Stranger Things is back and bigger than ever with the stakes dialled up to eleven (the pun obviously intended). A new and ruthless foe named Vecna has emerged from the Upside Down — another Dungeons & Dragons reference like the Demogorgon — who uses his telepathic powers to dishevel and literally devour his victims from within.
Labelled Vecna’s Curse by Dustin and the gang, his process of targetting victims is an elaborate one based in psychological trauma and we’re here to explore in detail exactly how it works:
The ideal targets
Initially, when Vecna claims Chrissy and Fred, his attacks seem randomised. It is in episode 4, “Dear Billy”, that we are told the conditions for his choices when Max realises she’s next. All of the victims see visions of a certain grandfather clock, signifying that their time is ticking.
He goes after teenagers who have experienced or are still facing mentally traumatic situations in life that weaken their conscience and make them susceptible to manipulation. He taps into the darkest corners of their brains and instills a relentless fear that stems from negative emotions like guilt and sadness.
For Chrissy it is hinted to be family troubles, for Fred it is a car accident that resulted in someone’s death and for Max, it is witnessing Billy being killed by the Mind Flayer in season 3.
Based on these factors, he then targets a kid named Patrick (suggested to have experienced domestic abuse) and eventually Nancy — who still has residual guilt for Barb’s death.
When Max, along with the others, breaks into the school shrink’s office, she realises that both Chrissy and Fred were seeing her as well.
Using the notes in their files and her own experiences as references, she deduces that the target first gets unbearable headaches, followed by nightmares that don’t let them sleep, forcing them to wake up in cold sweats.
Lastly, Vecna shows them terrible visions that malevolently amplify their traumatic experiences and they get worse with each passing day. This lasts for approximately a week before the final blow is struck.
During the visions, the victim finds their conscience to be inside the Upside Down while in the real world they stay stationary in a trance, with their eyes rolled back into their head.
Vecna finally makes himself visible to the target inside the vision and chases them as they struggle to evade him. As he catches up to them, he presses his hand onto their face, consuming their life force.
In the real world, the victim’s body floats into the air, as Vecna snaps their bones and devours their innards, leaving them mutilated and looking like a shrivelled husk. He does this as all his attacks mimic his first telepathic kill, his own mother, back when he was a human child.
In the same episode, Nancy and Robin cleverly infiltrate the mental institution where Victor Creel — the only known survivor of Vecna’s curse — is admitted.
A war veteran, he lets them know of the time when he moved into his new house in Hawkins during the ’50s and started experiencing supernatural events. His tale is harrowing and explains the death of his entire family.
Although he doesn’t conclusively tell them how he survived, based on certain cues from his story, the duo hypothesises that music is the only way to get through to a victim in trance.
They relay this info to Dustin, who, with Lucas and Steve in tow, tries it out on Max as she is on the verge of death. Inside Max’s head, a doorway opens into the real world from within the Upside Down as her favourite song blares through her ears.
She manages to escape Vecna and break her hypnotic state, confirming the effectiveness of music in surviving the entity.
Vecna’s powers also include opening doorways between worlds with every kill. His history, identity and intentions are eventually revealed towards the end of volume 1 which concludes with episode 7.
There are still questions about why he suddenly started killing and why was he dormant for so many years, but for that we will have to wait for the final episodes that will premiere on July 1.