Stranger Things 4‘s new teaser goes back to the beginning by revisiting Matthew Modine’s Dr. Martin Brenner and Hawkins Lab. But while this promo might be a flashback, it’s also an ominous sign for Eleven’s future.
Before Chief Hopper adopted her, Eleven’s “Papa” was Dr. Brenner, director of Hawkins National Laboratory and head of Project MKUltra. That program experimented on children with incredible powers. It’s what led to Eleven accidentally contacting a demogorgon and the Upside Down coming to Indiana. Brenner seemingly died in the season one finale, a victim of that terrible monster. But in season two a former employee promised Eleven and her “sister” Kali that “Papa” was still alive. You don’t have to be Anton Chekhov to know that scene was going to pay off eventually. It’s why we think Brenner might have been season three’s secret villain.
His brief backside appearance in this Stranger Things 4 promo hints at Modine’s return to the show. But it doesn’t guarantee Brenner will return to the current timeline. This teaser appears to be a flashback, possibly one Eleven is experiencing. Either as an actual memory or as a nightmare where she’s back in the room she got her name from. The talented kids at Hawkins lab, who seem to be moving toy cars with their minds, are very young. And the lab itself seems to be in relatively fine shape. Not abandoned or in decay like in season three.
It’s essentially impossible we are seeing a revived program under Brenner’s leadership here. This sequence almost certainly takes place in the past. However, that doesn’t mean his final line and the title of the teaser—“Eleven, Are You Listening?”—are part of that flashback.
Eleven can communicate with, and also listen to, other people across vast distances and dimensions. It’s one of her greatest powers. If Brenner is alive, like the show told us he is, he might be speaking to her now in the present. And he could be anywhere. Him reaching out to her could even be what triggered Eleven’s flashback. If Brenner is talking to her, it raises many possibilities. What does he want from her now? Is he working for the Russians? Is he in trouble? Does he hope to recapture her and continue his program? The answers to these questions will have huge ramifications for Eleven and season four.
We’ll have to wait to find out exactly what is going on. But one thing seems certain: Dr. Martin Brenner is alive somewhere, and he’s not done with Eleven yet.