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Spoiler Warning!
This article or section reveals details from Stranger Things: The First Shadow. Read at your own discretion...

Imagine, if you will, the barrier between our worlds is a concrete dam. Henry is putting cracks in this dam. Cracks in dams create pressure. Left unchecked, the pressure will build. And build. And eventually, it will reach a breaking point, and the dam will burst. And when that happens, Hawkins will fall.
Dr. Brenner, March 27, 1986

Dr. Martin Brenner, portrayed by Matthew Modine, was a main character in Stranger Things, appearing in the first and fourth seasons. Brenner starts out as one of the show's main antagonists, but returns in a more morally ambiguous role in the fourth season. Brenner also makes a guest appearance in the show's second season, and is the main antagonist of the novel Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds and the comic Stranger Things: SIX. Brenner also appears in Stranger Things: The First Shadow and Stranger Things VR.

Brenner, who allegedly worked for the US Department of Energy, was a government figure steeped in mystery and controversy. He was a research scientist, and the Director of Operations at Hawkins National Laboratory until November 1983.[4] He had a major role in various controversial experiments and programs, including Project MKUltra.

In 1959, Brenner was contacted by a fearful woman whose son, Henry, displayed unusual behavior. Shortly after, Brenner discovered that Henry possessed dangerous psychokinetic abilities, and had killed his mother and sister. After convincing the government to let him take Henry into his custody, Brenner disabled the boy’s abilities via an implanted chip, while also reproducing his abilities in several child test subjects at Hawkins Lab, including Eleven. On September 8, 1979, Henry, who Brenner forced to work as a lab orderly, convinced Eleven to remove his suppressant chip. His abilities restored, Henry committed a massacre, killing all of Brenner's colleagues and "children". However, Brenner survived; he learned Eleven had somehow defeated Henry, causing him to vanish.

In the years that followed, Brenner tested the limits of Eleven's abilities through various experiments. In November 1983, Brenner's experiments 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. Following the events of November 1983, Brenner was ousted as the lab’s director, and replaced by Dr. Sam Owens. The lab was shut down in 1984, and Brenner was falsely presumed deceased.

By 1986, Brenner and Dr. Owens had established the Nina Project, designed to reactivate Eleven's powers via an experimental procedure, provoked in response to her loss of abilities the previous year. Brenner and Owens wished to use Eleven's abilities to stave off the continued existential threat posed by the Upside Down. Eleven participated and ultimately regained her abilities, but Brenner insisted on pushing her abilities beyond their previous limit. When Eleven and Dr. Owens opted to return to Hawkins instead, Brenner retaliated by seizing control of the facility, and incapacitated both Eleven and Owens. The US Military arrived and attacked the facility, believing Eleven to be the cause of the issues plaguing Hawkins. Brenner was fatally wounded, but Eleven managed to escape unscathed, destroying a military helicopter in the process. Brenner and Eleven exchanged final words, and after she departed with her friends, Brenner died alone in the Nevada desert.

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What role does Dr. Brenner play in the first season of Stranger Things? toggle section
In the first season of Stranger Things, Dr. Brenner, portrayed by Matthew Modine, is a main character and one of the show's primary antagonists. He is a government figure who allegedly works for the US Department of Energy. Dr. Brenner is also known as 'Papa' by Eleven, a young girl with supernatural abilities. He is deeply involved in the mysterious events happening in Hawkins, including the disappearance of Will Byers, which he investigates.
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How does Dr. Brenner's character evolve in the fourth season of Stranger Things? toggle section
In the fourth season of Stranger Things, Dr. Brenner, also known as 'Papa' or 'Eleven's dad', returns in a more morally ambiguous role. Initially portrayed as a main antagonist, his character takes on a different dimension in this season. He also shares a scene with Mike Wheeler, Jonathan Byers, and Will Byers, the only main characters he had not previously interacted with. This evolution of Dr. Brenner's character adds a new layer of complexity to the narrative.
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What is the significance of Dr. Brenner's guest appearance in the second season of Stranger Things? toggle section
Dr. Brenner, also known as 'Papa' in Stranger Things, is a significant character who initially appears as a main antagonist. His guest appearance in the second season of Stranger Things adds depth to his character and keeps his storyline alive, despite being seemingly killed off in the first season. This appearance also sets the stage for his return in a more morally ambiguous role in the fourth season, further complicating the narrative and his relationship with characters like Eleven, who he is often associated with as a father figure.
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What is the relationship between Dr. Brenner and Eleven in Stranger Things? toggle section
In Stranger Things, Dr. Brenner, also known as 'Papa', has a complex and deep-rooted relationship with Eleven. He raised her from a young age as part of a series of experiments, building himself up as a father figure in her mind. Brenner subjected Eleven to various tests, including immersion in a sensory deprivation tank to harness her psychic abilities. Despite his harsh and severe treatment, Eleven was dependent on Brenner due to his being her only source of social interaction. This relationship is a significant part of Eleven's backstory and character development in the series.
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Matthew Modine brings Dr. Martin Brenner to life with a mysterious and dark persona. Despite having less screen time and limited interactions with other characters, Modine's acting skills allowed the Duffer Brothers to depict Brenner as a manipulative figure. Brenner, who is Eleven's 'dad' in the series, starts as a main antagonist but returns in a more morally ambiguous role in the fourth season. Modine's portrayal of Dr. Brenner has been instrumental in shaping the character's role in the series.
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History[]

SPOILERS AHEAD  for  The First Shadow

Early life[]

Martin Brenner was born on October 28 of an unknown year, according to his father.[2]

1943[]

By 1943, Martin's father had become captain of the USS Eldridge, a US navy ship used in secret government experiments known as both "Project Rainbow" and the Philadelphia Experiment.

On October 28, 1943, the vessel went missing; the vessel had traveled to Dimension X, with most of the crew being killed in the process. Only Captain Brenner survived the disaster; on his deathbed, he finally divulged the truth about the incident to his son.[5][2]

1950s[]

Following the Philadelphia Experiment incident, Dr. Brenner and his staff began work on the "Nevada Experiment", an attempt to reproduce what had happened to the Eldridge in 1943. The government facility that hosted the experiments was located in or around Rachel, Nevada. However, a rogue staff member defected and stole essential equipment from Brenner, hiding the equipment inside a nearby cave system.

Brenner later recovered the stolen equipment, also finding a mysterious spyglass. Brenner was able to eventually track down the owner of the dropped spyglass: Henry Creel.[5]

1953[]

MKUltra participants

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.[6]

1959[]

In 1959, Brenner was contacted by a woman named Virginia Creel, who believed her son Henry was responsible for a number of inexplicable happenings at her household. After Virginia and Henry's sibling Alice were found dead at the house, Henry's father Victor was presumed to be the murderer. However, Brenner knew Henry was responsible, and possessed remarkable psychokinetic abilities. Brenner convinced higher-ups in the US government that he should take Henry into his custody, proposing that the boy's abilities could be deployed against the Soviets. However, in truth, Brenner was far more motivated by curiosity, and only said otherwise to secure government funding.[7][8][9]

Victor was told that Henry died a week later due to shock, but in truth, his death was a hoax orchestrated by Dr. Brenner, and Henry was taken to Hawkins National Laboratory. Henry was designated the first of a new group of Hawkins Lab test subjects; at some point in April 1959, Brenner tattooed "001" on Henry's forearm to mark the occasion.[8][10]

For some length of time, Brenner conducted tests on Henry's abilities. In one experiment, Brenner tested Henry's ability to imagine and destroy within the Void before instructing him to use his remote viewing ability to track down a Russian spy in Hawkins.[11] However, Brenner later inserted Soteria into Henry's neck, a miniature device that suppressed his powers. In time, Henry became one of several orderlies who assisted Brenner and attended to the lab. Brenner deeply distrusted Henry, however, and would occasionally order the other orderlies to torture him to keep him intimidated.[12]

Henry tattooed

Brenner applies to the tattoo to Henry

Hoping to recreate Henry’s powers in other individuals, Brenner began a new subprogram - codenamed "Indigo" - in which volunteer test subjects took experimental drugs while placed inside sensory deprivation tanks. Brenner secretly hoped to abduct the unborn children of the pregnant test subjects, as he believed the experimentations would make them develop similar psychokinetic abilities to Henry.[13][8]

1959-1974[]

Hopper-template-test
"Oh my god, none of this is real."
This information from Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds is of questionable canonicity.[canon-rationale 1]
According to one account, Brenner was appointed Hawkins Lab's Director of Operations in 1969. He arrived at Hawkins Lab and assumed control that year, taking Kali Prasad with him. Upon his arrival, he fired existing test subjects from mental asylums and other facilities.

Brenner pushed the lab's schemes in a new direction, hoping to enlist volunteer college students as MKUltra participants. Brenner set up facilities designed to scan for potential subjects at college campuses in Indiana, including at Indiana University, Bloomington, where college student Terry Ives attended.[13][14]

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 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.[14]

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.[15]

1974[]

Three years later, Terry attempted to retrieve Jane, breaking into Hawkins Lab with a gun, but was apprehended. Brenner then subjected Terry to electroshock therapy, which left her in a seemingly permanent catatonic state for years after.[16]

Dr. Brenner raised Jane under the "name" Eleven. Brenner built himself up as a father figure in the mind of Eleven and seventeen other child test subjects, making them refer to him as "Papa".

Kali Prasad, also known as Eight, managed to escape the lab before September 8, 1979.[12]

Hopper-template-test
"Oh my god, none of this is real."
This information from Stranger Things: SIX is of questionable canonicity.[canon-rationale 2]
According to one source, Terry's rescue attempt actually occurred in 1978. The security breach and commotion caused by Terry distracted the lab's staff, allowing Ricky/Three, Francine/Six and Marcy/9.5 to attempt an escape. 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.

1979[]

Good morning, Papa[]

By 1979, Brenner had the Rainbow Room relocated to a more spacious ward of the lab, and painted with rainbow patterns on the wall and floor. The room was also supplied with more tables, toys, and games. The test subjects would play in the Rainbow Room during their free time.

Brenner had also acquired a residence in Hawkins by September of 1979.

During Henry Creel's time as an orderly at Hawkins Lab, he took a particular liking to Eleven. Brenner, on the other hand, put the children through daily tests in order to strengthen their abilities. He also went out of his way to help Eleven with the tests, as the other children perceived her as the weakest test subject.

11 and Brenner 1979 - The Nina Project

Brenner encourages Eleven (NINA memory)

On September 4, 1979,[17] Brenner took Eleven and the other subjects into the main training room, where, one-by-one, the children would attempt to psychically manipulate a series of lightbulbs. Eleven struggled with this task, leading the oldest child, Two, to mock and belittle her. Despite this, Eleven briefly powered one of the bulbs.[18]

On September 7, Brenner pitted the children against each other in a combat-based test. Two children at a time would stand on mats, with both trying to psychically push their opponent off their mat, all the while resisting the other's attack. Brenner instructed the children to not use their emotions during the game or they would be disqualified. In this game, Eleven ultimately defeated Two, surprising all of the test subjects. After Brenner realized One had helped Eleven make better use of her powers during the combat training, he decided to punish him and instructed the other orderlies to taser him. Eleven overheard his screams and secretly watched as an incapacitated One was dragged by his arms across the corridor floor.

Later, Two and his allies - Three, Four and Five - ganged up on Eleven in the Rainbow Room, and bullied her with their powers, even threatening to kill her. After being slammed into a wall, she apparently suffered a concussion. Some time later, Brenner learned about the incident, and Eleven was taken to recover in the infirmary.[12]

The massacre at Hawkins Lab[]

On the morning of September 8, Brenner engaged in his regular pre-work routine; he made tea, completed the daily paper's crossword while using a timer, trimmed his indoor bonsai tree, and shaved.[19]

Upon arriving at the lab, Brenner checked up on Eleven in the infirmary, before he escorted her to the training room, where he had summoned the other test subjects. With the children lined up against the wall, Brenner demanded an explanation for Eleven's concussion. When Two spoke up and made snide comments, suggesting a 'stupid' and 'clumsy' Eleven had simply fallen over, Brenner grew suspicious. Commanding his orderlies to place an electroshock collar around Two's neck, an irked Brenner scrutinized Two, accusing him of breaking the rules. Eventually, Brenner used a remote control to electrocute Two through the collar, while Two tearfully confessed to attacking Eleven, with the other test subjects looking on in fear and horror.

Brenner and Ten

Brenner and Ten

Later that day, Brenner tested Ten's remote viewing abilities, during which Ten became agitated and reported something was "wrong"; he informed Dr. Brenner that both Six and Brenner's colleague, Dr. Ellis, were dead. Then, the door to the room blew inwards with tremendous force, striking both Ten and Dr. Brenner, and rendering Brenner unconscious.

When Brenner regained consciousness, he discovered Ten was dead; Brenner mourned Ten's loss before leaving the room to investigate. Stumbling through the corridors, he was horrified to discover the bloody corpses of his 'children' and various staff, strewn across the lab floor. Entering the Rainbow Room, he witnessed even more dead bodies, before seeing Eleven standing alone, facing the now-shattered mirror. As she turned to face him, an incensed Brenner demanded to know: "what have you done?"; however, moments later, Eleven collapsed and passed out. After lifting her away to another room, Brenner returned to the Rainbow Room, contemplating a fracture that had opened up in the wall behind the mirror.[8][20]

After reviewing surveillance footage, Brenner learned what had happened; Henry had removed the Soteria inhibiting his powers, and immediately committed a massacre. However, Eleven managed to overpower him, pinning him against the wall of the Rainbow Room, and somehow caused him to disappear. Brenner was amazed by Eleven's feat of power, but by the time Eleven woke from her coma, Brenner learnt she had no memory of the incident or the other subjects, and her powers had been somewhat reduced. Brenner was bewildered by Henry's disappearance, and wondered if he was still out there somewhere, "hiding in the darkness".[20]

1979-1983[]

A familiar figure[]

Shadow Brenner

The entity adopts the form of Brenner

As Brenner faintly suspected, Eleven had sent Henry through a rift between dimensions. When Henry initially (re)encountered a shadowy entity upon arriving in Dimension X, the entity first - either literally, or just in Henry's visions - adopted the voice and form of Alice, Virginia and Victor before eventually adopting the persona of Dr. Brenner. The entity claimed it wanted to "study" Henry, and that he was the "most magnificent thing" it had ever encountered. The entity encouraged Henry to take control of the various Demogorgons that roamed the landscape, which Henry achieved by systematically penetrating the mind of each individual creature.

Henry and the entity developed a complicated relationship via psychic connection; Henry repeatedly attempted to seize full control over the entity and the hive mind, but the entity would retaliate, forcing Henry to re-experience troubling memories.[11]

Training Eleven[]

For years, Brenner trained Eleven and developed her psychic abilities, knowing she just needed "a spark" to restore her to her former level of ability.[20] To punish her for any failures, Eleven was sometimes locked in a solitary cell for great periods of time; this experience severely traumatised her, leaving her with a fear of confinement.

In one experiment, Eleven was presented with a soda can, which she then crushed using telekinesis. Although her nose began bleeding soon afterwards, Dr. Brenner seemed pleased nonetheless.[21] Another experiment involved using her powers to manipulate a living creature. Dr. Brenner presented Eleven with a cat, but she could not bring herself to do anything to it. As punishment for her refusal, she was dragged into the cell by two guards. Refusing to be locked in again, an enraged Eleven used her powers to smash one guard into a wall and to break the other's neck before they could close the door. While she sobbed at her experiences, Brenner gently carried her away, pleased with Eleven's feat of ability.[22]

Targeting the Soviets[]

Ep4-NurseryRhymes

Brenner talks Eleven through her next task

The Cold War was at a height in the early 1980s, with the United States and Soviet Union in conflict; Brenner and his associates sought to use Eleven's power to spy on their adversaries. Testing Eleven's ability to eavesdrop over long distances, Eleven was ordered to repeat words stated by an individual elsewhere in the laboratory. She did not repeat the words through her voice, but instead transmitted the individual's words via a speaker.[23]

Brenner later directed Eleven to spy on a Soviet agent. A room in the lab's underground complex contained a sensory deprivation tank used to enhance Eleven's psychic powers; when sensorily deprived, Eleven could become immersed in an inner mental void, in which she could project her consciousness and psychically reach out to other living creatures. On an unspecified date - likely in 1983 - Eleven was lowered into the tank before entering her Void. She succeeded in finding the agent, but she unwittingly encountered a creature from another dimension, transmitting the creature's noises over the loudspeakers in Brenner's control booth. Eleven panicked and the experiment was aborted, but Brenner remained intrigued by the creature.[24]

1983[]

Searching for Eleven[]

On November 6, 1983, Brenner repeated the experiment and encouraged Eleven to make contact with the creature. However, when Eleven made contact, another gate, later called the Mothergate, was somehow created, linking Eleven's dimension with the creature's dimension and cracking open the wall of the tank room. In the ensuing chaos, the Monster entered Hawkins and killed a scientist while Eleven somehow managed to escape from the lab. The entire east wing was subsequently evacuated, while the underground complex was sealed off following quarantine protocol. The following day, Brenner and other scientists investigated the lab's underground subsystem where they discovered that strange vines, spores and growths native to the other dimension were spreading through the corridors. Brenner and his team of agents began searching for Eleven and the Monster.[25]

Monitoring the town's phone calls, the lab quickly discovered that Eleven was hiding at Benny's Burgers, a local diner. Brenner and a group of agents headed to the diner; Connie Frazier arrived at the front door, pretending to be from social services before shooting and killing the diner owner. However, Eleven escaped into the nearby woods, killing two agents in the process. The diner owner's death was staged as a suicide.

When the lab intercepted Joyce Byers's phone call to the police, the agents realized that her son Will had been taken by the Monster, and reported their findings to Brenner. Later that day, Brenner and a team of agents investigated the Byers' shed, finding traces of some bizarre, supernatural energy.[21]

Brenner scans

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

Line installation

Brenner oversees the line installation

The following day, Brenner decided a lab worker should venture through the Gate; he had a security line installed in the tank room, allowing the worker to be pulled out, if necessary. However, Brenner’s plan would not be executed until the following day.

In order to draw away any suspicion for Will's disappearance, Brenner and the lab created a fake body. The body was planted in the local quarry, ready to be "discovered" by state police. The lab also instructed a state morgue worker to fake Will's autopsy.

The next day, Brenner selected one of his lab workers, Shepard, to pass through the gate. However, Shepard's expedition was cut short after he was brutally attacked by the Monster; when the workers reeled the security line back in, only a bloody fragment of Shepard's hazmat suit remained.

Unbeknownst to Brenner and his team of agents, local school-kids Mike, Lucas, and Dustin had unwittingly crossed paths with Eleven, and were hiding her at Mike's house. The same day as Shepard's ill-fated expedition, the boys took Eleven to the middle school's Heathkit Ham Shack, where Eleven used her abilities to transmit Will's voice through the radio. Eleven's power pushed the radio to its limit, setting it aflame and heavily damaging it. However, Hawkins Lab's monitoring room intercepted and recorded the radio transmissions.

Listening in

Brenner listens back to the tapes

The next day, at the lab's monitoring room, Brenner listened to the tapes of Mike, Lucas and Dustin's voices, and quickly made up his mind: "she was there". The agents’ next steps were obvious: they had to learn the identity of the mysterious boys. Later that day, one of Brenner's agents, pretending to be a repairman from Hawkins Power & Light, went to the school and inspected the burned ham radio. While there, the principal informed him that the radio belonged to Scott Clarke.[24]

Elsewhere in Hawkins, Agent Frazier visited Scott Clarke at his residence, hoping to find out which pupils operated the school's ham radio. While there, she told Clarke about a fictitious Indiana AV Club program, complete with a falsified flier. When asked if he knew anyone who'd want to participate, Clarke told her about Mike, Lucas, and Dustin. That afternoon, Brenner and his team travelled to the Wheeler house in Hawkins Power and Light vans to retrieve Eleven; however, Eleven and the boys fled the house and narrowly escaped on bike, with Eleven psychically flipping one of the lab's vans in the process. Brenner and his agents then interviewed Mike's parents, Ted and Karen, and scoured the house for information that could help them find Eleven.[14][26]

The Upside Down - Hopper and Brenner negotiate

Brenner and Hopper negotiate

Hawkins's police chief 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 spilled 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.[27]

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 likely in hospital due to the attack.

1984[]

The Brenner Illusion

Kali's illusionary Brenner appears before Eleven

In November 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".[28]

In this same period, Eleven sealed the Mothergate, and Hawkins Lab was shut down indefinitely.[29]

1986[]

The Nina Project[]

By 1986, Brenner and Dr. 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 hoped that by restoring Eleven's powers, they could stave off the continued threat posed by the interdimensional breach.

However, mistrust was brewing between Brenner and Owens' government faction, and the US Military. Lt. Colonel Jack Sullivan was aware of Eleven's existence, and that she had survived the events of November 1983 (which Brenner and Owens denied). Sullivan had heard explanations about the Upside Down, but suspected it was a cover story; he believed Eleven was "going rogue", committing the acts of violence otherwise attributed to the Upside Down.[12] On the evening of March 22, 1986, Sullivan visited Owens at his home in Ruth, Nevada and threateningly questioned him about Eleven's whereabouts. After Sullivan's departure, Owens realised he was running out of time to execute his plan and could delay no longer. Owens sent an encrypted message to Brenner and his colleagues via his personal computer, informing them it was finally time to initiate the next stage of the Nina Project.[30]

The next day, Owens convinced Eleven to participate in the Nina Project, though she remained oblivious to Brenner's involvement. On the 24th, Owens and Eleven arrived at the Nina facility. Eleven remained willing and enthusiastic to participate, until, to her horror, she discovered Dr. Brenner was alive and also working on the project. A fearful Eleven attempted to flee, but Brenner ordered Eleven to be forcefully sedated. The unconscious Eleven was then injected with experimental drugs and placed inside the Nina sensory deprivation tank. While inside, she was exposed to audiovisual stimuli from Hawkins National Laboratory, in 1979, via the form of old CCTV tapes playing on various screens.

S4E5-El surrounded by doctors

Eleven awoke to find herself "re-experiencing" her memories from 1979. In this first episode of "re-experience", Eleven relived an exercise where she and the other test subjects manipulated light bulbs using their powers; in this exercise, Eleven struggled to illuminate a single bulb. Shortly after, she had a momentary vision of the September 8 massacre, before finally waking up back at the Nina Project. In a fit of rage, Eleven attacked Brenner with a defibrillator and attempted once more to escape. Guards tried to restrain her, but as she let out an outburst of anger, the guards were sent flying and knocked unconscious; Eleven's powers were beginning to resurface, due to Nina's influence. Brenner gave Eleven the option to leave the facility if she so desired, but she agreed to stay and continue the experiments.[18]

The next day, El was given a tour and clarification by Brenner on what the Nina Project was capable for; reawakening an individual's memories by using video footage that Brenner took from the lab. He also explained to El that when she suffered a traumatic injury last year, it 'scrambled the signals' in her brain, rendering her incapable of using her powers. When El asked why she could not remember the other test subjects, Brenner explained that her brain was protecting her from trauma from 1979, stressing that she must take caution when re-experiencing the traumatic memories.[12]

Finally, she fully re-experienced what happened on September 8, 1979; Eleven remembered that One was responsible for the September 8, 1979 massacre of her fellow test subjects. She relived her battle with One, in which she ultimately overpowered him and banished him to the Upside Down. After reliving this final memory, Eleven's powers were seemingly restored to her previous limit.[8]

Attack on Nina[]

Brenner and El face-off - Papa

After Eleven used the Void to spy on her friends in Hawkins, she grew concerned for Max, and wanted to help in their fight against Vecna. However, Brenner sought to continue the Nina 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 Brenner to forcefully incapacitate both Eleven and Owens. Guards loyal to Brenner chained Dr. Owens to a rail inside the observation room, while Brenner personally sedated Eleven; he strapped Eleven down and put an electroshock collar on her, claiming it was "for [her] own good".

Eleven vs helicopter

Eleven destabilises the helicopter

Shortly after Brenner executed his coup, Lt. Colonel Sullivan launched a full-scale military attack on the facility, deploying soldiers, various vehicles and a helicopter. The soldiers burst down the door to the facility with a bomb and charged inside, killing the guards. Most, if not all, of the scientists evacuated through a hidden escape hatch, but were all apparently shot and killed by the helicopter's sniper. Brenner, while carrying the weakened Eleven, reached the desert surface through the escape hatch, and was shocked to discover the deaths of his colleagues. The sniper aboard the military helicopter then turned his attention to Brenner and opened fire, gravely wounding him. Meanwhile, Colonel Sullivan located Owens, still chained up in the observation room. Ignoring Owens's plea to spare Eleven, Sullivan ordered the sniper to take the shot on Eleven. However, Eleven used her telekinetic powers to destabilise and ultimately crash the helicopter.

Moments later, Mike, Will, Jonathan and Argyle, who had independently discovered Eleven's location, arrived at the scene in Argyle's Pizzamobile. Eleven, still recovering from having exerted her powers, was pleasantly surprised to reunite with her friends. Using his remote controller, Brenner deactivated Eleven's collar, and Eleven decided to walk over to him. In his dying moments, Brenner tried to emphasize that he had always tried to help Eleven, and anxiously begged that she understood what he meant. Eleven, though deeply upset, could not grant Brenner's wish, and curtly bidded her "papa" farewell. She rose to her feet and fled with her friends in the Pizzamobile, as Dr. Brenner died alone in the Nevada desert.[20]

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, frying Terry's brain and permanently damaging her mental state.

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. He has little concern for the lives of his men although he did appear genuinely distraught over Shepard’s death.

Despite how manipulating and deceiving Brenner is consistently shown to be, he appears to truly care for Eleven, seen when he risked his life carrying her to safety from the underground facility in the Nevada desert and died protecting her, unlocking her collar in his final moments and affirming his love for her. He seemed to care especially for One, going as far as cruelly putting Eleven through physical and mental torture to find him in the Upside Down, believing he was "always alive in the darkness" and shedding a tear in sadness when Eleven called him out for it. Another instance where Brenner showed protectiveness and care for his adopted children is when he grieved Ten's body, and was horrified upon discovering One having murdered all of his test subjects as well as when he punished Two for harming Eleven, however inhuman the punishment was.

Abilities[]

  • Authority: Being the Director of Hawkins National Laboratory until 1983, Dr. Martin Brenner had complete control over the test subjects, orderlies and other doctors at the lab, having a schedule for the test subjects and frequent lessons.
  • High Intelligence: Dr. Brenner was a high-ranking member of the Department of Energy, and a member of Project MKUltra's faculty, so he had high intelligence, especially about neurology and objects such as sensory deprivation tanks.

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.

Brenner encouraged Eleven to do well and didn’t let the other kids bully her. He quickly punished Two for harming Eleven. After discovering how she banished Henry to the Upside Down, Brenner took an interest in Eleven.

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.

Brenner helped Eleven get her powers back to fight Henry. He refused to let her leave due to fearing she wouldn’t beat Henry and was shown to be affected when she called him out as the monster. Once the military came, Brenner protected Eleven until the very end and unlocked her collar, suggesting he did care for Eleven's future beyond his involvement in it.

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.

"He was no monster. He was just a man. An ordinary, mediocre man. That is why he sought greatness in others. In you and in me."
— Vecna to Eleven

In 1959, Brenner was contacted by a woman named Virginia Creel and was intrigued when she informed him her son Henry was responsible for a number of inexplicable happenings at her household. After Virginia and her daughter Alice were killed by Henry, framing his father for their deaths, Brenner took Henry into his custody and discovering the boy to possess remarkable psychokinetic abilities, he decided to study him under the proposal to the government that the boy's abilities could be deployed against the Soviets. As a result, Brenner made Henry his first test subject, labeling him "One" and tattooing the number on his wrist.

However, due to One being murderous and sadistic, Brenner had a chip called "Soteria" implanted his neck to sustain his powers and prevent him escaping his lab. Though overtime Brenner understood the nature of One's powers, he deeply mistrusted Henry for his sadism and would occasionally order the other orderlies to torture him as a means of intimidation. In addition, Brenner decided to recreate Henry's powers in newborn children through Project MKUltra by having pregnant volunteer test subjects take experimental drugs and stand in sensory deprivation tanks.

After gaining enough children with psychokinetic abilities, Brenner had One who was the eldest of all the test subjects to work as an orderly in his lab and help train the children with their powers. Brenner kept One's existence a secret from the children, due to his violent nature. However, on September 8, 1979, One tricked Eleven into removing the Soteria chip out of his neck where he proceeded to massacre everyone in the lab, except for Brenner and Eleven. After One was banished into the Upside Down by Eleven, Brenner discovered through security footage that One was responsible for killing everyone in his lab, including his test subjects.

Though angry and resentful at One for murdering all of his test subjects, Brenner believed One was still alive and trapped in the Upside Down, but despite not knowing for sure, he had Eleven unknowingly look for One through mental remote traveling while spying on the Soviet Union for the America government.

However, in 1986, Brenner discovered One was indeed alive when he began murdering people in Hawkins. As a result, Brenner teamed up with Dr. Sam Owens to help Eleven restore her powers so she can defeat One, who was now going by the name "Vecna." After Eleven's powers had been restored, she called out Brenner for having her look for Vecna which resulted in the Mothergate opening and the deaths of many innocent lives, causing Brenner to shed tears of remorse.

Ten

Ten was one of Brenner's many test subjects. Brenner seemed to have a positive relationship with Ten.

Appearances[]

Stranger Things appearances
Season 1 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 2 MADMAX Trick or Treat, Freak The Pollywog
Will the Wise* Dig Dug* The Spy
The Lost Sister* The Mind Flayer The Gate*
Did not appear in Season 3
Season 4 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

*Appears via flashback in "Dig Dug", "The Gate", "The Hellfire Club", "Vecna's Curse", and "The Monster and the Superhero".
*Appears in a photograph in "Will the Wise".
*Appears as one of Kali's illusions in "The Lost Sister".

Comics[]

SIX appearances
Issue 1 Issue 2 Issue 3 Issue 4

Video games[]

Video game appearances
Dedicated games
Stranger Things: The Game
Stranger Things 3: The Game
Stranger Things: Puzzle Tales
Stranger Things: The VR Experience
Stranger Things VR
Crossovers/DLC
Dead by Daylight
Fortnite
Smite
Roblox
The Vanishing

Other appearances[]

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.[31]

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".[32]

Gallery[]

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


Trivia[]

  • One of the clippings at the police station, shown briefly in the epilogue of "The Upside Down", refers to a Dr. Richard Brenner as the head of the Narcotic Enforcement Division. The use of "Richard" instead of "Martin" is a probable error by the production team, though it can be viewed as an in-universe typo.
  • Matthew Modine has said the Duffers had always intended to reveal Brenner’s survival following the events of "The Upside Down", but he himself began to doubt this would ever happen until they informed him of the character's return in Stranger Things 4.[33]
  • Brenner's age and birth year is unclear. Though the character is described as being in his 40s in the teleplay for "The Vanishing of Will Byers", Brenner's white hair suggests the character is likely in his 50s or older at the start of season 1 (Matthew Modine was 57 years old during filming). Flashbacks in season 4 and The First Shadow show that by 1959, Brenner was already a fully grown adult and professional scientist working at Hawkins Lab, making it unlikely he was born any later than 1939 (at the very latest).[1]
  • Brenner is a German-language surname. It originates from the Middle High German term "brennen", which means to burn.
  • Brenner is shown to enjoy Jasmine tea and coffee; he takes his coffee black with two sugars.[11][19]
  • In the fourth season, Brenner finally shares a shot with Nancy Wheeler, Jonathan Byers and Will Byers, the only main characters Brenner never encountered in Stranger Things 1.
    • Nancy shares a shot with Brenner while Vecna gives her a vision of his origins, in "The Massacre at Hawkins Lab".
    • Jonathan and Will briefly share a shot with Brenner during the latter’s death in the Nevada desert, in "Papa".
  • Max Mayfield is the only Party member to not be included in the same shot with Brenner, mostly due to Max not joining the show until the second season.
  • The first season is the only season in which Brenner appears in every episode.
    • He is also the only main character from the first season that did not appear in Stranger Things 3 at all.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 The official teleplay for "The Vanishing of Will Byers"
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Instagram post by @stonstage
  3. News article "Hawkins Lab Blocks Inquiry" shown in "The Upside Down"
  4. "Calling Hawkins Power will give you 'Stranger Things' clues" CNET. October 23, 2017.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Stranger Things: The First Shadow
  6. "New Poster, Official Release Date & Synopsis Revealed For ‘Stranger Things’ Season 2" The Playlist. July, 11, 2017.
  7. "Dear Billy"
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 "The Massacre at Hawkins Lab"
  9. "‘Stranger Things’ Matt & Ross Duffer Dish Season 4 Finale Death & Destruction & Epic Battles Ahead"
  10. The official teleplay for "Papa"
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Stranger Things VR
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 "The Dive"
  13. 13.0 13.1 Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 "The Monster"
  15. Information retrieved from newspaper articles seen in "Holly, Jolly".
  16. "Dig Dug"
  17. The live video feed from "The Nina Project" reveals the date 08/04/79.
  18. 18.0 18.1 "The Nina Project"
  19. 19.0 19.1 "The Hellfire Club"
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 "Papa"
  21. 21.0 21.1 "The Weirdo on Maple Street"
  22. "Holly, Jolly"
  23. "The Body"
  24. 24.0 24.1 "The Flea and the Acrobat"
  25. "The Vanishing of Will Byers"
  26. "The Bathtub"
  27. "The Upside Down"
  28. "The Lost Sister"
  29. "The Gate"
  30. "The Monster and the Superhero"
  31. "Matthew Modine’s Character Was Supposed to Look Like a ‘Lumberjack’ on ‘Stranger Things’" FN . January 28, 2017.
  32. "Stranger Things: the Duffer brothers share the secrets of their hit show" Empire. July 27, 2016.
  33. "Matthew Modine Was Losing Faith That His Character Would Return in Stranger Things". YouTube. June 28, 2022.

CanonCanon hierarchy[]

  1. Information from Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds, a Tier 3 source, conflicts with what's presented in the main series.
    • Suspicious Minds shows Brenner arriving at Hawkins Lab at 1969, yet the fourth season suggests Brenner has run Hawkins Lab since at least 1959.
  2. Information from Stranger Things: SIX, a Tier 3 source, conflicts with what's presented in the main series.
    • The comic versions of the test subjects are at odds with what the fourth season depicts. Additionally, the dating of Terry's rescue attempt differs between Stranger Things: SIX and what behind-the-scenes material suggests (an Instagram post by lead makeup artist Amy L. Forsythe)
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