Dr. Martin Brenner is the overarching antagonist of the 2016 original Netflix sic-fi TV series Stranger Things, serving as the primary antagonist of Season 1 and the overarching antagonist of Season 2 and Season 3. He was portrayed by Matthew Modine.
Brenner, who allegedly worked for the US Department of Energy, was a senior research scientist and the director of Hawkins National Laboratory. He had a major role in various controversial experiments, including Project MKUltra. Brenner appeared to be motivated by a desire to expand the scientific knowledge of the US Government, which would give them the upper hand in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Following MKUltra, Brenner raised a number of test subjects at Hawkins Lab, including Eleven, who possessed psychokinetic abilities.
Brenner pushed the limits of her 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. Brenner was eventually attacked by the monster. His fate is currently unknown, but statements made by one of his co-workers suggest that he may have survived.
In 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.
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 1970, 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.
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.
In 1974, Terry attempted to retrieve Jane, breaking into Hawkins Lab with a gun. However, Terry was quickly apprehended and brought to Brenner. Brenner forced 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".
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.
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.
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 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 was attacked by the Demogorgon shortly after their escape. It was unknown whether Brenner survived the attack.
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".
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.
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 Ives 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.
|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|
|The Lost Sister*||The Gate*|
*Seen in flashback and illusion form
|Volume 2 appearances|
|Stranger Things: SIX Issue 1||Stranger Things: SIX Issue 2||Stranger Things: SIX Issue 3||Stranger Things: SIX Issue 4|
- "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."
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.
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.
- 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.
|For this subject's gallery, see Martin Brenner/Gallery.|
- Executive producer Shawn Levy confirms Dr. Brenner is still Alive in Business Insider interview
- Stranger Things Season 1: "Chapter Six: The Monster"
- Information retrieved from newspaper articles seen in "Chapter Three: Holly, Jolly."
- Stranger Things Season 1: "Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers"
- "Matthew Modine’s Character Was Supposed to Look Like a ‘Lumberjack’ on ‘Stranger Things’" FN . January 28, 2017.
- "Stranger Things: the Duffer brothers share the secrets of their hit show"Empire. July 27, 2016.
|Hawkins National Laboratory|
Martin Brenner • Sam Owens