Oh, okay, yes, that is one way to end Volume 1. There are major reveals, a long-awaited, emotional reunion, and yeah, there is Steve Harrington biting into a Demogorgon bat. From a story standpoint, the end of episode seven offers a natural place to pause things since the overall story takes a big narrative turn by the end of it. Now we know the answer to what Vecna is, the final two episodes can focus on how to stop him. All three of the major storylines (sorry, Surfer Pizza Boys) provide big satisfying answers while also leaving us with several questions to mull over while we wait. Honestly, so many major events happened here! I am exhausted (in a good way)!
Let’s start with that bat thing because, babes, I did not show up to this party expecting an alternate dimension bat fight, but that is what we got, and it is awesome. When we find Steve, he’s still being choked out and bitten by Demogorgon bats, Bob Newby style. Things look grim, but then Nancy Wheeler comes in hot with an oar, and she, Robin, and Eddie start fighting off an increasing number of bats to save their friend. Does Steve have to bite one off of his neck? Yes! That is the kind of hero this guy is! Anyway, they clobber these bats, but a big colony of them arrives to protect the gate in Lovers Lake, which means there is now no way for the group to get out and back to their own dimension. It will be a much longer stay in the Upside Down than they anticipated.
They take shelter under the Upside Down’s version of Skull Rock and begin to get an idea of what they’re up against: so many bats, lots of scary noises likely coming from other monsters, and earthquakes. Yeah, it’s not great. But you know what is great? Nancy bandaging up Steve and those two making eyes at each other.
Anywho, they definitely need some protection and ammunition. They head for the Upside Down Wheeler house, where Nancy says she has two guns hidden. The walk there gives Eddie and Steve time to have a conversation that I am honestly obsessed with. Eddie tells Steve how Dustin worships him, which makes Steve so happy (how precious!). Steve wants to thank Eddie for coming to save him, but Eddie admits that he only did it because the girls went first and he couldn’t look like a coward, which he is realizing is apparently his thing. Eddie tells Steve that Nancy didn’t waste one minute before going in after him and if you ask him, “that was as unambiguous a sign of true love as [his] cynical eyes have ever seen.” Eddie ships Steve and Nancy, and really what else is there to know?
Oh right, everyone in the Upside Down is in danger. A few wild things happen once they get to the Wheeler house. First, thanks to old chemistry flashcards (nice season one callback) and the fact that her diary ends on November 6, 1983, Nancy realizes they are actually in the past. That’s the day Will was taken — the day Eleven opened the gate. That means no guns yet. The other weird thing: Steve can hear Dustin talking from somewhere. Dustin, Lucas, and Max are all at the Wheeler house in their dimension, being questioned by the cops. That’s when Nancy remembers that Will communicated with Joyce through Christmas lights, and they see this sparkly mist over all the lights in the Upside Down Wheeler house. When they touch that sparkly mist, the lights on both sides start to glow. Not to be a real nerd about it (Stranger Things is a safe place for nerds), but getting to see the mechanics of how the lights in the Upside Down work is truly exciting. I will not apologize for this!
Once they get through to Dustin with an SOS signal, it’s game on. Dustin, Lucas, and Erica, who’s been filled in on everything now, steal Holly Wheeler’s Lite Brite to communicate with the Upside Down squad. Nancy tells them that they’re stuck because the gate is guarded, but Dustin has figured out that Vecna, like Eleven, makes psychic connections with his victims before he kills them, which means he can make gates every time he kills. In fact, Dustin and Lucas think it’s why he’s killing. Remember that everything in the Upside Down is part of the Mind Flayer’s hive mind, working for him in his mission to destroy worlds. Well, if the Mind Flayer wants to destroy this world, he’s going to need more gates, so it might be useful to have someone like Vecna, “his five-star general,” on his team. All of that information will surely play a part in things down the road, but for now, what it means is that there is a gate at Eddie’s trailer where Chrissy died. In fact, we’ve seen it — that crack in the ceiling. They can get back to their dimension that way.
We get another great visual effect as we watch Dustin, Lucas, Max — now out of police questioning — and Erica ride their bikes toward the trailer park, and then it slowly turns upside down until we see Nancy, Steve, Robin, and Eddie doing the same. Once they get to the trailer and Dustin pokes a hole in the gate from his end, we get to see both worlds on top of each other. We! Are! Living! They throw a rope up through the ceiling to their friends, which then hangs down on their side and it should allow our stuck friends to escape. Robin goes, then Eddie, and then it is supposed to be Nancy, but something strange happens. She ends up in the Upside Down version of Steve’s pool. You know — where Barb died! She has been put in a trance by Vecna! Steve tries to snap her out of it, but we know that is futile. In her hallucination, Vecna is taunting Nancy with her guilt over Barb’s death (is this why Nancy fights her feelings for Steve? Very complicated, no?). She is going to be his next victim. Somebody needs to figure out Nancy’s favorite song!
Hey, speaking of escaping, let’s head over to Russia for a little, mmkay? Things are happening there! Demogorgon things! First, Hopper has really turned his attitude around once he realizes that the Demogorgon being alive means that El is still in trouble somewhere — Hop is back, baby!
Second, it turns out that Yuri’s meeting with the prison warden was purposely double-booked with the Demogorgon’s dinner time, which means that when the Joyce and Murray ruse works (!!!) and the warden lets them in the prison, they are all led out to a deck overlooking the pit where Hopper is. Joyce can see him! He is right there! It is killing her! It is killing all of us!
It doesn’t take long for Murray and Joyce to realize Hopper is in a gladiator pit situation and they need to save him. The doors open, and Hopper, who has wrapped the vodka-doused fabric around a spear, can’t get his lighter to work at first. Murray pulls a gun on the warden and demands he stop this, but it is too late. This Demogorgon comes out and absolutely wrecks a bunch of the prisoners. While Hopper tries to fend off the Demogorgon with his spear torch — which is effective — Dmitri is trying to pry open the door the monster came out of in hopes they can escape that way. Meanwhile, Murray and Joyce are holding the warden hostage, trying to get the guards to open the doors for Hopper. Eventually, Murray just has to knock all of them out with his karate prowess and Joyce just presses all the buttons she can find — it works! It’s only Hopper and Dmitri left in the pit, but the door opens and they run in into the Demogorgon’s empty cage and Hopper tosses that spear directly in the Demogorgon’s mouth like he’s some sort of javelin gold medalist, the doors close, and Hopper and Dmitri are safely inside the Demogorgon’s cell. When the doors on the other side finally open, everything goes into slo-mo, and Hopper sees Joyce standing there before him. She runs to him! She holds him! He rests his head on her head, and he smiles. It is relief! It is love! Listen, I’m crying just thinking about it again, so if this god damn show decides to kill Hopper off at any point, I swear I will stand on the widow’s walk of a lighthouse until he returns to me.
But wait, there’s more! For the big Volume 1 finish, we need to head to that deprivation tank in Nevada. Owens and Brenner are both keenly aware that time is not on their side with getting Eleven back to superhero status before Hawkins is lost forever. And that is before they even know that Lt. Col. Sullivan has just broken Agent Wallace down enough that he’s handed over El’s location. They need to speed up the process, which means putting El in the big bad memory that will answer everything.
We’re back at that day of the massacre, but instead of Brenner’s point of view, it’s from El’s. After she’s attacked by Two and his cohorts, Brenner electroshocks Two in front of everyone. Our blond guy warns El that Two has vowed to kill her and that all of this has actually been set into motion by Brenner because he’s scared of Eleven’s power. Blond guy is going to help her escape, but he can’t go with her. There’s a chip in his neck that both weakens him and tracks him, so he can’t run away anyway. Because Eleven is just a little girl and this man has helped her in her time of need, she offers to use her powers to get the chip out of him. This has been his plan all along. Manipulating Eleven into thinking it was her idea to set him free. Not long after she removes it, this guy reveals himself to have violent and strong powers. He is One!! He has the tattoo to prove it. And it is he who kills everyone in that Rainbow Room, not Eleven.
Supervillains are gonna do what supervillains do, so what does One do next? He monologues. He monologues all about how he was always different growing up and how the humans are pests and that all he wants to do is restore balance and that he is through with being controlled, yadda, yadda, yadda. Here is the thing. While One is going on and on to Eleven, we see his entire origin story … through Nancy in the Upside Down, who has now made her way into Vecna’s mindlair at the Creel house. Hi, hello, big reveal here: The blonde guy is One, yes, but One is also Victor Creel’s son … and he is also Vecna.
Nancy watches the story of the Creel family again, but this time she sees what Henry is up to, how he had powers and used them on his family. We once again see that awful dinner when One kills his mother and sister. He isn’t strong enough to finish off his father, and that’s why Victor finds him in a coma. One says that when he woke up from that coma, he was in the “care” of Dr. Brenner, who only started this program with the other kids after he couldn’t control One. It’s all tied together!
After storytime, One asks Eleven to come with him as he changes the world. She says no. The two battle. At first, she tries to summon as much power as she can with One’s hot tip about using a sad/angry memory. It isn’t strong enough. Just as you think Eleven will be killed, she finds a memory deep within, a happy memory, of her mother telling her she loves her when she was born — how can she remember when she was born? I don’t know, but we have much bigger mysteries on this show so go with it — and that is the key. A good, happy memory makes El stronger than ever. She blasts One through the mirror and against the wall. She hits One again with full force, and she sends him to the Upside Down, opening up a gate in the wall — baby’s first gate! The blood all over her, the memory of her screaming, it turns out that she is not the monster from that memory after all — she’s the one trying to stop the monster. But will she be able to do it again now that she knows the key to her power? Only time and Volume 2 will tell.