Season 4 (Volume 1 and 2) of “Stranger Things” gave us an insight into the motives, yearnings, aspirations, and impulses of Dr. Martin Brenner. Where Season 1 established him as an out-and-out villain, Season 4 made sure that it takes us inside the convoluted core of the character and excavates the hidden agendas and philosophies that add an extra layer to it. Sometimes you perceive him as a callous scientist, whose actions would make your spine shiver, and sometimes you are forced to see the humane side where he is being all gentle and concerned. Analogous to reality, the character of Dr. Brenner cannot be defined only by using a monochromatic yardstick, as it encapsulates various shades and travels through various frequencies and wavelengths. Dr. Brenner, at the end of “Stranger Things,” Season 4, Chapter 8, gives his defense and tells Eleven what he actually wanted to do. It was a battle of narratives for Brenner, but for Eleven, the facts spoke for themselves. The words spoken by Dr. Brenner had a certain amount of persuasive power that at least sowed a seed of doubt, if not completely swayed you in his favor. At times, his actions were in complete contrast to his demeanor, and it was difficult to understand whether this individual was good or bad. It was important for Brenner that Eleven did not see him as an evil person. He had formulated this conjecture that, at the end, when the whole mystery unfolded, his subjects would realize that whatever he did was for their safety and betterment. The time finally comes at the end of Season 4, chapter 8, where the infamous scientist looks desperately at a girl, who has now found a sense of belongingness and identity, and asks for her validation. He tries to convince her and gives her all sorts of reasons, but the girl has learned to trust her gut. When words are misleading, actions are conflicting, and conscious reasoning seems to fail you, then all you are left with is an innate feeling that becomes the source of intuition, that never thumps its reckoning, but silently slides within your subconscious, hoping that you will trust it.
Dr. Martin Brenner: A Self-Proclaimed ‘Papa’
When Terry Ives gave birth to Jane, the latter was taken away by Dr. Brenner. He didn’t do it because he was concerned about a mentally unstable woman bringing up a new baby. But because the baby had psychic abilities and Brenner knew it could be a valuable resource for his ongoing experiments. Terry even tried to get Jane back, but Brenner had institutional and governmental backing, and for a woman already suffering from various mental health issues, it was impossible to prove in the court of law that she didn’t have a miscarriage, but her baby was abducted by a renowned scientist. Brenner also snatched all his subjects’ identities. He gave them numeric names according to the chronology of their arrival in Hawkins’ laboratory. The subjects, whom he called his children, didn’t know where they came from and didn’t know anything about their roots. In his lab, everybody had to obey his commands, and if they didn’t, they had to face severe consequences. Every parent wants their child to listen to them, and often we see that disciplinary actions are taken if the child acts out. But Brenner was known to resort to punitive measures that would scare a child for life. It meant that he didn’t care about their life, but the goal that he wanted to achieve through them. For him, harnessing their powers and making them realize their full potential was the main agenda. He didn’t care if, in the process, the child had a traumatizing experience. As a matter of fact, Eleven was probably the most favored subject, after One, but still, that was not out of love, care, or concern. Dr. Brenner knew that Eleven was different from the rest. She was powerful. Brenner wanted all his subjects to refer to him as Papa, and he thought himself to be the necessary evil, but as a matter of fact, the subjects would have had a much better life if Dr. Martin Brenner had not been there. Yes, they might have never known what they were capable of, but instead of the remunerative affection, they would have been brought up with unconditional love, something that they craved for while taking orders from a rasping voice in a ruthless and unforgiving facility.
Is Dr. Brenner Dead or Alive?
There are two emotions that are central to the character of Dr. Brenner: guilt and obsession, which come out quite evidently in “Stranger Things,” Season 4, Chapter 8. Eleven reveals the real motive behind the Bath Experiment, in which she was put in a sensory deprivation tank by Dr. Brenner. All this while, she had been thinking that Brenner wanted her to be useful to the intelligence agencies of the country and find out about the Soviet spies, but in reality, he just wanted to find out about the first subject of the facility; Henry Creel a.k.a Vecna a.k.a One. Brenner knew about the exceptional powers of the boy, and that is why he took him into his facility after a young Henry murdered his mother and sister. Henry’s father, who survived the wrath, was accused by the authorities and was sent to Pennhurst mental asylum to rot his whole life. When Henry Creel went into the Upside Down after combat with Eleven in the year 1979, Brenner held himself responsible for not being able to look after the boy. He felt guilty as he believed that he had failed in his duties. His obsession didn’t stop even after he knew that Henry was Vecna and was responsible for taking the lives of innocent people in Hawkins. Brenner was never concerned about the well-being of his so-called children. He cared about the results. He was adamant about making them go through strenuous and traumatizing exercises so that they could realize their full potential.
In “Stranger Things,” Season 4, Eleven is brought to the secret facility by Dr. Owens so that she gets her power back and gives them an equal opportunity to fight the mighty Vecna. Dr. Owens had promised her that the facility was not a prison and that she could leave as per her whims and fancies. But unrestrained freedom was considered a threat by Brenner. He knew that if he had left it up to the subjects, then he wouldn’t have been able to make the progress he had made up until now. He asks his men to confine Dr. Owens, as he thought that the latter lacked the heart and will to do the needful. He even incarcerated Eleven, but an untimely intervention by Lieutenant Colonel Jack Sullivan spoiled his plans. He was forced to go out of the underground facility, where he was running the Nina project. Brenner is shot by Sullivan’s men, and while taking his last breaths, he puts forth what he believed to be his noble intentions. He tells Eleven that all he wanted to do was to safeguard her and children like her who had special abilities and powers. In his patented, soft-spoken, and gentle manner, he pleads, as if asking for her validation, but Eleven could not overlook his monstrosity. Brenner was ready to go to any extent, and somehow he believed that his barbaric acts were an inevitable part of the humanitarian plan that followed a model of rectitude. But Eleven understood him better than he did. She knew that he was a selfish man, and his priorities had become blatantly clear over a period of time. She abstains from giving hom solace in his death. No doubt, Brenner was proud of Eleven, but he was wrong in saying that she was his family. He was not lying when he said so, but his concept of kinship was flawed. Eleven had understood what family meant. She knew how being in love felt after being with Mike. She had a father, but it was not Dr. Brenner but a cop from Hawkins, Indiana, named Jim Hooper.
Dr. Brenner died outside the facility where Project Nina was located. Maybe the doctor always believed that what he did was right, and blamed himself for Henry Creel going into the upside-down dimension, but what he didn’t realize was that his passion had taken the form of an obsession the moment he let an innocent man be punished for the crimes he didn’t commit, only so that he could push the psychic and telepathic abilities of the gifted human minds.