Warning: contains spoilers for Stranger Things seasons 1-3.
Picture the scene: you’re a Mind Flayer, hanging out in your hell dimension, all tendrils and tornados. You’re commanding your gross monster minions this way and that, when one day a tear appears in your reality. It was made in terror by a super-powered child from another world after she stumbled upon one of your grossest monster minions – the Demogorgon – while on a state-sponsored spy mission through the psychic realm in search of Russian secrets (what’s Russia, you think?, stroking a tendril against the place where your chin might be).
The Demogorgon passes through this tear to a world just like yours but with a less after-the-bomb vibe and more in the way of stonewash denim. Demo gets a taste for the residents, some of which it drags back home and squirrels away like a dog burying socks. Eventually, that super-powered child explodes your Demogorgon with her mind, which should be an end to it, but you just can’t shake the idea of that other world…
Luckily, Will Byers, one of the human ‘socks’ stolen by the Demogorgon, was rescued and took one of your guys – a little slug-like passenger – back to his home dimension. That slug evolves into a hive-mind army of Demodogs, while Will’s mind becomes a radio station you can tune into to spy on his world. Useful. You’re keen to expand your tendril-y operation into this non-apocalypse world, but just on the brink of success, that same super-powered kid (in eyeliner?) shows up and cruelly uses her psychic powers to close the interdimensional gate, killing your Demodog army and forcing you to stay put.
Now you’re stuck outside the other world with your little face – if indeed, you had a face – pressed up against its window. But as luck would have it, the little bit of you that possessed sock-boy was left on the other side when some Russians (you’re starting to like those guys) re-open the gate. This honestly couldn’t have gone better for you. You use that little part of you to possess a bunch of rats and a nasty boy with a perm. He – Billy – brings you townspeople that you melt into your grossest minion monster yet, a drippy spider-looking meat thing that will (finally!) rid you of that super-powered girl, and stop her from ever rudely closing the gate on you again.
The plan goes well, and your drippy spider-looking meat monster even manages to injure the girl and take away her super powers (result!). Then, would you believe it? Just when your meat monster is poised to destroy the girl and her firework-throwing friends in a mall, everything goes to shit. She de-possesses perm boy, he sacrifices himself, and the girl’s police chief adoptive dad and sock-boy’s mother explode the machine the Russians were using to open the inter-dimensional gate. The blast closes the portal, shutting off your psychic connection to your monster and leaving you trapped back in your home dimension, a-gain. Boo!
Or if you’d prefer all that relayed from an alternate viewpoint, please find the fundamentals of season three below:
Starcourt Mall, Corrupt Mayor Kline and the Russian Lab
Hawkins, Indiana went mall-mad in season three, but little did it know that the town’s spanking new shopping complex was just a front beneath which Russian scientists could re-open the inter-dimensional gate to the Upside Down. They’d paid off Mayor Kline (Cary Elwes) to run their operation from under the Starcourt Mall, and they would have gotten away with it too, had it not been for those pesky Stranger Things kids. When AV nerd Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) accidentally intercepted a Russian transmission, he and ice-cream shop employee pals Steve (‘the hair’ Harrington) and Robin (a new character played by Maya Hawke) uncovered the secret lab. Steve, Robin, Dustin and Erica got trapped down there, but made it out alive.
Billy Hargrove Possessed & Eleven Loses Her Powers
In season three, Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery), the older step-brother of Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) was possessed by the Mind Flayer in a steelworks outside of town and used to do his bidding. The Mind Flayer’s bidding was the kidnap of multiple townspeople, whose bodies were melted to form a disgusting multi-legged monster that the Mind Flayer sicced on Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). During a fight at Hopper’s woodland cabin, Eleven damaged the creature but ended up with a little bit of it inside her leg, which caused her to lose her powers. She used her last little bit of them telekinetically removing the creature from under her skin, but even months later, remained powers-free.
Realising that her step-brother was possessed, Max and co. tried to bake the evil out of him in a sauna (like they’d managed to do to a possessed Will Byers – Noah Schnapp – in season two), but to no avail. Eventually, it was a powerless Eleven who rescued Billy just as he was delivering her up to the monster in the Starcourt Mall. Earlier in the season, Eleven had psychically witnessed Billy’s happiest childhood memory of his mother, which she used to lure the real Billy out of possession. He then sacrificed his life to save Eleven, Max and Will, and was killed messily by the creature.
Hopper’s Sacrifice (and Rebirth!)
Foiling the Soviet scheme didn’t come without a price. Thanks to interference by assassin Gregori, Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Hopper (David Harbour)’s plan to blow up the Russian lab gate-opening machine left Hopper inside the chamber with the bomb. Realising that the choice came down to saving Hopper or saving the world, he bravely told Joyce to go ahead, and sacrificed himself. Joyce blew up the machine, which closed the inter-dimensional gate and – so she thought – killed Hopper. Joyce and Hopper never got to have their ill-fated date at Enzo’s…
Dr Sam Owens (Paul Reiser), formerly of Hawkins National Laboratory where Dr Brenner had raised Eleven and the other super-powered kids, showed up at the mall with the US army, who set fire to it and publicly cover up the whole event. The dastardly Mayor Kline was arrested, the good name of politics was never brought into disrepute again.
BUT! An end-credits scene shows that Hopper somehow survived the blast and is currently being held captive in a remote Soviet prison.
The Byers Leave Town
In an overdue move, Joyce takes Jonathan, Will and new foster kid ‘Jane Hopper’ (Eleven) out of Hawkins for a fresh start. They move to California, from where respective couples Eleven and Mike, and Jonathan and Nancy, pledge to stay together long-distance and plan to meet up at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Meanwhile, Dustin continues to be in a relationship with Suzie, his Limahl-loving girlfriend from camp, Max and Lucas are sort of dating too, while Steve was knocked back by Robin because she’s a lesbian with a crush on their former Hawkins High classmate Tammy.
Season four takes place six months after the Battle of Starcourt Mall in March 1986, when the kids are planning to reunite for Spring Break, which promises to be entirely uneventful.
Or if you’d prefer all that relayed by members of the cast reading autocues with varying levels of enthusiasm, fill your boots below!
Stranger Things Season 4 Episodes 1-7 are available to stream on Netflix now. Episodes 8 and 9 will arrive on July 1st.