Finally We’ve waited just over a month for the last two episodes of Season 4. The Massacre at Hawkins Lab ended with a huge revelation and cliffhanger. Kudos to The Duffer Brothers for carefully weaving together a lot of story elements into a genuinely surprising turn. Vecna was already a compelling villain before the revelation that he was Henry Creel who was also One. With just two episodes remaining, Papa needs to resolve Nancy’s cliffhanger and set up a finale worthy of feature-length movie episodes.
Previously on Stranger Things
Maybe over a month has passed since the Massacre at Hawkins lab aired, but Papa opens right things left off. Eleven has defeated One and sent him into the Upside Down. When Dr. Brenner asks what’s she’s done, the strain of the psychic battle causes to her fall unconscious. In present time, Papa immediately resolves its cliffhanger and we can all breath a sigh of relief. Instead of turning Nancy into his latest victim, Vecna shows her how Dr. Brenner turned him into One before giving her a glimpse of the future. Nancy watches in horror as The Upside Down rips through reality and lays siege to the Hawkins in our world. And just like that Vecna releases Nancy back to her friends to serve as his messenger.
Papa Quickly Resolves Its Nancy Cliffhanger in Hawkins
Following the credits, Nancy fills Team Hawkins in on Vecna’s vision and The Duffer Brothers do a big exposition dump. Three victims (four minus Max), a clock appearing to each victim that chimes exactly four times, and four gates – Vecna has been showing off his plan the entire season. Each victim he takes opens another gate between The Upside Down and our world, and he only needs more victim. There’s some debate about the wisdom of trying to fight a villain with all of Eleven’s powers and no Eleven around to help. But Dustin remembers that Eleven’s physical body is vulnerable when she’s projecting her psychic self. All they need to do is use someone as bait to lure Vecna, sneak past his minions, and find Vecna’s prone body in Creel House. That’s it.
Each victim he takes opens another gate between The Upside Down and our world, and he only needs more victim.
To Lucas’ chagrin, Max volunteers herself as bait, pointing out that she’s still marked by Vecna. Though it takes some convincing everyone’s eventually on board. So Eddie hotwires an RV in a trailer park and Team Hawkins is off to military surplus store ‘War Zone’ to stock up for the battle. Steve drives and shows off his newfound maturity to Nancy, sharing how he dreams about having a big family with lots of kids. It’s a total departure from the Steven Harrington we met in Season 1 and Nancy’s clearly swooning. At War Zone, poor Robin sees her school crush, Vickie, idling up with her boyfriend. Nancy has a far more uncomfortable moment when she bumps into Jason. No longer just a boyfriend out for revenge, Jason looks really unhinged in Papa. And he not so subtly lets Nancy know he’s looking for her brother and his friends.
Joyce and Harper’s Happy Reunion is Short-Lived
Over in Russia, Hopper and Joyce’s happy reunion is short-lived by necessity. After all, when we last saw them, Hopper, Joyce, Murray, Enzo are still trapped in a Russian prison with a Demogorgon. But Joyce does get enough time to let Hopper know much he’s been missed in Hawkins, especially by Eleven. After doing some investigating inside the prison walls, Hopper finds a lab with a baby Demogorgon strapped to a medical table. But they find something even worse in the Russian prison lab – a chamber of the same swirling particles from The Upside Down.
With the prospects of getting Katinka off the ground being pretty low, Joyce suggests trying to getting a call through to Dr. Owens.
Before more Demogorgons can break into their area, the foursome finds an escape tunnel through sewage tunnels. Unfortunately, not much improves once they reach Yuri’s hideaway and see his escape plan. It’s a broken down helicopter he lovingly refers to as “Katinka”. With the prospects of getting Katinka off the ground being pretty low, Joyce suggests trying to getting a call through to Dr. Owens. Whether Dr. Owens ever gets the call or not, however, is a longshot. Enzo suggests they might get a call back in 5 minutes, 5 hours, or 5 days.
Papa Finally (Sort of) Addresses a Big Fan Theory
Meanwhile, the Surfer Boy Pizza crew spend most of this episode just trying to find Project Nina. This isn’t to say nothing important happens in these segments. Mike and Will have a heart-to-heart conversation that subtly confirms a long-standing Internet rumor. When Mike admits that he’s avoided telling Eleven he loves her because he’s afraid she’ll eventually figure out he’s just a nerd ‘who got lucky’, Will offers words of encouragement. He finally gives Mike the painting, which is a Dungeon & Dragons piece showing Mike leading the charge against a three-headed dragon. It’s a heartbreaking conversation where Will is clearly talking about himself and substituting Eleven, assuring Mike that he’s the ‘heart’ of the group. When Will talks about being different and feeling like a mistake, Jonathan looks absolutely gutted for his brother. Hands down, this is quietly one of the best moments of Season 4.
Meanwhile, Jonathan’s pretty sure Suzie’s coordinates were all wrong. They’re hopelessly lost in the desert. Shame on you, Jonathan, for ever doubting Suzie. And it’s Argyle who notices the military-grade tire tracks heading off-road. That’s good news for the Surfer Boy Pizza crew. Still it’s probably bad news for Project Nina because it means Col. Jackson has found Elven, too. And he’s one step ahead.
Papa Helps Eleven Get Her Mojo Back
Most of the big developments in Papa happen back at Project Nina. Eleven’s got her powers back and she knows what her friends are up against in Hawkins. And just to make sure Drs. Brenner and Owens know it, Eleven lifts a massive NINA tank into the air. But if you thought Dr. Brenner has changed since Season 1 he quickly brings audiences up to speed, refusing to let Eleven join the fight with her friends. He still thinks Eleven isn’t ready to face off with Vecna. Before Dr. Owens can shuttle Eleven off, Brenner has his guards restrain him and drugs Eleven slapping on an electronic collar that dampens her powers.
He [Dr. Brenner] still thinks Eleven isn’t ready to face off with Vecna.
It’s another big character moment where Eleven finally wakes up to the fact that it’s Brenner, not her, who is the monster. In a case of bad (or good timing) Col. Jackson and his soldiers show and storm Project Nina. Though Dr. Owens begs Jackson to spare Eleven, the singularly-minded soldier orders a sniper in a helicopter to take her out. The sniper hits Brenner twice and he’s about to take his shot on Eleven when the Surfer Boy Pizza van shows up just in time. It’s just enough of a distraction to let Eleven stretch out her arm and take down the chopper. Finally, Mike, Will, and Elven are reunited. Before they leave for Hawkins, Eleven has a final moment with a dying Brenner. Unlike the Season 1 final, we actually see Brenner die on screen.
Papa Has a Handful of Emotional Moments, But Still Feels Like Filler
As Papa comes to a conclusion, the Hawkins gang pulls up to the Creel house, armed and ready for the last big battle with Vecna. In spite of a handful of impactful moments, one can’t help but feel that this episode was filler. Most of the story focused on getting all of the characters in place for the big finale. That’s fine for a 40-minute episode, but Papa runs almost 90 minutes. Will’s moment with Mike and the episode’s closing moments somewhat redeem things. Nonetheless, Stranger Things finally feels overburdened by its weighty episode lengths.
Episode 8 ends with our Hawkins crew, armed with firepower, driving their RV to the Creel house, Journey’s “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” crooning in the background. Max and the Sinclair siblings get out of the van, their faces grim as they walk into the Creel House. Get ready, gang: the battle is about to begin.