being ‘snitched out’, Angela orchestrates a very public, humiliating ordeal on the roller rink floor. While the DJ spins ‘Wipeout’ and a friend records everything with a video-camera, Angela and other kids skate around her. It ends with a drink getting poured over Eleven’s head. After hiding out in a closet, Eleven confronts and Angela, demanding an apology, which ends horribly. With no powers, Eleven clobbers Angela over the head with a roller skate, drawing blood and leaving Mike asking, “What have you done?”
Vecna’s Curse Quickly Grows Its Story in Multiple Directions
So far Season 4 of Stranger Things is delivering what may be the best season since the inaugural one. Yes, the 80s homages continue. And they’re clicking. Most importantly, Vecna instantly gives this season a formidable villain. In fact, Vecna is arguably the best villain offered by Stranger Things. If there’s a concern early in Season 4 it’s the sheer scope of the story. There’s a lot of cast accompanied by a lot of story threads. Not everyone can possibly get a satisfying character arc. But The Duffer Brothers are firing on all cylinders two episodes into Season 4.