It’s been three years since our last trip to Hawkins, so it’s not surprising that many of us found ourselves needing a recap of where the Netflix drama left off before diving into Stranger Things 4. But in order to get the most out of the new supersized episodes, it’s not only important to remember the events of season 3, but also Eleven’s life before the main events of season 1 even started.
As Millie Bobby Brown told Jimmy Fallon in early May, Stranger Things season 4 is going “to dig deep into [Eleven’s] beginning, and how she became who she is with the people around her.” The first teaser and the first eight minutes of the season premiere also focus on Eleven’s past, showing flashbacks to her time at Hawkins Lab (and a very violent incident we’ll get into below).
As Stranger Things creeps closer to the fifth and final season, we’re likely to get more concrete answers to all the show’s lingering mysteries, and details about Eleven’s origins are high on our need-to-know list. The last time Stranger Things focused heavily on her past was season 2, which aired way back in 2017, so you’re not alone if you’ve forgotten the crumbs the Duffer brothers have already 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.
To help prepare you for Stranger Things 4, we’ve rounded up everything we already know about Eleven’s past, from what happened to her biological parents to her first brush with the Upside Down.
Eleven’s mother was a test subject in MKUltra
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
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 may or may not have committed mass murder when she was eight
Netflix released the first eight minutes of the season 4 premiere, and it showed us the most shocking look into Eleven’s past yet. Set in 1979, the clip shows Brenner arriving at the Rainbow Room, where he asks one of the young test subjects to come with him for more “lessons.” The tests are interrupted, however, by the sounds of screams and blaring alarms, and Brenner is soon knocked unconscious when the door flies off its hinges and slams into him.
When Brenner comes to, he discovers that everyone in the lab has been gruesomely murdered. Everyone, that is, except a visibly angry Eleven, who is covered in blood. Brenner understandably assumes Eleven is the one who slaughtered the staff and children. After all, she did kill a guard the year before, and we’ve seen Eleven struggle with violence as an anger response several times. But is Eleven really capable of that, or was she just a witness to the awful crime? This is a big mystery that we’re hoping Stranger Things doesn’t wait until part 2 to solve.
Eleven unwittingly opened the gate to the Upside Down
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 has been presumed dead since 1983
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, when Eleven and Kali met Ray Carroll, he told them Brenner was alive and he knew where to find him.