Major spoilers ahead for StrangerThings season four.
Season four of StrangerThings provided some game-changing answers about the overall mythology of the series, but its epic finale — which saw the gang reunited just in time to find the Upside Down making its way into Hawkins via Vecna’s four gates — left a whole slew of new questions in its wake. The big, obvious ones are sure to be the crux of StrangerThings‘s fifth and final season: Can Hawkins be saved? The task seems…difficult. Will Eleven stop Vecna once and for all? The series is certainly setting up a major final showdown between the two. Can someone please just cut Will’s hair? That one is mission critical, people. So, yes, we’ll be spending hiatus, however long that may be, wondering how the good guys will pull this off in the end. But there are some critical secondary storylines that need to be addressed, too.
Out of everyone in our main StrangerThings crew, Max arguably had the worst go of it in season four. (I say “main” crew because, go swiftly into the night my sweet Eddie Munson! And I say “arguably” because Hopper’s eight months in a Soviet prison did not seem … great.) Not only was Max grappling with intense and complicated feelings about Billy’s death, but those intense and complicated feelings were then used against her by a powerful interdimensional monster. She had two brutal confrontations inside her own mind with said interdimensional monster, who snapped all the bones in her body and blinded her before technically killing her. And then Eleven brought her back to life, only for Max to fall into a coma. And don’t get me started on the fact that her own mortality rested on the power of a Walkman, because if you grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, you know how fragile those things are! All in all, not the best spring break for our zoomer. Now that she’s lying in a hospital bed and not even Eleven can reach her in that dark void, what’s next for Max?
Well, if the Duffer brothers wanted her death to have maximum emotional impact, they surely would’ve killed off Max for good at the end of season four. There’s no way she won’t be waking up from that coma at some point in season five, but what will it look like when she does? Surely, what she experienced will change her, definitely emotionally and possibly physically and/or psychologically. Think about how Will changed after his time in the Upside Down in season one. Max’s interactions with Vecna have been even more intense. Will Vecna have some kind of psychic connection with her? And let’s not forget about Eleven’s Hail Mary to save her friend — is it possible Eleven transferred something in that moment? Whatever happens, there’s no way Max will ever be the same.
Even with the huge reveal that Vecna’s been pulling the Upside Down strings this entire time (cue “Agatha All Along”) and those glimpses of what the it looked like when Eleven sent One there in 1979, there remains a lot of questions about everyone’s favorite alternate dimensions. Until season four, it seemed reasonable to assume the Upside Down was simply a parallel universe of some sort; just a haunted, bizarre version of Hawkins. However, through Vecna’s origin story, we learn the place was quite unformed when he arrived, all fire and lava and rock, brimming with demogorgons and strange clouds of dust and particles. With his powers, Vecna molded it and its monsters any way he wanted. (Ergo the Mind Flayer taking the form of a giant spider-like creature.) And Nancy Wheeler provides a critical clue about the place when she realizes everything inside the Upside Down version of her house, including study flashcards and her diary (which so gives her an excuse to remember her feelings for Steve Harrington), are exactly as they were on November 6, 1983 — the day Will Byers was taken into the Upside Down.
What does all this new intel mean? Did Vecna shape the Upside Down into his own personal Hawkins hellscape? If so, did Will’s arrival freeze everything as it was at that moment because of some alternate dimension rules my tiny brain cannot comprehend? Or was his arrival the catalyst for turning the Upside Down into a Hawkins lookalike as some sort of survival mechanism? The only thing I know for sure is we should be getting a clearer sense of what the hell the Upside Down actually is in season five.
In short: I’m worried about Will Byers. After being integral to the plot of the first two seasons (Noah Schnapp was 100 percent the MVP of season two), Will was sidelined in three and four, left to mostly wade through the subtext of his sexuality, reach for the goosebumps on the back of his neck, and say things like “he’s coming” and “I can still feel him” and the classic hit “he’s here.” It would seem a waste to make such a big deal of Will’s connection to the Upside Down, remind us over and over that the connection still exists, and then not do anything with it in the end. So, will it prove to be more useful than simply an alarm system? Please let the answer be yes. Please give Will Byers a worthy conclusion to his arc! He deserves it! The kid has been through so much! Remember when he was barfing up demogorgon slugs for a while? That’s a tough card to be dealt right there.
Listen, LISTEN, Jonathan Byers is great … er, okay, Jonathan Byers is fine. That emotional chat with his brother in which he acknowledges Will is struggling with coming out and wants him to know that he’ll always love and support him? That’s wonderful. That moved me to tears. But that does not mean Jonathan is right for our girl Nancy Wheeler. By the end of season four, he still can’t bring himself to tell her the truth about his college plans. That spells disaster in the long run. And then there’s Steve, right beside her all along, showing her that he is a changed man, that he has grown up, that he will bite a bat right off his body if need be. These two are out here saving each other’s lives and making eyes at each other in the middle of hellish chaos and if that doesn’t scream “meant to be” I don’t know what does. They need to get back together before one of them dies. (I’m looking at you, Steve “I love to make vulnerable, heartfelt speeches to the people I care about even though that typically signals impending doom in most TV shows and movies” Harrington.) And if that urgency isn’t enough for them to fully go there, they should be reminded that Eddie Munson ‘shipped the hell out of them. Do it for Eddie guys! Do it for all of us!
The end of the season four saw Murray torching a whole gaggle of demogorgons and Hopper finishing off the last one with a longsword to the neck in the Soviet prison pit, seemingly closing off that part of the Upside Down hive to give the team back in Hawkins a fighting chance. But is that really it for the Soviets? They spent so much time and resources building that bunker under Hawkins before the Scoops Troop thought their plans, and they seemed to be well on their way to building a demogorgon army (complete with Upside Down particles) in that prison only for it to get burned to hell. I’m not saying the gang in Hawkins will need any additional enemies or outside interference when they take on Vecna and whatever monsters he unleashes in season five, but I am saying that if the Soviets didn’t have any other backup plans , that seems very short-sighted.
Speaking of government interference, the last time we saw Dr. Sam Owens, Dr. Brenner had him handcuffed to a pipe in the Nina Project bunker in the middle of the Nevada desert. Lt. Col. Sullivan, who arrived and who chose chaos in his attempt to kill Eleven, found him, but Owens is on Sullivan’s shit list and it doesn’t seem like he’s let Owens go quietly. Will Sullivan use Owens to get to Eleven? Will Owens be able to convince Sullivan that Eleven is the solution and not the problem? (That huge tear between dimensions in Hawkins might help with that. Or hurt… it’s hard to tell.) Or is there simply not enough time to care about any of this? There will be so much to cover in season five, but please, I need one more “kiddo” from Dr. owens
Enzo’s BETTER be standing at the end of this mayhem because if anyone deserves to eat breadsticks and drink a nice Chee-anti before getting laid, it is these two fine people!!