“The Massacre at Hawkins Lab”
- Creator: The Duffer Brothers
- Starring: Millie Bobbie Brown, Finn Wolfhard, David Harbour, Winona Ryder, Noah Schnapp, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Sadie Sink, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Joe Keery
Warning: Reviews of Stranger Things season 4 will contain spoilers.
Here’s a bit of an embarrassing confession: until right before watching “The Dive”, I had mistakenly thought that this current season would be Stranger Things’ last. Given the show’s conflated budget, and its bloated episode runtimes, you can hopefully understand my logic in thinking that. I’m not saying the final season should have world-ending stakes, but I was surprised at the relatively low-key stakes of this season, if it was indeed its final go-around. But now that I know the truth, Vecna as this installment’s Big Bad feels just right and a nice change of pace from the show’s normal routine of Upside-Down monsters.
I had begun to wonder if the titular massacre that was shown in the cold open of “The Hellfire Club” had anything to do with Vecna, but I was genuinely thrilled by the developments here. In an episode titled “The Massacre at Hawkins Lab”, it makes sense to spend the most time with Eleven as she works through her memories. I probably should have seen One/Vecna’s ultimate reveal coming from a mile away, but the way the show has teased it out over the last few episodes was surprising, and put Vecna’s master plan into a unique light.
From my recollection, the monsters in each of the first three seasons were simply that: monsters. Though they were scary enough, they didn’t have a personal connection to any of the present-day characters (again, feel free to correct me, as it’s been years since I’ve seen even a moment of the show until now). I love the connection that Eleven has to One, and now it seems that we’ve finally gotten an explanation for how the Upside-Down was first discovered or created. I do still have questions about Brenner’s motives for bringing Eleven to Project Nina though. Did they know in advance that One would come back? Why wait until now to try and go after him? Surely these questions will be answered in the remaining two episodes, but it’s weird that they’re questions at all.
One’s origin story makes perfect sense, and the Duffer brothers, who wrote and directed this episode, successfully call back plenty of threads from earlier in the season. Turns out One was Victor Creel’s “sensitive” son that we saw in the flashback in “Dear Billy”, who used his newly discovered gifts to murder his mother and sister and drive his father insane. I don’t fully buy young One’s inciting incident, if there actually was one to speak of, but the intentions are there, and it makes his current-day motivations practical.
The other exciting development happens primarily in the Upside-Down. After Nancy, Robin, and Eddie fend off the bat monsters from killing Steve, they set out to find another gate. I had mentioned the call-backs to season one in “The Nina Project”, and there are plenty more to choose from in this section of “The Massacre at Hawkins Lab”. First, we get the method of communicating with the regular world, in this case via Mike’s sister’s Lite Brite. The effects in the real world are rendered pretty effectively, though it does look a little silly in the Upside-Down. I was fully prepared for Steve to be the tragic figure in this episode, given his still-festering wounds, but Nancy’s inability to escape was a surprising twist. And speaking of call-backs to season one, we get the return of Barb! Or at least Nancy’s hallucination of Barb. Perhaps the Duffer brothers are waiting until the last two episodes to kill off any major characters, if at all, but Nancy would be an intriguing loss for the show.
We’re even treated to a cleverly-plotted, exciting action scene in Russia. The Upside-Down monster, teased in the last episode, gets its blood sport here, as Hopper and Enzo work together to escape. They unknowingly have some help from Joyce and Murray, where Murray poses as Yuri, escorting his two American captures (was it ever established that Murray speaks Russian fluently? Oh well). Hopper’s reunion with Joyce was sweet and well-staged, though I kept wondering if the show would cut back to them before it ended.
If you’re anything like me, you noticed that “The Massacre at Hawkins Lab” was missing its two least successful plotlines completely. Namely, the Mike/Will bits, and the angry mob incited by the basketball team. And it’s probably no coincidence that the episode is all the better for it. The next two episodes undoubtedly will focus on both Eleven and Hopper escaping their respective prisons to save the day in Hawkins, and now we’re effectively primed for that to happen, thanks to this episode’s legwork connecting all of the season’s more important matters.
7 Episodes of Stranger Things are available on Netflix now. Episodes 8 and 9 will premiere on July 1.