Stranger Things has been a pop culture phenomenon from the moment it launched on Netflix in 2016. Combining healthy dollops of Eighties nostalgia with creepy special effects and some seriously talented child actors, it made stars of its cast and spawned a generation of new memes.
Now, with the hotly-anticipated fourth season on the horizon, it’s time for a recap. After all, season three aired all the way back in 2019: what you need is a quick and easy way to catch up without watching all 20 episodes.
Fortunately, that’s exactly what you’re reading. So grab your baseball bat and (ideally) your telekinetic friends: it’s time to head back to the Upside Down.
The story so far
Nothing strange ever happens in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana – that’s until young Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) disappears on his way home one night. His mother Joyce (Winona Ryder), though, remains convinced he’s still alive, and it turns out that he’s trapped inside a dark parallel world called the Upside Down, where he’s hiding from the monstrous Demogorgon that is hunting him.
At the same time, while searching for him in a forest during a thunderstorm, his friends Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) run into Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), a girl with telekinetic powers who’s on the run from a mysterious government facility, the Department of Energy.
Eventually, Will is rescued by Joyce and resident alcoholic police sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour), who are sent into the Upside Down to find him.
However, that’s not the end of the story (oh no, we’re only at the end of season one. Strap in).
Will remains connected to the Upside Down, and in season two he starts experiencing terrifying visions of a massive creature that lives there, the Mind Flayer.
Hopper (who has quasi-adopted Eleven at this point, exercising potentially poor judgement given her murderous predilections) decides to investigate and discovers that Will’s drawings of the Upside Down correlate to a real-life series of tunnels underneath Hawkins, that connect the town to the parallel plane.
The catch: if the tunnels are destroyed, it will destroy the town itself. With Hawkins being overrun by “demo-dogs”, a vicious type of mini-monster, the Demogorgon mounts an attack on Hopper’s house and manages to bite Eleven, who begins experiencing trouble accessing her powers.
Nevertheless, she heads to the Upside Down’s portal at the Department of Energy and exorcises the monster possessing Will. strong work ethic.
She closes the portal for good, but as you might have guessed, season three throws up a whole new list of problems for the gang to face.
First on the list is puberty. New girl Max (Sadie Sink) is dating Lucas; Eleven and Mike are also seeing each other and Will is desperately trying to get his friends to continue playing Dungeons and Dragons, like any sensible teenager. The new Starcourt Mall is also causing problems: a secret Soviet laboratory sets up shop there, with the aim of reopening the portal to the Upside Down.
As a result, the Mind Flayer starts to leak through the gateway and possess the unfortunate people of Hawkins – including Max’s step-brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery). Though Eleven continues having difficulty accessing her powers, she is able to defeat Billy (who ultimately dies) and the Mind Flayer, before Hopper sacrifices himself so she can close the portal.
In the final scenes of season three, a now power-less El moves out of Hawkins with the Byers family… and that’s where we’re up to today. Phew!
The main players
Stranger Things has managed to incorporate a vast and ever-growing cast of characters into its episodes while also giving enough airtime to the stars of the show: namely, Eleven and her group of friends.
The initial group of friends we see at the start of Stranger Things comprises Will, Dustin, Lucas and Mike, a group of nerdy pre-teens who love nothing more than playing a bit of Dungeons and Dragons together.
Of course, when Will is taken, the rest run into Eleven, a troubled, telekinetic child who initially has trouble talking and regularly murders both thugs and otherworldly horrors with her powers . When she gets taken in by Hopper, she also learns how be more of a teen. Though El has since blossomed – and is now dating Mike, no less – she also seems to have lost her powers.
In season two, the group were also joined by Max (Sadie Sink), a rebel tomboy who initially clashed with El; however, the pair soon became firm friends when Max proved she could hold her own in a fight.
Ah, a love triangle for the ages: Steve (the people’s choice, handy with a baseball bat, also with excellent hair, played by Joe Keery), Nancy (Mike’s sister, the smartest kid in Hawkins, played by Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), Will’s brother, who helps Nancy investigate the strange goings-on in town. Currently, Nancy is with Jonathan; together, the pair of them regularly make more questionable decisions than a troubled Eighties rock band.
It’s also worth mentioning Billy Hargrove, played deliciously by Montgomery, with just a touch of psychopathy. He’s Max’s stepbrother, who meets his untimely end at the end of season three, sacrificing himself to the Mind Flayer to help Eleven escape. RIP.
The main adults you need to know about are Jim Hopper, Hawkins’ Chief of Police who investigates Will’s disappearance in the first season and rapidly becomes involved with the Byers and the Upside Down. In later seasons, he also becomes a surrogate father to Eleven – before tragically dying at the end of season three (sob)... or so we thought.
Joyce Byers is Will’s mother. After leading the effort to find Will, she ends up helping the kids fight whatever latest plot the Upside Down has cooked up – and sparks fly between her and Hopper… before his supposed untimely death. Joyce isn’t very lucky in love, it has to be said – her last boyfriend, Bobby (played by everyone’s fave hobbit, Sean Astin), met a gruesome end at the hands of a couple of demo-dogs. Here’s hoping season four is the charm.
What’s lined up for season 4?
The trailer for season four certainly promises plenty of juicy goings-on and more awkward encounters than a visit to Scoops Ahoy.
In the trailer, the Byers family are trying to adjust to a life outside Hawkins, though a mysterious government official soon starts interfering, asking Eleven for her help in tackling an old enemy.
“I’m afraid your friends in Hawkins are very much in the eye of the storm,” he tells her. Gulp. There are also shots of the Upside Down, Hopper imprisoned in a Soviet-looking gulag, and a man with stitched-over eyes who doesn’t look creepy at all. And plenty of explosions.
Plus, Max starts flying, which is a new one on us – and presumably for her too.
And if you want to watch the new trailer, take a look below:
Hoo, boy. Strap yourselves in: season three’s ending left us with nothing but questions.
At the end of season three, we thought Jim Hopper met a tragic end defending Eleven. But he appears in the trailer for season four, presumably as a Russian captive, sparking questions about how exactly he survived the unsurvivable.
For that matter, Eleven has now lost her powers. How did that happen – and will she get them back?
A much-unloved part of season three also focussed on the other supernaturally-gifted children who had escaped from the Department of Energy. However, after El left them to come back to Hawkins (mercifully putting an end to her emo phase), we’ve heard nothing more. Odds are they appear at some point this season, but how remains to be seen.
A lot of internet speculation has also been devoted to the unlamented Dr Brenner, Eleven’s quasi-father figure and sinister scientist who experimented on her. Though he was presumed dead, internet sleuths heard some of the Russians at Starcourt Mall discussing “the American” imprisoned in one of the cells, implying that Brenner might actually still be alive.
Despite three (soon to be four) seasons, Stranger Things has also never answered any big questions about the Upside Down. What is it? Also, how are the Mind Flayer and Demogorgon linked?
Finally – and most importantly – will perennial third wheel Will Byers ever find a romantic interest of his own? We’re keeping our fingers crossed.