By Amy West
The Netflix show introduces a new big bad in season 4 – and his backstory's a little complex
Having fought Demogorgons, the Mind Flayer and a bunch of villainous Russians in previous chapters, Eleven and the gang find themselves up against a new enemy in Stranger Things season 4: Vecna.
Across the latest installment's nine episodes, it is revealed that the powerful big bad has a complicated history with Hawkins, and the Upside Down, too, and it's his backstory that we're set to dive into here. His actions, motivations, and fate, too.
In true Stranger Things style, the youngsters slowly sniff out clues about their adversary across Volume 1, from the connotations of his Dungeons & Dragons-inspired name to the mysterious way in which he claims his victims. In Volume 2, armed with their newfound knowledge, they wage war against the murderous creature – and things get bloody.
If you're reading this, then you've presumably watched the entirety of season 4 already and want to make sense of the story that's just unfolded in front of you. That, or you want to know what happens without having to commit to a lengthy binge-watch. If you're still making your way through and don't like to know things ahead of time, however, then you should probably know that things are about to get VERY spoiler-heavy below. *We mean it... Consider this your final warning!*
Right, now that's settled, let's get into Vecna's game-changing origins then, shall we? Scroll on, mouthbreather, to find out all the details...
What is Vecna's deal in Stranger Things?
Stranger Things season 4 wastes no time introducing Vecna – and by the end of the very first episode ('The Hellfire Club'), he's already claimed his first victim: Chrissy (Grace Van Dien). Prior to his remote, fatal attack, he'd broken the cheerleader – who was dating jock Jason (Mason Dye) and struggling with body dysmorphic disorder – and plagued her with confusing, increasingly terrifying visions. Her attempt to stop them with drugs inadvertently left her more vulnerable to Vecna – and that was that.
Next, Vecna went after Hawkins high schooler Patrick (Myles Truitt), who ultimately met the same end as Chrissy. The villain then brought Max (Sadie Sink) to his Mind Lair, knowing she was in a bad place following the death of her stepbrother Billy (Dacre Montgomery). Thankfully, the group worked out that her favorite song – Kate Bush's 'Running Up That Hill' – could bring her back from the brink of despair in the nick of time, just like a song had helped anchor Victor Creel to the real world many years prior. Unfortunately, Fred (Logan Riley Bruner) was not so lucky, and the basketball player wound up being Vecna's third kill.
When Eddie (Joseph Quinn) describes Chrissy's mysterious death to Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), the latter dubs the baddie "Vecna" after a Dungeons & Dragons figure. In the game, Vecna is a "dark wizard" and "undead creature of great power", who casts spells on his enemies, so the nickname is pretty fitting.
Later in Volume 1, Dustin, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Erica (Priah Ferguson) get to talking about Vecna's potential motives, and how he seems to be creating new portals to the Upside Down with each one of his murders. The former notes that Eleven opened The Gate by psychically connecting to a Demogorgon and that it's entirely possible Vecna is doing something similar with his victims. Each link, he speculates, could be "powerful enough to rip a hole in the fabric of time and space." It's a theory that proves to be true, as each slaughter has caused a gate to open between the real world and the Upside Down.
Then, they get onto the Mind Flayer, who was defeated at the end of season 3. "If the Demogorgon was just his foot soldier, Vecna's his Five-star general," Dustin argues. "A Five-star general with the power to open gates." That theory is somewhat blown out of the water in Volume 2, though, as Vecna admits to Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) that he was behind everything bad that has happened in Hawkins over the last few years, including Will's abduction and the Mind Flayer's possession of Billy.
In the epic two-part finale, Max offers herself up to Vecna as bait while the others try to "flambé" his body in the Upside Down. With the help of Eleven, whose consciousness essentially beams in from a pizza dough freezer in Nevada, her plan almost works, too, but Vecna manages to overpower them both, and kills Max in the real world. Frenzied, Eleven blasts him, as Robin, Steve, and Nancy throw Molotov cocktails at his body elsewhere. With Vecna incapacitated – not dead, more on that later – Eleven brings Max back to life using her powers. Even Eleven's powers can't heal Max's injuries, bring her sight back, or shake her out of a coma, though... A fact that has sparked an interesting, but bleak, theory among fans.
Who is Vecna?
Unlike the Demogorgons and the Mind Flayer, Vecna looks somewhat human-like, and there's a reason for that. At the end of episode 7, it is revealed that Vecna was once just a boy. What's more, he was the first youngster to be experimented on at Hawkins National Laboratory and, in a former life, went by 'One'.
Before he was subjected to tests by Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) and his colleagues, Vecna/One was known as Henry, the superpowered, supposedly deceased son of Victor Creel (Robert Englund), the conflicted, convicted "murderer" Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Robin (Maya Hawke) visited in 'Dear Billy'.
Jamie Campbell Bower plays the older version of Henry, though in the credits his name is Peter Ballard. Henry reveals his true identity to Eleven once he's manipulated the young girl into helping him escape.
During the final scene of the episode, Henry admits to being a troubled child, and recalls how he used to collect black widows. Explaining the "kinship" he felt with the "solitary, deeply misunderstood" creatures, he says: "They are Gods of our world, the most important of our predators. They immobilize and feed on the weak, bringing balance and order to an unstable ecosystem. But the human world was disrupting this harmony. You see, humans are a unique type of pest."
Henry/One continues: "As I practiced, I realized I could do more than I possibly imagined. I could reach into others, into their minds, their memories. I became an explorer. I saw my parents as they truly were." (This references 'Dear Billy', the episode in which Victor tells Nancy and Robin that he was responsible for the death of a baby during World War II).
In the late '50s, Henry's father Victor had believed that he and his family were being tormented by an invisible spirit in their new Hawkins home, unaware that it was Henry forcing them to see "living nightmares". His wife Virginia suspected it had something to do with their son, and she "despised" him due to his odd behaviour. When she eventually called for a doctor, Henry killed her. Later, he murdered his sister Alice as well, but the act almost cost him his own life. The police arrested Victor, who was blamed for the crimes, while Henry got sent to Dr. Brenner. When Brenner realized he could not control the boy, he elected to "recreate" him instead, and the program that Eleven became a a part of was born.Brenner brands Henry by tattooing "001" on his arm.
It's interesting to note that while Eleven was born with telepathy and telekinesis, her mother Terry was being experimented on throughout her pregnancy, under Dr. Brenner, as part of Project MKUltra. Henry seems to have powers without any such tests.
What is Vecna's connection to the Upside Down?
At the end of episode 6, titled 'The Dive', Steve (Joe Keery) gets sucked into the Upside Down during the gang's quest to find an underwater portal in Lover's Lake. Without thinking, Nancy goes in after him, then Robin and Eddie.
After fighting off a bunch of demobats at the start of episode 7 'The Massacre at Hawkins Lab', the foursome set out to find the alternate version of the Wheeler house. Nancy remembers stashing some guns in her bedroom, and if they're going to make it out of the parallel dimension alive, they'd better arm up. When they get to the house, though, they discover that the guns aren't there, before Nancy quickly deduces that they're actually in the past. November 6, 1983, to be precise.
Up until now, it was believed that the first time Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) bridged the gap between our world and the Upside Down was when she accidentally made psychic contact with a Demogorgon on that fateful day in 1983. In episode 7, though, it's revealed that she had already done so in 1979 – and Volume 1's sinister opening flashback, which suggested Eleven slaughtered several doctors and her fellow test subjects, gets turned on its head.
In the present day, or 1986 anyway, a desperate Eleven continues to soak herself in the tank-like NINA machine in the hope of regaining her full powers. While floating, she finds her consciousness trapped in a memory from 1979, reliving painful events that occurred at the Hawkins National Laboratory, like when she was picked on and beaten by Two and some of the other kids. She thinks her only ally is Papa/Brenner but Adult One warns her not to trust him. One guides Eleven to a secret passageway and instructs her to escape, before asking her to remove a device from his neck using her abilities. When the pair are interrupted, it swiftly becomes apparent that the chip was a power-dampener, as One viciously takes out numerous guards.
The twosome lose one another for a little while, and when Eleven catches up with One in the Rainbow Room, she discovers that he was the one who actually killed their "brothers and sisters". After One explains how he came to be at the lab to Eleven, and confesses to murdering his family, he urges Eleven to join him. Henry seems to believe that he's helping Eleven by freeing her from Brenner's control. Henry wants to live a world where there is no binary control – where there is freedom. He sees himself and Eleven as predators, better than humans.
She refuses his offer and the pair fight. At first, it looks like Eleven will lose, as One quite literally wipes the floor with her (hence her bloodied appearance in Volume 1's opener), but she eventually overpowers him after thinking about her birth mother, Terry Ives.
Eleven sends him flying through a mirror and pins him to the wall with her mind. In her rage, Eleven looks to disintegrate One, but instead sends him through to the Upside Down, opening her first gate to that other dimension. One bursts into flames as he is struck by beams of crackling energy, and ultimately becomes Vecna. In Volume 2, Vecna explains to Eleven that he became somewhat of an explorer after being transported to the "other world", and was taken in by both its simplicity and brutality – which goes some way to explain why he looks to want to break the barrier between the Upside Down and Hawkins.
Something we're still curious about, however, is why the Upside Down is seemingly frozen in November 6, 1983, when Eleven first opened a gate back in 1979? What was it about 1983 that had such a major impact on this alternate dimension?
Will Vecna be back in Stranger Things season 5?
Vecna will definitely be back in Stranger Things season 5 – he's still alive. Despite the villain being set alight and shot out of a window by Steve, Robin, and Nancy in the Upside Down, the trio discover that his body has disappeared when they go to check on it. Later, Will confirms that he can still sense Vecna in Hawkins.
In episode 8, the gang recalls how the spooky grandfather clock that appears in Vecna's nightmares always chimes four times. They take that to mean that he must have to kill four victims in order to enact his grand plan of unleashing Demogorgons and the like in the real world. Turns out, while she may have only crossed over for only sixty seconds, Max's "death"counted, and it resulted in an earthquake that saw 22 locals lose their lives and glowing, wound-like gateways popping up all over town. It seemingly revived Vecna, too.
"Now that I'm here, in Hawkins, I can feel him," Will tells Mike, referencing his somewhat dormant connection to the Upside Down. "And he's hurt, he's hurting, but he's still alive. It's strange knowing now who it was this whole time, but I can still remember what he thinks, andhowhe thinks, and he's not going to stop... ever... not until he's taken everything and everyone. We have to kill him." All that indicates that the final batch of episodes is likely to revolve around our heroes stopping Vecna for good.
Stranger Things 4 is streaming now. If you've already binge-watched all seven episodes, why not check out our list of thebest Netflix showsfor some viewing inspiration.
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I am an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering all things TV and film across our Total Film and SFX sections. Elsewhere, my words have been published by the likes of Digital Spy, SciFiNow, PinkNews, FANDOM, Radio Times, and Total Film magazine.