“Chapter Nine: The Piggyback” is an action-packed finale full of character, emotion, and the promise of a final visit to Hawkins.
This recap of Stranger Things season 4, episode 9, “Chapter Nine: The Piggyback”, contains spoilers, including an open discussion of the Stranger Things Season 4 ending. You can check out our full archive of coverage for this show by clicking these words.
So, this is a colossal episode, and rather than deliver a dry 7000-word recap, you’ll excuse me if I focus predominantly on the highlights. There was plenty of explosive action in the penultimate outing to get you up to speed, so “Chapter Nine: The Piggyback” picks things up basically right where we left off. Hopper, Joyce, and Murray are still in Russia, Max, Lucas, and Erica are in position to carry out Phase 1 of Operation: Kill Vecna, Nancy, Steve, Robin, Dustin, and Eddie have ventured into the Upside-Down for Phases 2 and 3 of that plan — get rid of Vecna’s bats and then flambe him with Molotov cocktails — and Eleven is on her way back to Hawkins with Mike, Will, Jonathan, and Argyle.
Stranger Things season 4, episode 9 recap
As it happens, Eleven and co. can’t get back to Hawkins in time, so El comes up with the titular idea to piggyback on Vecna’s infiltration of Max’s mind by infiltrating Max’s mind herself and fighting him off remotely. For that, she’ll need a bathtub and a lot of salt to create a sensory deprivation tank to focus her powers. Hopper and co. realize they can’t get back in time either, so they instead decide to break back into the prison and destroy the particles — the black mist I thought might be the base form of the Mind Flayer — from there. These things are all occurring while Nancy, Steve, Robin, and the kids carry out their plan, so there’s a lot going on here.
Luckily, the extended episode length affords a lot of space for nice character moments in all this build-up. Hopper and Joyce have a sweet one, as do Max and Lucas, who communicate via notes because Max can’t take her headphones off, and Steve and Nancy. There’s a fun scene where Argyle finally makes himself useful and allows the kids to set up shop in the pizza place where he works. And Antonov even manages to get through to Yuri by stirring his old heroic tendencies. You can feel the big moments coming, but “Chapter Nine: The Piggyback” doesn’t forget it’s the small ones that matter the most.
Anyway, the plan gets underway. Max allows Vecna to enter her mind by confessing her deepest, most shameful thoughts about her brother. Meanwhile, Eleven hovers nearby, trying to reach her, and Eddie lures the bats away by — rather awesomely, especially given the aesthetic — playing Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” on a borrowed electric guitar from the roof of the trailer. It’s a chaotic hodgepodge of scenes involving flashbacks, visions of Billy, dead ends within the Creel house, boarded-up doors, and swarms of demonic bats, but the whole thing works like gangbusters.
Naturally, complications quickly begin to mount. Eleven has to navigate some of Max’s earliest memories. Jason turns up at the Creel house and tries to force Lucas to wake Max up at gunpoint. Steve, Robin, and Nancy get attacked and held prisoner by the vines in the house. And Hopper, Joyce, and Murray return to the prison to discover that the black particles have taken over the Demodogs, and they all need to be corralled into the monster pit, with Hopper playing bait, so that they can be incinerated from above.
The swarm also manages to break through the trailer’s vents, forcing Dustin and Eddie to fight them off. After the latter climbs up the bedsheets to the Right-Side-Up, the latter cuts down the escape route and tries to buy more time by heading out right into the swarm and cycling off at high speed, hoping they follow him. From here it’s one major moment of fist-pumping catharsis after another. Lucas fights off Jason. Eleven fights off Vecna. Eddie turns to face the swarm as Dustin clambers back into the Upside-Down to help him.
But Eleven isn’t a match for Vecna. He overpowers her, binds her with his ichorous tentacles, and wants her to watch as he strings Max up beside her. The fourth kill, the fourth door, will mean the end of Hawkins and the world. Eleven implores Vecna to stop by invoking papa’s name, but it only prompts backstory. After being banished to the Upside-Down by Eleven, Vecna wandered, exploring, until he eventually found the Mind Flayer and shaped it with his powers, the spidery means by which he could finally become the predator he believed he was born to be. Hawkins will be first, and then the world, and in the ruins of what once was Vecna will build something new in his own image. As he speaks, we see Eddie be taken down by the swarm, Hopper be leaped on by a Demodog, Steven and Nancy be choked tighter by the vines, Lucas be beaten by Jason while Erica brays idly on the door. Are the heroes… losing?
Well, not exactly. It’s Mike who’s able to break through to Eleven, confessing his love for her and begging her to fight. And it’s just in time, too. As we see Max’s arms and legs begin to snap and twist, Lucas fights off Jason, Joyce saves Hopper from the Demodog, Dustin reaches Eddie in the midst of the swarm, and yes, Eleven sends Vecna flying. At the same time, Murray rains hellfire on the demons in the prison, causing the swarm to drop out of the sky and Vecna to writhe in agony. The vines release Nancy, Robin, and Steve, freeing them to enact the flambe phase of the plan, and Hopper picks up a giant broadsword to fight the final remaining Demogorgon. In a couple of huge moments, Steve and Robin cook Vecna’s physical form while Nancy unloads the sawed-off shotgun into him, and Hopper beheads the Demogorgon right in time for the Russians to pick them up.
But there are casualties. One of them is Eddie, who succumbs to the swarm attack after a touching farewell to Dustin. And another is… Max. She suffered too much damage while under Vecna’s sway and dies in Lucas’s arms, her final words that she wasn’t ready. This, of course, is all Vecna needed. The clock chimes four times, and the earth begins to be cleaved asunder, rivers of magma tearing through Hawkins. Eleven, though, isn’t having it. She reaches out to touch Max, and as memories of the two of them swirl around her head, Stranger Things season 4, episode 9 cuts to two days later.
Stranger Things Season 4 ending explained
Mike, Will, Eleven, Jonathan, and Argyle arrive in Hawkins just as everyone else is leaving, fleeing the tendrils of black smoke that have erupted after what the news has dubbed a 7.4 magnitude earthquake, “a natural disaster of nearly unprecedented scale”. Eddie Munson’s satanic Hellfire cult is still being blamed for the murders, and many are theorizing that he’s also to blame for the quake, which some think is a portal straight to Hell. The gang is reunited in the midst of this carnage, and the tone is soured by the fate of Max. She’s alive, but her arms, legs, and presumably back are broken, and she’s comatose — her heart stopped for over a minute, and there’s a chance she might never wake up, despite Lucas sitting ardently by her bedside, reading Stephen King’s The Talisman aloud to her.
The doctors don’t know how Max’s heart restarted. It was a miracle. Of course, we know it was Eleven.
Steve, Robin, and Dustin help out with the community relief efforts. Robin gets to make PB&J sandwiches alongside Vickie, who is newly single, and Dustin gets to tearfully break the news of Eddie’s passing to Mr. Munson, who is still replacing the missing posters that the other townsfolk keep vandalizing with satanic symbols.
Everyone else goes to fix up Hopper’s cabin in the woods. Nancy and Jonathan are still reluctant to say what they really feel to one another. Eleven still feels deeply guilty about what happened to Max, despite the fact that the outcome would have been much worse had she not intervened. And Will, now he’s back in Hawkins, can feel Vecna — hurting, but alive. Looks like there will be another season after all. As if to confirm this, even the touching reunion between Hopper and Eleven is interrupted by chills down the nape of Will’s neck, and ash tumbling from the sky. When Hopper and Joyce take the kids to a nearby hill, they see black clouds coiling, red lightning crackling, and see the town’s beauty and nature begin to wither and die. The Upside-Down is breaking through.
You can stream Stranger Things season 4, episode 9, “Chapter Nine: The Piggyback” exclusively on Netflix. Do you have any thoughts on the Stranger Things Season 4 ending? Let us know in the comments.