Spoilers for Stranger Things season 4, volume 2 below.
At the end of the Stranger Things season 4 finale, it’s frustratingly unclear just how dead Max actually is. Or isn’t. The last we see of her, she’s in the hospital, severely maimed and comatose after her final encounter with Vecna. No one knows when she’ll come back, if at all.
Max has had a tough go of it lately. Wavering between guilt, grief and relief over her stepbrother Billy’s death, in season 4 she becomes a prime target for Vecna, the big bad from the Upside Down who preys on kids haunted by past traumas, infiltrating their minds via their distressing thoughts before killing them in gruesome fashion. Feeling fragile and standoffish (it also didn’t help that she and Lucas broke up or that her best friend, Eleven, moved across the country), Max was marked by Vecna early on. But with the help of the Kate Bush song now stuck in your head for, shall we say, forever—“Running Up That Hill (Deal with God)”—she managed to exercise the villain from her head.
But that Kate Bush cassette could only loop for so long. In the season’s final two episodes, Max and her buddies in Hawkins devise a plan: In a ploy to kill Vecna, she’ll ditch the headphones and invite him into her mind, luring him in with her darkest thoughts. (That way, her friends could kill Vecna in the Upside Down while he was distracted.) Lucas isn’t a big fan of this plan—Vecna isn’t known for displays of mercy—but, collectively, they decide it’s the best move. While within Vecna’s clutches, Max gets a surprise assist from Eleven, who enters Max’s mind using her psychic powers in a makeshift sensory deprivation tank. Though El is all the way in Nevada, she’s able to face Vecna in one of Max’s memories, all in hopes of saving both her friend and the world.
But even the Hawkins crew’s four-phase plan of attack and Eleven’s revived telekinetic blasts are not enough. Vecna holds off Eleven long enough to brutally attack Max in his signature style—she levitates, her eyes go white and bleed, and he snaps her limbs. Eleven regains her strength and pushes Vecna off before he can complete the job, but the damage is already done. In the real world, Max collapses in Lucas’s arms (poor baby was watching this the whole time while fist-fighting a school bully), still conscious and begging not to die. “I’m not ready,” she tells Lucas. Neither are we! Despite Lucas’s pleas for Max to “stay with me,” she goes still. The grandfather clock in the Creel house chimes four times, signaling Vecna’s job is done, and the four gates to the Upside Down he’s opened—one for each murder—split open, carving fault lines through Hawkins.
Eleven, however, will not allow her friend to die. “No,” she says. “You’re not going.” Reaching Max via the sensory deprivation tank (this dark, watery mental realm is also known as the Void), Eleven puts a hand on Max’s chest and recalls their happiest moments together. Two days later, Max is in the hospital, in a coma.
So, did Max die?
Technically, she did—if only for a moment. According to Lucas, the doctors said Max’s heart stopped for over a minute, but then she came back to life. Eleven doesn’t say that she’s responsible for Max’s survival, but Will and Mike flash each other a knowing look to say they’ve figured it out. But what, exactly, did Eleven do? Did she develop new resurrection powers? Did she jump-start Max’s heart with her psychic abilities? Did channeling Max’s happy memories somehow bring her back to life? The theories are bound to be endless. But one thing is certain: Just because Max survived, that doesn’t mean she’s safe. It’s unclear when she’ll wake from her coma. “They say she might not,” Lucas says. And even if she does wake, there’s no guarantee she’ll be the same Max.
Where is Max now?
Physically, she’s in a hospital bed in a coma, with both her arms and legs in casts. But mentally? Well, that’s a different story. When Eleven hops back into the Void to look for Max at the end of the finale, she can’t find her anymore. She screams her name, but the Void is empty. Does that mean Max has died for real this time? Or that her mind has gone completely blank?
Remember, Eleven has used the Void to locate people in the past, both alive (Will) and dead (Barb, RIP). What does it mean if the person she’s searching for is missing from the Void entirely?
These, of course, are big questions to hopefully be answered in season 5, which will be Stranger Things’ last. In addition to Max’s fate, we’re also concerned about Vecna’s whereabouts—he didn’t die in that final standoff when the kids set him on fire. And, considering the closing shot of the finale, the gang will now have to deal with an apocalyptic merge between the Upside Down and real-life Hawkins.
Whether Max makes it to the next season or not (though we really, really hope she does), actress Sadie Sink is content with Max’s season 4 journey. She told ELLE.com back in December, “I’m really happy with where Max’s storyline went for season 4. I think you see a different side of her that I’m really excited to share with everyone.”
Update, July 5:
What will happen to Max in season 5 of Stranger Things?
Sink has no clue yet. “With season five being the last season, I don’t know what they have planned,” she told Deadline.
But she does have hopes for the character, if she survives. “I think she’s at a place where she now really wants to fight,” she told Vulture, imagining Max’s storyline. She later added, “If she’s still out there, she definitely has a lot of rage and a lot of fight in her.”
The Duffers later confirmed that by the end of season 4, Max’s status is: “brain dead, blind, and all of her bones are broken.” But time will tell if her state worsens in the episodes to come.
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