(Warning: This post contains spoilers from Episode 1 of Stranger Things.) There is a young girl at the heart of the mystery in Netflix's Stranger Things, though her role in the story isn't entirely clear at the start. When she appears, dressed in a hospital gown and with a buzzed head, it's obvious something is going on but there's no telling just what it is yet. She's running from someone, but because she doesn't seem to speak (or at least not speak very much), it's impossible to know who is after her – at first. The only hint to her identity is a tattoo on her arm that reads "011." But what does the 11 tattoo mean on Stranger Things?
When asked about it, the girl gestures back at herself: the 11 refers to her. While it's probably not her real name, Eleven is what she ends up being called and seems to be the only identity she is certain of. Thanks to the hospital gown, the number, and some choice flashbacks, it becomes clear that she was subjected to some horrific abuse prior to her appearance in the story. Eleven was being kept at Hawkins Lab where she was alternately experimented on and locked up before she was able to escape. Though the exact significance of the number isn't revealed in the show's early episodes, one could assume that it denotes her patient number. Perhaps there were ten other experimental attempts before Eleven.
As the series goes on, it becomes clear that something very bad is going down at Hawkins Lab. The first episode begins with a scientist falling victim to an unseen threat in an elevator at the lab, and all roads seem to lead back there. It was at Hawkins Lab that Eleven was treated like a guinea pig, her brain monitored while experiments were run on her designed to test her exceptional abilities – abilities the scientists might have given her, too. Eleven can move things with her mind, though it doesn't seem to come easy; once she uses her powers, she's left bleeding from her nose and ears.
The experiments are run by a man named Dr. Martin Brenner, though Eleven refers to him as "papa." Despite that familiarity, he doesn't come off as very fatherly; when Eleven doesn't behave to his specifications, he has her thrown into a tiny windowless cell.
His motives aren't revealed early on, but it's clear he's responsible for everything that has happened to Eleven. He's the one who caused all of her pain and he's the one she's running from, though there are still bigger threats out there.