This Town Is Haunted – Review of “Stranger Things 4” Episode Two “Vecna’s Curse”

One has to wonder why anyone insists on staying in Hawkins, Indiana after the last three years (in the show’s timeline). Hawkins is cursed, as young Dustin points at the end of “Vecna’s Curse”, the second episode of Stranger Things 4. The death of Chrissy Cunningham hangs over the entirety of the episode, fracturing an already tense community. But the young cheerleader isn’t the last victim of strange occurrences. Meanwhile, in sunny California, Mike and Eleven are reunited but what should have been a happy start to Spring Break turns into a nightmare for Eleven.

Spoilers ahead, obviously, so don’t read if you haven’t watched “Vecna’s Curse”, the second episode of Stranger Things 4.

With the events of “The Hellfire Club” firmly setting up our characters on their prospective quests, I enjoyed the separated storylines in play here. As Hawkins Police descend on Eddie Munson’s trailer and find the mangled body of Chrissy Cunningham, Eddie quickly becomes the prime suspect in her death. Max soon reaches out to Dustin, explaining there was some unexplainable weirdness happening when Chrissy was killed. We learn that Max saw Eddie running out of his trailer, clearly terrified by what he witnessed. Dustin stands up for Eddie, and soon ropes in Robin and Steve at their video store to help find Eddie before anyone else does.

Given the level of weirdness all four of these individuals have gone through during their time in Hawkins, Steve and Robin barely blink an eye when Dustin demands the use of the store’s computer and phones to track down friends of Eddie to locate him. I love the continued faith that Steve and Robin as older teenagers/young adults put in the younger kids like Dustin and Max. There’s no artificial drama for the sake of it, despite the snappy banter between Dustin and Steve. Eventually, the group are able to track down Eddie at the boathouse of Reefer Rick (the Duffer Brothers do love alliteration, it seems), where Eddie recounts how Chrissy died. No one present makes fun of Eddie or calls him crazy. They’ve all seen enough of Hawkins and the Upside Down to know something is up.

Dustin calling the new Big Bad of the season Vecna is particularly appropriate. For those not schooled in Dungeons and Dragons lore, Vecna is one of the principal villains of the game, an undead wizard of low morals and all-consuming hunger for power. Somehow, the Duffer Brothers took that conceit of Vecna and messed it with Pennywise the Clown (from Stephen King’s It) and Freddy Krueger (from the Nightmare on Elm Street film series) to make a truly terrifying monster.

Running parallel to the A-Plot above is Nancy Wheeler and Fred Benson (a fellow student at Hawkins High and a coworker at the school newspaper Nancy runs) investigating Chrissy’s death. As the pair of teenagers try to get access to the trailer park where Eddie lived, Fred begins to hallucinate nightmarish visuals, similar to what Chrissy experienced in the first episode. Stranger Things has never been known to shy away from the horrors of mental trauma and we soon learn that Fred once survived a car crash to caused other people to die in the process. The lingering guilt of that event gives Vecna (the monster from the first episode that killed Chrissy) a window into Fred’s mind to start tormenting him with visions of dead people calling him a murderer.

Nancy spends a good portion of the episode trying to get people at the trailer park to talk with her. Eventually, she’s able to get Eddie’s uncle to talk to her. Eddie’s uncle is convinced that his nephew didn’t kill Chrissy, saying it isn’t in Eddie to do something like that. The uncle drops a name to Nancy: Victor Creel, a resident of Hawkins that was apparently responsible for brutally killing his whole family some time in the past. This is a thread Nancy is no doubt going to follow but she soon realizes she’s lost track of Fred. The episode ends with Fred becoming the latest victim of Vecna, his body snapping apart like Chrissy’s did.

One additional wrinkle is introduced in this episode (and it is how Lucas is tied in to events): Jason Carver (the captain of the basketball team that Lucas has joined) is the boyfriend of Chrissy Cunningham. When the police come to the party house the team was using to celebrate their victory, Jason soon figures out that the police think Eddie was responsible for Chrissy’s death. Fueled by rage, Jason sets the entirety of the basketball team to hunt down Eddie, roping Lucas in to help. Lynch mobs are never a pretty sight and Lucas now has to decide between protecting his childhood friends or going along with an increasingly unstable Jason who’s bent on avenging the death of his girlfriend.

Another subplot for this episode is Mike Wheeler’s trip to California to see Eleven and the Boyer family. While Eleven is happy to see Mike, Will is still emotionally distant from his “best friend”. There’s a significant tension between the two friends but neither are completely in the wrong. As Mike points out during their conversation at the roller rink, neither Will or Mike have made an effort to stay connected. On the other hand, Eleven is also lying to Mike about her “friendship” with Angela and the other girls at school. Everything boils over when Angela pulls a particularly vicious prank on Eleven, embarrassing her in front of everyone at the roller rink. While I am not an advocate of violence as a solution, I will admit it was deeply satisfying to see Eleven crack Angela in the face with a skate shoe.

Lastly, we find out what happened with Jim Hopper after the events of the Battle of StarCourt Mall. When the device connecting our world to the Upside Down exploding, Hopper managed to get out of the blast radius to a lower deck beneath it. However, when he awoke and tried to escape, he was caught by a number of Soviet soldiers. Whisked away to be tortured (seriously, the interrogation techniques used on Hopper are nightmarishly real), Hopper refuses to give up Joyce to them, which results in him being sent to a gulag in Kamchatka.

As we see flashbacks of what Hopper has been through, Joyce and Murray contact the sender of the letter from the first episode. It turns out the sender is one of the prison guards at the gulag where Hopper is being held. The guard wants the $40,000 Hopper set aside for Eleven and in return he’ll get Hopper out of prison (or so he claims). With little hesitation, Joyce and Murray rush off to Alaska to get Hopper back, even if it means dealing with a considerably shady individual.

The second episode of Stranger Things 4 keeps the tension from the ending of the first episode going, with a few breather moments in between. Plot threads from the previous season are cleared away, setting the stage for the events of the current season. The vision at the end of Vecna in the Upside Down in a dilapidated hours surrounding by flying Demogorgon-like creatures was bone-chilling and the perfect way to end the episode.

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