The End of the Beginning of the End – Review of “Stranger Things 4” Episode 9 “The Piggyback”

The last chapter of Stranger Things 4 has one hell of a bitter ending.

Episode Nine, titled “The Piggyback”, drops some major bombshells on us as an audience, while also tying up the season’s plot lines before setting up the events of the final season. It’s a case of closing out one story while laying the seeds down for what will grow into the next story and for the most part, it does a good job of that. But the ending does leave me wanting to know how the final story will play out.

Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched “The Piggyback”, the season finale for Stranger Things 4.

The fact that the Hawkins gang’s plan was going to go off the rails was a given. How badly it went off the rails was the main question I had going into the episode and boy, did it ever get bleak there for a bit. Vecna/Henry/One knew everything about the Party’s plan, letting all of them get in place so that he would have the best chance to enact his plan. Unfortunately, Vecna is prone to evil gloating, which gives the heroes a chance to seemingly thwart his plans.

There was a lot going on in this episode between the different plotlines, not all of it good. Argyle coming through in the clinch with using a pizza dough freezer to serve as a modified sensory deprivation tank was a nice little nod to the stoner’s quick thinking. The scenes in the pizza parlor, particularly between Jonathan and Will were touching. Jonathan says without saying it out loud that he knows Will is struggling and that he loves him, which I can tell you from experience is exactly what Will needed to hear in that moment. With some ingenuity, Eleven is able to piggyback into the mental landscape Vecna uses to torment his victims, allowing her to confront Vecna again.

The fight between Vecna and Eleven is suitably epic but it also drops a major bombshell on the audience. In the second episode of Stranger Things 4, Dustin theorized that Vecna must be the general for the Mind Flayer, since the hyper-intelligent cloud was believed to be the ruler of the Upside Down. Vecna reveals that after being thrown into the Upside Down by Eleven, he came across the Demogorgons and the cloud of particles that he formed into the Mind Flayer.

Vecna isn’t directed by the Mind Flayer. Vecna is the Mind Flayer. 

To be honest with you, it makes perfect sense given how much we’ve learned about Vecna’s mental abilities (which surpass Eleven’s power). Alone in a barren landscape, Vecna used the particles of the cloud, which probably had a rough sentience, as a means to transcend his human body and become something as monstrous on the outside as he is on the inside. As he explains to Eleven, he was responsible for the Demogorgon attack in the first season, the Mind Flayer possessing Will in Stranger Things 2, and the attempt to steal Eleven’s power in Stranger Things 3. When Billy spoke to the group at the tail end of Stranger Things 3, it was Vecna speaking through him. The Mind Flayer being just a pawn of Vecna’s will makes Vecna the supreme Big Bad Evil Guy of the show, a villain that can be defeated (but the cost of doing so is going to considerably high).

Speaking of the costs, the death of Eddie Munson grates on me a bit. Granted, they gave Eddie a metal moment, playing “Master of Puppets” on an electric guitar to distract the Demobats. I get what the Duffer Brothers were trying to do by giving Eddie a heroic last stand after he expressed how much of a coward he felt like earlier in the season. But the fact that Eddie died and only the core group (plus Eddie’s uncle) knowing that he died a heroic death while the rest of Hawkins continues to vilify him doesn’t sit right with me. I would like to have seen Eddie continue into the final season as another member of the Party. There’s also Max, who did die for a short period of time. Left broken and catatonic, Max was able to be revived by Eleven but not before her death kickstarted Vecna’s final plan (more on that in a moment). It’s a sad end to a character that I’ve come to enjoy since her introduction in Stranger Things 2. While I don’t think the story could work without some level of sacrifice, my hope is that Max manages to find a happy ending at the end of things. The kid deserves a break after what she’s been through.

The Russia arc reached a satisfying conclusion on a couple of fronts. First, we finally get the kiss between Hopper and Joyce that I’ve been waiting for. The time Hopper spent in Russia changed him, both physically and mentally. The toxic traits that Hopper showed in Stranger Things 3 are largely gone, replaced by an introspective, quiet man who recognizes his own faults and seeks to be better than them. Joyce, for her part, gets a glimpse of what Hopper has endured. There’s a part of Joyce I think that wants to help rebuild this broken man, which is not always a positive trait in a person. The other side of the coin is that Joyce, Murray, and Hopper return to the prison in the hope that attacking the Mind Flayer particles stored there will distract the creature long enough to give the kids back in Hawkins a fighting chance. It turns out they were on the money, with Murray getting a big damn heroes’ moment with a flamethrower as he chars the possessed Demogorgons in the fighting pit. Not to be outdone, Hopper gets another one (using a Conan the Barbarian sword for bonus style points) by slicing apart the fully grown Demogorgon.

Due to the Demogorgon/Mind Flayer possessed creatures being part of Vecna’s hive mind, the injuries suffered give Eleven a chance to pin Vecna down long enough for Nancy, Robin, and Steve to assault Vecna’s physical body in the Upside Down. Seeing Vecna get lit on fire and then pumped full of shotgun rounds was deeply satisfying. But in the end, it was all for naught. Once Max died, Vecna’s plan went into action. Each of the sites where a person died split open, creating fissures to the Upside Down and causing a massive earthquake to shake through Hawkins. All four fissures converged on the center of town, toppling over a part of the central library.

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The happy reunions (for the most part) felt good to watch at the end of the finale. Seeing everyone reunite, even though Max is not around to enjoy it, was heartwarming to say the least. But there’s a specter hanging over everything, as Will reveals Vecna was only temporarily defeated, not killed. The cracks in the earth are allowing the Upside Down to bleed over into the real world, as evidenced when the “snow” from the Upside Down appears to fall all over town and red lightning begins to fill the sky over the center of Hawkins. Vecna’s plan for merging the two worlds is underway. To say that I’m excited to see where things go from here is an understatement. While not a perfect finale, it was a damn good one. I disagree with some of the creative choices made, as outlined above, but the end result was a good end to Stranger Things 4 and it certainly has me interested in seeing where the final season takes me as an audience member.

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