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Everything Stranger Things has revealed about Eleven’s past so far

A helpful guide ahead of season 4 part 2

Eleven (played by Millie Bobby Brown) sits at a table staring straight ahead while wearing a cap of wires on her head. A can of coke sits on the table to the left of her. Netflix
Sadie Gennis is the managing editor of Polygon. She’s been covering TV and entertainment for nearly 15 years, with her work appearing in TV Guide, Variety, and Vulture.

Stranger Things 4 was a reminder that sometimes you have to go backwards to learn how to move forwards. Season four part 1 of the Netflix drama heavily featured flashbacks to Eleven’s past, revealing ways that her time at Hawkins Lab are tied to the new monster, Vecna, as well as how they’ve shaped the person she’s becoming today.

As Stranger Things creeps closer to the fifth and final season, we’re likely to get even more concrete answers to all the show’s lingering mysteries, and details about Eleven’s origins are high on our need-to-know list. Stranger Things 4 was the first big step toward unraveling this mystery since season 2, which aired way back in 2017, so you’re not alone if you’ve forgotten the previous crumbs the Duffer brothers have left behind. Plus, there’s the 2019 prequel novel, Suspicious Minds, which revealed a lot of information about her parents that you wouldn’t know if you’ve only watched the show.

Ahead of Stranger Things 4 part 2, we’ve rounded up everything we already know about Eleven’s past, from what happened to her biological parents to her relationship with Vecna.

[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for the end of Stranger Things 4 part 1.]

Eleven’s mother was a test subject in MKUltra

Eleven’s mother Terry Ives (played by Aimee Mullins) sits in a rocking chair looking exhausted and staring out into space. Image: Netflix

Eleven’s mother, Terry Ives, was one of the test subjects in MKUltra, which was a real-life CIA-sanctioned program in which the government conducted mind control experiments on people. In the series, college student Terry joined the program in 1969 under Dr. Brenner’s supervision. She was then subjected to experiments that included being submerged in sensory deprivation tanks and having to take psychedelic drugs.

Terry didn’t know that she was pregnant at the time with her and her boyfriend Andrew Rich’s baby. If the name Andrew Rich doesn’t register for you, that’s because his identity was only revealed in Suspicious Minds. Poor Andrew, though, never even got the chance to learn he was going to be a dad, since he died fighting in the Vietnam War. However, Andrew’s death wasn’t a complete accident. Dr. Brenner had orchestrated getting Andrew expelled from college, therefore making him eligible for the draft — a move which not only served to frighten and punish Terry, but to make it even easier for Brenner to take their daughter away.

Dr. Brenner abducted Eleven at birth

As soon as Terry gave birth, Brenner kidnapped the baby, stripped her of her birth name (Jane), and turned her into test subject 011. Brenner insisted on Eleven calling him “Papa,” making her see him as a father figure and therefore making her easier to manipulate.

In order to foster Eleven’s natural psychic abilities, she was constantly experimented on and punished harshly when she failed their tests, often being placed in solitary confinement. Eleven was severely traumatized by these experiences, and in 1978, she lashed out and used her powers to kill a guard who had been trying to lock her up. Rather than punish Eleven for the murder, Brenner responded with affection and pride in the way she was mastering her abilities.

Eleven and Kali were playmates at Hawkins Lab

Kali (played by Linnea Berthelsen) and Eleven (played by Millie Bobby Brown) stand side by side in a graffiti covered loft. Photo: Netflix

Hawkins Lab allowed Eleven and the other test subjects to play together in the Rainbow Room, which is how Eleven met Kali Prasad (Eight). Terry also met Kali at Hawkins Lab when the young girl was only 5 years old. When Eleven finally met Terry in season 2, her mother shared a vision of El and Kali together as children. This vision convinced Eleven that Terry wanted her to find Kali, which is why Eleven tracked her down in Chicago in season 2.

Terry was tortured after trying to get Eleven back

Brenner covered up Eleven’s kidnapping by making it look as though Terry miscarried. While everyone else — including Terry’s sister Becky — bought the story, Terry knew her daughter was alive. Terry tried to sue Brenner and the government for stealing her child, but the case was dismissed. Seeing no other option, an armed Terry stormed Hawkins Lab in 1974 to get Eleven back. Terry managed to find Eleven and Kali playing in the Rainbow Room, but before she could escape with her daughter, Terry was captured by lab workers.

Brenner then had the orderly Ray Carroll forcibly administer electroshock therapy to Terry until she experienced severe brain damage and was left in a largely catatonic state. As a result, Terry was left repeating the same words describing the events of Eleven’s birth through her own torture: “breathe” (what Becky said when Terry went into labor); “sunflower” (the first thing she saw after the C-section); “rainbow” (the room where she found Eleven); “Three to the right. Four to the left,” (the combination to the safe where she kept her gun); and “450” (the voltage of the electroshock therapy).

In 1984, when Eleven discovered what had happened to her mother, she and Kali’s gang hunted down Ray and assaulted him in his home as revenge. Though Kali wanted to kill him, Eleven insisted on leaving him alive.

Eleven was bullied by the other kids at Hawkins Lab.

Though the Eleven we met in season 1 was incredibly powerful, she struggled greatly with her abilities for many years growing up. As a result, some of the other test subjects, led by the eldest, Two, saw her as an easy target and bullied her. But in 1979, during a group exercise in which the test subjects went up against each other to see who was stronger, Eleven managed to beat Two. As retribution for embarrassing him, Two and his lackeys beat El up and gave her a concussion. Eleven refused to report them, but it was pretty easy for Brenner to figure out what really happened. Brenner punished Two by putting an electric shock collar on him and torturing him in front of the other children. Afterwards, Two vowed to get revenge by killing Eleven, though he’d never get the opportunity to follow through with his plan.

Eleven and One were allies before he became Vecna.

A young Eleven stands covered in blood glowering in front of a two-way mirror in the Rainbow Room at Hawkins Lab. Image: Netflix

In 1979, an orderly approached Eleven in the Rainbow Room and began to help her, sharing tips on how to harness her abilities and revealing ways that Brenner was manipulating her. What Eleven didn’t know at the time was that the orderly was actually Henry Creel, also known as Brenner’s first test subject, One.

After Two threatened to kill El, One told her that Brenner had been enabling the bullying because he was frightened of her power and couldn’t easily control her. One warned that if Eleven didn’t run away immediately, she’d be killed, and so he showed her the drain pipe that she could use to escape the lab. However, Eleven didn’t want to leave without One and used her powers to remove what she thought was a tracking chip from his neck. What she had, in fact, removed was a chip that stopped One from being able to use his powers. As soon as the inhibitor was removed, One began brutally killing everyone in Hawkins Lab (although Brenner did manage to survive).

Eleven was horrified when she saw what One did. But One, who had always seen himself in Eleven, tried explaining his reasoning to her and still wanted to move forward as allies. Eleven refused and the pair began a fight to the death, which Eleven won by using the tip One previously shared with her — to draw power from a memory. Rather than draw from a memory that made her upset, as One recommended, Eleven found her power in a happy memory of her mother. Fueled by this memory, Eleven made her final attack and pushed One into the Upside Down, where he was transformed into Vecna.

Eleven unwittingly opened the gate to the Upside Down

Even though One had shown her how to escape, Eleven chose to stay at Hawkins Lab after the massacre, where she continued her lessons with Brenner. In 1983, once Eleven had developed her eavesdropping powers enough, Brenner instructed her to spy on a Russian agent. While doing this, Eleven heard the Demogorgon for the first time. Ever the mad scientist, Brenner instructed Eleven to make contact with the creature again. This time, she was able to see the Demogorgon viciously devouring one of its victims. When a curious and frightened Eleven reached forward and touched the Demogorgon, the gate to the Upside Down in Hawkins Lab opened, allowing the monster to cross over into our world. While the Demogorgon was massacring everyone it could, Eleven took the opportunity to escape through a drain pipe and was discovered later that day by Mike, Dustin, and Lucas.

Dr. Brenner was presumed dead for three years.

After Eleven ran away from Hawkins Lab, Brenner split his time between searching for her and investigating the gate to the Upside Down. Shortly after Brenner finally caught Eleven at the school, he was attacked by the Demogorgon and seemingly killed, leading to the far kinder Dr. Owens taking over as the Hawkins Lab director. However, Brenner survived the attack (again) and continued his work as part of The Nina Project, which allowed Eleven to re-experience her past, remember her relationship with One, and possibly even regain her powers.

Stranger Things 4 part 2 premieres July 1 on Netflix.

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