The Dark History of STRANGER THINGS 4’s Vecna

We explored the history of Dungeons & Dragons Vecna prior to Stranger Things 4‘s premiere on Netflix. But we were not prepared for the show’s version of the character to have such a sordid and personal history with Hawkins, Indiana. We also didn’t expect to learn he’s been responsible for all of the sinister events haunting that little town. The horror series’ newest villain was a monster before Eleven sent him to the Upside Down. But how did a young boy destroy his family, become Dr. Martin Brenner’s most dangerous test subject, and end up as the dark dimension’s ultimate leader? Here’s the entire sinister story of Stranger Things 4‘s Vecna.

A Troubled Henry Creel Moves to Hawkins

The Creel Family smiles outside their new home in Hawkins on Stranger Things 4

Stranger Things 4 revealed that Vecna was not always a hideous beast of the Upside Down. Vecna was actually once a troubled child in the real world named Henry Creel. Henry’s “problems” caused his family to move to Hawkins in 1959. However, the exact issues that led to the relocation are unclear. Victor Creel told Robin and Nancy his son was “sensitive.” Meanwhile, when speaking to Eleven in the lab, Henry said “something was wrong” with him. “All the teachers and the doctors said I was broken.” Unable to find help for their child, his parents thought “a change of scenery, a fresh start in Hawkins, might just cure” whatever it was that ailed their son. Instead the town became the site of their doom.

Not long after moving into their new house Henry found a nest of black widow spiders. With that discovery came a new “sense of purpose” that showed how dark the young boy’s soul was before he killed his family. Those spiders helped Henry understand what it was he hated about life and people. Here’s what he told Eleven of his epiphany:

Most people fear spiders. They detest them. And yet I found them endlessly fascinating. More than that I found a great comfort in them – a kinship. Like me they are solitary creatures and deeply misunderstood. They are gods of our world, the most important of all predators. They immobilize and feed on the weak, bringing balance and order to an unstable ecosystem. But the human world was disrupting this harmony. You see, humans are a unique type of pest, multiplying and poisoning our world all while enforcing a structure of their own. A deeply unnatural structure. Where others saw order I saw a straight jacket, a cruel oppressive world dictated by made up rules. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades – each life a faded lesser copy of the one before. Wake up, eat, work, sleep, reproduce, and die.

Young Henry Creel sits at his desk on Stranger Things 4

Henry, though only just a child, thought humans didn’t truly live because they were beholden to the endless march of time. He believed people simply waited to die “while performing in a silly terrible play, day after day.” He could not live like that and refused to. And one day, when his anger and rage unlocked his terrible powers, he realized he didn’t have to. Henry was able to make his own “rules” and “restore balance” to a world he saw as broken. That’s when he decided he would be a predator, “but for good.”

A Demon Destroys the Creel Family

Alice Creel discovers a dead rabbit on Stranger Things 4

The more Henry used his powers, the more of them he unlocked. His telekinetic ability let him kill living things from the inside out. And the desire to kill more than just small animals came when he realized he “could reach into” the minds of people and see their darkest secrets. The more he explored others the more he realized that people, like “everything else in this world,” were “all a lie, a terrible lie.”

While Henry haunted his family with nightmare visions and dead rabbits, Victor Creel thought a demon, an “evil neither animal nor human,” a “spawn of Satan,” had cursed him and his family for something terrible Victor had accidentally done during World War II. He also said the demon “took pleasure” in torturing them, even Victor’s innocent young daughter Alice. But Henry said his mother Virginia somehow knew the truth, that it was him terrorizing the family. She wanted the help of an expert doctor, who Henry said would lock him up and “fix” him.

A dejected Victor Creel stands at his front door in front of his kids' bodies on Stranger Things 4

Henry had no intentions of ending up that doctor’s patient. Instead he decided to “break free” by killing his mother and sister and framing his father for the murders. His horrible plan nearly worked, too. But while he grew stronger and more powerful with each kill, he was “still a child” and didn’t know the limits of his powers. Henry’s attack on his family nearly killed him.

Victor Creel believed his son died a week after that fateful night. But when Henry woke up from his coma he was already in the care of that very doctor he had hoped to avoid, Martin Brenner.

Henry Creel Becomes Martin Brenner’s #1 Patient

Dr. Martin Brenner tattoos 001 on Henry Creel on Stranger Things 4

For 20 years Henry Creel remained the ward/employee/prisoner of Dr. Martin Brenner at Hawkins Lab. Like Eleven, Henry’s time under Papa’s “care” was anything but loving. But the two powerful kids’ experiences are not wholly similar. Here’s what Henry, who became test subject 001 under Brenner, told Eleven about the creation of Brenner’s super power children group:

The truth is he did not just want to study me, he wanted more. He wanted to control. When Papa finally realized he could not control me, he tried to recreate me. He began a program and soon others were born.

Henry’s powers directly led to the program that caused Jane/Eleven to be taken from her real mother. Dr. Martin Brenner saw the potential power of Henry Creel. But, since the nihilistic and sadistic Henry was too lost in his own evil to ever fully bring under his thumb, Brenner hoped to mold and shape his own human weapons from the beginning of their lives. As far as the other kids knew, though, One was long gone before any of them showed up at the Lab.

One smiles at Eleven on Stranger Things 4

Meanwhile, Brenner did manage to keep Henry locked up even if he couldn’t control Henry’s powers. He placed a tracker in Henry’s neck, which even Henry, now known as Peter Ballard, could not remove on his own. That device not only kept Henry in the lab, it weakened him, making him unable to use his talents. Far too old for the program, but far too dangerous to let go, One became an orderly where his “siblings” never knew he was their older “brother.” His general obedience does reveal something important about him, though. Despite his hatred for human existence, Henry wanted to live. He simply bided his time, even when it meant torture for giving Eleven advice. And he saw the possibility for escape when he realized the extent of Eleven’s untapped potential.

One manipulated Eleven into plotting her own escape, which also involved getting her to remove the device in his neck. (Henry, however, did not tell Eleven the truth when he said Brenner wanted her dead. Brenner often lied, but his actions towards Eleven were about control and unlocking her powers, not killing her. Brenner was a bad man, but in his own way he did love his “kids.”) Once freed of his chains, One went on a killing spree, murdering nearly everyone in the lab, including the kids. He did not want to murder Eleven, though.

a bloodied One talks to Eleven in Hawkins Lab on Stranger Things 4

The Henry who once found power in solidarity had plans for them to work together. Henry made an offer to Eleven to join him in his ominous quest to free mankind of its status quo.

To your Papa you are nothing more than a monster, a lab rat to be tamed. But the truth, Eleven, the truth is just the opposite. You are better than they are – superior. That is why you frighten them. If you come with me for the first time in your life you will be free. Imagine what we can do together. We could reshape the world, remake it however we see fit. Join me.

Eleven not only refused to join him, she attacked Henry. And she would have suffered the same fate as all his other victims if not for the advice One had previously given her.

Eleven Sends One to the Upside Down

One turns to dust as Eleven sends him to the Upside Down on Stranger Things 4

Victor Creel told Robin and Nancy “all evil must have a home.” He was right, but what he didn’t know was that the Upside Down had become the home of his evil son. While Henry had Eleven in the air, ready to twist her body apart as he had his other victims, she remembered what One had told her previously about unleashing her power.

Henry “had found his strength in a memory from his past, something that made him sad, but also angry.” For Eleven that was the memory of her mother being dragged away from her.

One's tattoo on Vecna's arm on Stranger Things 4

And as she pulled all her rage and her pain from deep within her soul, Eleven not only overpowered One, she sent him to another dimension. She opened a portal to the Upside Down, which sucked Henry Creel in. There the dark mirror world ripped apart his skin as it began to remake him into something sinister and twisted. But it was a transformation Henry Creel welcomed.

One Becomes an Explorer in the Upside Down (And Then Becomes Vecna)

The twisted yet mostly still human form of Henry Creel walking through the Upside Down

One initially believed Eleven had killed him and sent him to purgatory. But he soon realized she had banished him somewhere entirely new, a realm unspoiled by mankind. There he became an “explorer” who saw “so many things.” Then one day he found “the most extraordinary thing of all, something that would change everything.” He found the dark particles that would become the Mind Flayer.

That floating, swirling mass offered Henry “the means to reach his potential, to transcend” his human form and become “the predator he was always” meant to be. He became the leader of the Upside Down.

Henry Creel gazes upon the Mind Flayer in the Upside Down on Stranger Things 4

That realm’s hive mind is Henry’s mind. That means Vecna, Henry Creel, One, and the Mind Flayer are all the same creature, and they have been responsible for every attack on Hawkins. Vecna sent the Demogorgons and Demodogs to the real world, just as he sent the Mind Flayer.

Vecna Looks For a Way Back

photo of Vecna in Stranger Things 4

One, whose human form completely transformed into Vecna over the years, hasn’t been attacking Eleven and Hawkins simply out of revenge. In some ways he is grateful to her, because she gave him what he wanted. He exists in a world without time or order as he wished. But that didn’t fulfill his purpose to reshape life as he wanted. To achieve that he needed a way back into the real world.

He thought he found it when Eleven, who had no memory of their past together, made contact with a Demogorgon. Brenner had her searching in the darkness in the name of fighting the Russians, but in reality he had her searching for Henry, whom he still loved. That portal, and the subsequent others that opened in Hawkins Lab, did not offer a pathway back for Vecna. Eleven kept closing those doors between dimensions before he could use them. So he decided he needed to open them himself.

Vecna attacked Hawkins with the Mind Flayer. While it seemed as though the kids had defeated the creature’s physical form at Starcourt Mall, they had lost without knowing it. Vecna used the attack to steal Eleven’s powers. With them he found a way back into Hawkins.

One Steals Eleven’s Powers

An Upside Down monster from Stranger Things 4

Just as Henry could see into the minds of others, from the Upside Down Vecna can still see into people. The vines of the dark dimension, which have made their way to the real world, connect directly into his body. They let him see into people for who they really are and the pain they carry with them.

By attacking those who have experienced terrible trauma, especially individuals who feel responsible for the death of another, he can put them in a trance where they are all but defenseless. (Max only escaped the first time when her friends played her favorite song. It pulled her out of Vecna’s hypnotic state and let her run free of the Upside Down back into her own dimension.) When Vecna kills someone they don’t just die, though. It’s more horrifying than that. They remain a part of him, same as when he was still human.

Vecna holds a tied up Eleven's chin on Stranger Things 4

His murder spree opened small gate between worlds at the spot of each person’s death. But he only needed four victims to truly split the border between dimensions apart. Max’s death, though brief, was enough for Vecna to cut four giant lines through Hawkins, which is now fully exposed to the Upside Down. That falling “snow” was the start of the dark realm’s attack on Hawkins.

The vision Vecna showed Nancy told us what might come next. An army of monsters will follow, as the real Hawkins is totally destroyed. It will leave a trail of dead soldiers and loved ones. Those creatures will then move on to the rest of the world. That is unless Eleven can find enough power to not only close the door between dimensions for good, but to defeat Henry Creel forever.

The Stranger Things Play, The First Shadow, Promises to Shed More Light on Henry Creel and Vecna’s Origins

As we wait to see what will become of Vecna, Stranger Things is delving even deeper into Henry Creel’s origins in a stage play called Stranger Things: The First Shadow. This Stranger Things play will serve as a canon addition to the world of the series and will center Henry Creel’s journey toward becoming Number 001 and eventually Vecna.

In a teaser for the play, Netflix reveals that at the heart of Stranger Things: The First Shadow is Henry Creel’s budding romance with Patty Newby, Bob Newby’s sister. This is the first we’ve heard of Vecna/Henry/001 having had any kind of romantic interest or love story, but it will be interesting to see how it impacts Vecna’s story as a whole. Additionally, the Stranger Things play will tell the story of how Henry Creel became Number 001 and serve to add more details to the origin story of the Upside Down. Hopefully Netflix will allow everyone to experience this tale, whether or not they can make it to London. It certainly seems like it will shed a lot of light on every part of Henry Creel’s history and his journey to become Stranger Things‘ greatest villain Vecna.

This post originally published on May 27, 2022.

Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at  @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.

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