‘Stranger Things 4’ Episode 5 Recap: ‘The Nina Project’ Gives Audiences Hopper’s Backstory

Stranger Things 4 Episode 5, “The Nina Project,” features one of the best-kept secrets of this season. Let’s get to it with this episode’s most significant plot points.

[WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for Stranger Things 4 Episode 5, “The Nina Project.”]

A production still from 'The Nina Project' featuring Eduardo Franco as Argyle.
Eduardo Franco as Argyle in ‘The Nina Project’ | Cr. Courtesy of Netflix

Meanwhile, in California…

The California storyline gives us the least amount of “serious” material of all the plots this season. Sure, we just watched men shoot up the Byers’ house, effectively killing two of the agents assigned to protect Jonathan, Mike, and Will. However, the group hasn’t had that much to do other than that.

When we meet up with the Surfer Boy Pizza group in “The Nina Project,” they speed down a desert highway trying to escape the men shooting at them and keep one of the agents alive. His final words involve “Nina” and “the girl.” He hands Mike a pen and says something about a number. The pen doesn’t work, however, and the man dies before he can explain. 

When they’re burying his body, Mike and Will have a heart-to-heart, and Will mentions how hard it is to tell people about their feelings when they’re important to you. This conversation finally gives some solid footing to the theory so many of us have known for years. Will is gay, and it appears he’s in love with Mike. However, Mike returning his love seems unlikely, but that’s something everyone will have to watch play out for themselves.

Mike finally realizes that the number the agent meant for Eleven rests inside the pen. When they get to a payphone and call the number, they realize it calls a modem. Of course, in 1986, the only other place most people had heard that sound was in the movie War Games, so Will deduces they’re calling a computer. Mike convinces everyone they need Suzie, Dustin’s girlfriend who lives in Utah, to solve the problem, and the four of them head to Suzie’s house, where she uses her hacker skills to give them an answer on Nina’s location.

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Vecna takes another life in ‘The Nina Project’

Nancy awakes at home to find Max as she draws her vision of Vecna’s Mind Lair. Nancy realizes if she folds the drawings together, it forms the Creel house. Max, Dustin, Steve, Robin, Nancy, and Lucas go to investigate. Jason and the jocks are on a witch hunt for Eddie because they believe he killed Chrissy. Steve finds some spiders in the Creel house, and he and Nancy have a conversation about going out with him and Robin when he gets back, even though he clarifies he’s not dating Robin. The lights start flickering, and Nancy thinks that Vecna is communicating with the flashlights. The jocks find Reefer Rick’s house, but no Eddie, until Jason notices a door to a shed behind the house cracked open. Patrick hears the ominous grandfather clock, and the guys head to the lake, where they see Eddie escaping in a boat.

Everyone’s flashlights flicker at the Creel house once they get to the attic. The camera slowly spins upside down to show Vecna in the middle of a spider web of vines. Vecna kills Patrick in the water. The cameras return to the Creel house as Patrick dies, where everyone’s flashlight explodes from Vecna’s power.

Joyce, Murray, and Hopper deal with a different set of issues

Held captive by Yuri on a plane to Russia, Murray uses his karate skills to fight Yuri. Joyce tells Murray not to knock Yuri out because he’s the only one who knows how to fly the plane. Murray doesn’t listen, and it looks like the two of them are in quite a pickle by the end of “The Nina Project.”

In Russian, the guards throw Hopper and Dmitri into a cell together. Audiences finally learn more about Hopper’s backstory. When he was 18, the Army recruited him for the Chemical Corp. There he cleaned out barrels containing Agent Orange, not realizing the risks of the chemical. When he returned home, his friends who served with him began to suffer from different medical disorders. Their children died, and Hopper blames himself for his daughter Sara’s death. He mentions how everyone believes Hawkins is cursed, but he thinks he’s cursed.

Eleven’s past resurfaces in ‘The Nina Project’

Dr. Owens arrives at the place that houses the Nina Project, and it’s a creepy abandoned missile silo in the middle of the desert. Remember the door in the middle of nowhere everyone saw in the teasers? Well, the Nina Project lives inside there. 

When Owens and Eleven walk in, several scientists greet them. Owens shows Eleven a giant tank with the word “Nina” painted on it, and suddenly Eleven hears a voice from the past she likely never wanted to hear again. Dr. Martin Brenner returns, so it looks like he survived that Demogorgon hug in the first season, after all. A minor scar on his face is all he has to show for it. (Not nearly enough, if you ask us.)

Eleven tries to escape, but the guards stop her, and without her powers, she’s helpless. A nurse injects her with a sedative while “Papa” cuddles her in his arms. When she wakes up, her head is shaved, and she’s in a hospital gown. Eleven gets stuck in a loop of seeing the same room and the same orderly repeatedly before finally seeing a reflection of herself in a camera. While audiences see her as a teenage Eleven, the reflection staring back is one of a very young Eleven. We then learn she’s in the Nina tank, and Brenner and Owens are working together to get her to remember something in particular, but we don’t know what. 

In another memory, we watch as the children try to use their powers, but Eleven has trouble. Dr. Brenner whispers that all the other kids are laughing at her because they think she’s weak. Suddenly, she looks down at her hands, and they’re covered in blood, but there are still memories missing. As Eleven goes into cardiac arrest, Brenner brings her out of the tank, but she uses this as another chance to escape. The guards try to grab her again, but her powers come back this time, and she blasts them off of her. However, that’s all she can do, and she’s helpless once again. The door opens behind her as Brenner walks up, signaling she can leave if she wants, but instead, she takes his hand and says, “Papa.” He replies, “Daughter,” and the credits roll.

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