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Dr. Martin Brenner, portrayed by Matthew Modine, is a major character in the first and fourth seasons of Stranger Things. Brenner also makes a cameo appearance in the show's second season.

Brenner, who allegedly worked for the US Department of Energy, was a government figure steeped in mystery and controversy. He was a senior research scientist and director of Hawkins National Laboratory. He had a major role in various controversial experiments, including Project MKUltra. Following MKUltra, Brenner raised a number of test subjects at Hawkins Lab, including Eleven, who possessed psychokinetic abilities.

Brenner tested the limits of Eleven's abilities through various experiments. In one such experiment, Brenner indirectly unleashed a monster from another dimension into Hawkins, allowing Eleven to escape the lab. In the following week, Brenner and his team searched for Eleven while investigating the newly opened gateway to the other dimension (informally known as the Upside Down). This culminated in an unsuccessful attempt to capture Eleven at Hawkins Middle School, which drew the attention of the monster. Brenner survived the monster's attack and sustained only minor injuries, but was unable to return Eleven to the lab.

Hawkins Lab was shut down in 1984, and Dr Brenner falsely presumed deceased. By 1986, Brenner and Dr. Sam Owens had established the Nina Project, situated at a top secret facility in the Nevada desert. The project was conceived in response to Eleven losing access to her psychokinetic abilities, and was designed to reactivate her powers via an experimental prodecure. Brenner and Owens wished to use Eleven's abilities to stave off the continued existential threat posed by the Upside Down. After some initial hesitation, Eleven participated and ultimately regained her abilities.

Brenner sought to continue the experiments, wanting to push Eleven's abilities beyond their previous limit. Brenner and Owens began to argue when Eleven insisted on returning to Hawkins, which provoked to Brenner to forcefully incapacitate both Eleven and Owens. Shortly after this, the US Military arrived and commenced a full-scale attack on the facility; General Sullivan believed Eleven to be the root of the issues plaguing Hawkins, and sought to eliminate her. Brenner was fatally wounded in the attack, but Eleven managed to escape unscathed, defeating much of the military in the process. Brenner and Eleven exchanged some final words, and after she departed with her friends, Brenner finally succumbed to his wounds, dying alone in the Nevada desert.

History

Background

MKUltra participants.png

1953

Dr. Brenner was involved in the controversial Project MKUltra, a CIA-sanctioned research program designed to develop mind-control techniques in which the subject suffered extreme conditions at the hands of the researchers, including use of psychedelic drugs, physical and mental abuse, sleep deprivation, and malnourishment.

1959

In 1959, Brenner came into possession of the boy Henry Creel, who had been responsible for using telekinetic powers to murder his mother and sister. Having finally found what he was looking for, Brenner made Henry into 001; child test subject with supernatural powers. Every child subject after was meant to be another capable of doing what One could do.

1969

In 1969, Brenner was brought in to overhaul the MKUtra testing at Hawkins National Laboratory, where he became the director. Brenner fired previous test subjects and implemented a shift from subjects from mental asylums and other facilities to college students. He set up facilities at college campuses in Indiana, including at Indiana University, Bloomington, where college student Terry Ives attended, designed to scan for potential subjects.

After proving capable, Terry was brought to Hawkins Lab to begin regular tests, often overseen by Brenner. Through blood testing, Brenner discovered that Terry became pregnant during the program. In June of 1971, She gave birth to a daughter named Jane, which Brenner and his staff abducted due to the child's dormant psychokinetic abilities, brought on upon her as a result of the experimentation on her mother.[1] Jane's birth was Brenner's goal, as he subjected Terry to these experiments in order to try to produce another with One's powers.

After Project MKUltra was shut down, Terry filed a lawsuit against Brenner, but it was dismissed citing lack of evidence. When the details of MKUltra became public knowledge, Hawkins Lab managed to block inquiries despite their legal obligation.[2]

1974

Terry attempted to retrieve Jane, breaking into Hawkins Lab with a gun. During her raid, she inadvertently let three other experiments escape - Francine, Ricky, and Marcy. Brenner's right-hand agent, Connie Frazier, and other security fatally shot Francine, but Ricky and Marcy escaped. Brenner told a dying Francine he'd find the experiments. Later on, Brenner forced an apprehended Terry to be subjected to electroshock therapy, which left her in a seemingly permanent catatonic state for years after.

Dr. Brenner raised Jane under the "name" Eleven. Brenner built himself up as a father figure in the mind of Eleven, making her refer to him as "Papa".

Kali Prasad, also known as Eight, managed to escape Brenner's lab before September 9th of 1974. Subjects Three, Six, and Nine were replaced by this day, but Eight was not.

1979

On September 8th, 1979, Brenner witnessed the massacre at Hawkins Lab, which resulted in the deaths of most workers, guards, and all remaining children at the lab, with the exception of Eleven. The massacre was committed by One, but Eleven was only seen by Brenner as she had sent One into the Upside Down. Due to this, Brenner initially blamed Eleven for the deaths.

1983

Brenner trained and developed her psychic abilities. One of these abilities was the use of remote viewing aided by a sensory deprivation tank, used to spy on a Russian agent at a distance far away.

Brenner talks Eleven through her next task

As Eleven was spying on the agent, she encountered a monster which was heard over the loudspeakers in Brenner's control booth. Though Eleven was terrified, Dr. Brenner was intrigued and told her to make contact with the creature. However, upon this moment, a Gate to an alternate dimension cracked open in the wall of the tank room, through which the monster passed before killing one of Brenner's co-workers.

Brenner scans for an "extraordinary" energy signature in the Byers shed, finding evidence of a portal

In the commotion caused by the Gate's opening, Eleven managed to escape from the lab. Brenner and other scientists investigated the lab's underground subsystem where they discovered that strange tendrils and toxic biologic growth native to the other dimension was beginning to spread through the corridors. Brenner and his team of agents began searching for Eleven and the Monster.[3]

The monster kidnapped a boy named Will Byers, which Brenner worked to cover up by placing a fake corpse in the local quarry. Brenner investigated the Byers' shed, finding traces of some bizarre, supernatural energy.

Brenner and Hopper negotiate

Brenner discovered Eleven was staying with Will's friends, and sent agents to capture her - however, with the help of Eleven, they managed to evade them. Jim Hopper and Will's mother Joyce attempted to break into the lab, but were almost immediately apprehended and brought to Brenner. In exchange for access to the Gate and the chance to save Will, Hopper disclosed that Eleven was located in Hawkins Middle School. Brenner, assisted by agents, traveled to the school and attempted to take her back to the laboratory. Although Eleven killed some of the agents using her telekinetic powers, she was drained of strength and collapsed. Brenner cradled her and tried to convince her that he would fix everything and she would be brought back home, but Eleven saw through his facade and rejected him, crying out to reach Mike. In the mean time, the blood spilt from dead bodies attracted the Demogorgon, which distracted the surviving agents, allowing Eleven and her friends to escape. Brenner watched in horror as the monster ran towards him, freezing in shock. The Monster jumped onto him, either slashing or biting his face, leaving a large scar running down it, but did not kill him.

Following the fallout of the Demogorgon attack, Dr. Sam Owens was appointed director of Hawkins Lab, succeeding Brenner. Brenner's whereabouts at this time remains unclear, though he was possibly in a hospital due to the attack.

1984

Kali's illusionary Brenner appears before Eleven

In 1984, Ray Carroll, a former agent for the Department of Energy, claimed to Eleven and Kali that Brenner was still alive, and that he knew of his whereabouts.

Kali later created an illusion of Brenner in front of Eleven, who still believed that Brenner was dead. The illusionary Brenner taunted Eleven, telling her that she was afraid of confronting her pain and had "a terrible wound".

In this same period, Eleven sealed the Gate, and Hawkins Lab was shut down indefinitely.

1986

By 1986, Brenner and Dr. Sam Owens had established the NINA Project, situated at a top secret facility in the Nevada desert. The project was conceived in response to Eleven's stroke at the Battle of Starcourt, in which she lost access to her psychokinetic abilities. The project was designed to reactivate her powers through a combination of experimental drugs, sensory deprivation and audiovisual stimulation; Brenner and Owens claimed that this project was necessary in order to stave off the continued threat posed by the interdimensional breach. Eleven was convinced by both Owens and Brenner to participate, and subsequently regained her abilities.

Personality

As a researcher and director of Hawkins National Laboratory, Dr. Brenner was highly manipulative, calculative, ruthless and ambitious. He was solely responsible for the abduction of Terry Ives's daughter, Eleven, to experiment on the child's dormant psychokinetic abilities. His atrocious nature was evident when he forced Eleven's mother to undergo electroshock therapy after she attempted to retrieve her daughter.

He was shown to be vicious when Eleven disobeyed him as he used to put her through cruel psychological torture and forcefully kept her in solitary confinement, even though she was just a child. He would also encourage her to push the limits of her psychic abilities, caring little about the toil she had to suffer. However, if she performed well, Brenner would "reward" her with affection and endearment.

Brenner would also adopt extreme measures to cover up the events of the Upside Down, for instance, manufacturing the fake body of Will even though Will was actually kidnapped, sending military agents and helicopters to take Eleven back as well as imprisoning Joyce and Hopper to compel them to reveal her location in exchange for saving Will. Brenner genuinely cares about his adoptive children, punishing Number Two for hurting Eleven and holding Number 10's body as he died in grief, being horrified when he thought Eleven killed them. He's now helping Eleven get her powers back to fight Vecna.

Relationships

Non-Familial

Eleven's history with Brenner runs deep: not only did he define her childhood, but he was potentially responsible for her very existence. Brenner had experimented on her mother Terry, who had volunteered to become a MKUltra test subject. While undergoing these tests, Terry mysteriously became pregnant. After discovering the pregnancy, Brenner took the child away directly from birth, raising her at Hawkins Lab.

Throughout childhood, Eleven was treated harshly and severely. Brenner appeared to be Eleven's only source of social engagement, and thus she grew to be dependent on his attention. Brenner built himself up as a father figure, establishing a somewhat tender demeanor when in her presence. However, an unstated threat was present in even the most affectionate words he uttered, lurking just beneath the surface.

When Eleven performed well, Brenner would "reward" her with affection. When Eleven disobeyed him, she would instead be subjected to cruel psychological torture. Even when Eleven was on her best behavior, she spent much of her time in solitary confinement, locked in a "bedroom" cell. Brenner's only true interest in the girl was her extraordinary power; her physical or mental health was merely of tangential importance to his goal. When Eleven performed extraordinary feats, Brenner appeared proud of her accomplishments.

After Eleven, escaping from the lab, met Mike and his friends and experienced genuinely loving relationships for the first time, she could finally see through Brenner's facade. When he eventually found her and promised to take her home, she rejected his offer, instead crying and reaching out to her new friends.

Terry was one of Brenner's MKUltra test subjects. After Brenner took her daughter from her, Terry grew to loathe him, filing a lawsuit against him. When Terry could produce no evidence against Brenner that he kidnapped her daughter, Terry decided to rescue her daughter instead. Carrying a gun, Terry barged her way into Hawkins Lab, knowing Brenner would attempt to stop her no matter what. When Terry managed to find her daughter, Brenner's men managed to kidnap her before she could escape with her daughter. Knowing Terry would stop at nothing until she got her daughter back, Brenner had Terry undergo electroconvulsive therapy. Once Terry's brain was damaged and no longer posed a threat, Brenner continued to use Terry's daughter for his own benefits.

Brenner was responsible for Kali's abduction and imprisonment in the lab at an early age and also adopted the same manipulation tactics on her as he did with Eleven, attempting to condition her into viewing him as a father figure.

Appearances

Season One appearances
The Vanishing of Will Byers The Weirdo on Maple Street Holly, Jolly The Body
The Flea and the Acrobat The Monster The Bathtub The Upside Down
Season Two appearances
MADMAX Trick or Treat, Freak The Pollywog
Will the Wise Dig Dug* The Spy
The Lost Sister* The Mind Flayer The Gate*
Season Four appearances
The Hellfire Club* Vecna's Curse The Monster and the Superhero
Dear Billy The Nina Project The Dive
The Massacre at Hawkins Lab Papa The Piggyback

*Can be seen via flashback in "Dig Dug", "The Gate", and "The Hellfire Club" *Can be seen via illusion in "The Lost Sister"

Comics

Volume 2 appearances
Stranger Things: SIX Issue 1 Stranger Things: SIX Issue 2 Stranger Things: SIX Issue 3 Stranger Things: SIX Issue 4

Memorable Quotes

  • "Will you trust me?"
  • "It's reaching out to you because it wants you - it's calling you, so don't turn away from it this time..."
  • "She can't have got far..."
  • "You have a wound, Eleven. A terrible wound... And it's festering."
  • "Eleven came to us very young. Tragic circumstances, really. When she's older, she'll have a better understanding of what were trying to do here. The importance of it."
  • "Eleven, are you listening?"
  • "If we told you, it would ruin the surprise."
  • "No, she is going to swim."
  • "What have you done? What... have you done?"
  • "Hello, Eleven. I know. You're frightened of me. Perhaps, in our time apart, you may have even grown to hate me. But all I've ever wanted to do is to help you. And right now, I think you very much need my help."
  • "Only by facing all of ourselves, the good and the bad, can we become whole."

Behind the scenes

Originally, Brenner was supposed to resemble a lumberjack, with a beard, flannel shirt, jeans, and boots. Matthew Modine, who portrays Brenner, believed a more clean-shaven look would be more compelling and collaborated with the show's costume team to redesign the character. When restyling Brenner, Modine was inspired by several sources; his white hair was inspired by Robert Shaw's character in Battle of the Bulge (1965), his suit by Cary Grant in North by Northwest (1959), and his cap-toe shoes were influenced by John Kennedy.[4]

After the premiere of the first season, the Duffer brothers explained the difficulty in developing Brenner's role since the character had less screen-time and limited interactions with the other characters. However, they were charmed with Matthew Modine and decided to write the character based on him. Matthew's acting skills helped the Duffers to represent Brenner as someone who was mysterious and dark and could manipulate things.[5]

Gallery

View Gallery.png For this subject's gallery, see Martin Brenner/Gallery.


Trivia

  • One of the clippings at the police station, shown briefly in the epilogue of Chapter Eight, refers to a Dr. Richard Brenner as the head of the Narcotic Enforcement Division. The use of "Richard" instead of "Martin" is mostly likely an error made by the production team.
  • Although it was assumed to be deceased after the Demogorgon attacked him, it is revealed that he is still alive, executive producer Shawn Levy confirmed in an interview that Brenner survived the attack. Also, after the first season was released, director Matt Duffer stated in an interview that Brenner most likely survived.
  • Matthew Modine revealed in an interview that the Duffers had always intended for Brenner to reveal Brenner’s survival following the events of Season One, but it was something he himself had begun to doubt until they informed him of the character’s role in Season Four. [6]
  • Brenner is a German-language surname. It originates from the Middle High German term "brennen", which means to burn.

References

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