Stranger Things spoilers ahead.
The kids of Stranger Things can’t catch a break but no one felt that more in season four than Max Mayfield.
Played by Sadie Sink, the tough cookie of the squad was preyed upon by Vecna as she mourned the loss of her brother, Billy (Dacre Montgomery), and cut herself off from the friendship group which kept her on steady ground, including ex-boyfriend Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin).
But after essentially sacrificing herself in a failed bid to defeat the Upside Down’s ruling monster, she was left fighting for her life in hospital. The tragedy is, what kind of life will she even have if and when she wakes up from her coma in season five?
There’s no mistaking that Max full-on died for a bit there, completing Vecna’s mission to kill four people, creating four doors between worlds in the process, and unleashing Hell on Earth. The resulting rupture in Hawkins devastated thousands of lives and even literally tore Jason Carver in two (though we can’t say we’re too mad about that).
Related: Stranger Things‘ Sadie Sink reacts to season 4’s big Max twist
Best friend Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) was able to revive her, but the extent of her injuries are unknown as she’s holed up in hospital, broken and bandaged.
A couple of key scenes, however, may have given away that her fate could be even worse: she could have lost all of her memories that saved her the first time around.
This was foreshadowed to Eleven throughout the series, particularly in episode eight, ‘Papa’, where, shortly before his death, Dr Brenner warned the powerful Eleven that her powers and her friendship group’s moxie would not be enough.
“You must understand, when 001 kills, he doesn’t simply kill,” Brenner tells her. “He consumes. He takes everything from his victims. Everything they are, and everything they ever will be. Their memories, their abilities… and we do not know where he’s been these lost years. But if he has survived this long we can only assume he has grown in strength. To underestimate him, to act rashly, is very dangerous.”
Cut to the end of episode nine, where Eleven is teary-eyed while spinning a Coca-Cola bottle around the bedroom in which she shares so many memories of her childhood friend. The reason for this is simple: She knows in some way that her friend is gone, far more gone than the rest of the group realize.
After bringing her back from death, Eleven later visited Max in hospital, and in a way only she could, attempted to communicate with her comatose friend by going into the Void. Previously, this Void has been a saving grace for Max and Eleven, with Elle using it to spy on the boys, and even save her friend from across the country when she needed it the most.
Unfortunately, when Elle gets there this time, all she finds is dark, empty space.
The indication is obvious: her friend is completely gone, and if we take this alongside Brenner’s warning, not only is Max likely blind and bound to face months of recovery after her bones were severely shattered, she will have to replace all of her memories too.
Those adorable Snow Dance scenes with Lucas? The day of girlie shopping for clothes with Elle at the Starcourt Mall? The day she first met the gang, and even that movie date she arranged with Lucas at the end of episode five, just before Vecna got her? They’re all gone, and there is no guarantee that they’ll ever come back.
With this in mind, the person who lies in that hospital bed is a literal shell of that absolute badass we know Max to be, capable of beating all the boys in every arcade game and skateboarding her way through her school halls while listening to Kate Bush.
Even actress Sadie is oblivious to what this means, telling Entertainment Weekly: “I’m not sure where we’re going and what Max’s state is. It’s definitely all up in the air right now.”
The person we’re going to meet in season five will likely be completely different, with Vecna having successfully removed everything that made Max so uniquely wonderful from her body.
But she’s been kept alive for a reason (aside from, as Millie Bobby Brown puts it, “the Duffer brothers being sensitive Sallys and refusing to kill anyone off”). What’s the point of saving a character if they’re going to leave her comatose or have her die later?
There’s always the possibility that she can return if they can find a way to defeat the monster formerly known as Henry.
If there’s a better way to galvanize this ragtag group of world savers, we’d like to hear it. But either way, Max is in for one hell of a difficult ride as Stranger Things goes full steam ahead into its final season.
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