Stranger Things Season 4 may have dropped a revelatory teaser back in the halcyon days of February 2020, but substantive updates on the hit Netflix show’s return have been practically nonexistent ever since. However, star David Harbour has seemingly shed some light on the story for the upcoming fourth frame, especially regarding his presumed-dead character, Jim Hopper.
Indeed, Harbour’s Hopper sacrificed himself in an explosive climactic moment at the end of 2019’s Stranger Things Season 3, but the February teaser revealed (some might say spoiled,) that he’s alive and (arguably) well, pounding railroad spikes in a snowy labor camp in Russia; a reveal that expands on our introduction to the mysterious setting in Season 3’s post-credits scene, which dropped a clue in the cell block about the presence of “The American.” While Harbour now admits that he was playing things coy when asked about Hopper’s prospective return, he reveals that the twist was always the plan from show creators Matt and Ross Duffer. As he explains to Total Film of the poorly-kept secret:
“I knew. We knew. We had talked about it.” He laughs, further stating, “I just wanted to preserve the fantasy for everyone. And it’s such a weird position that we’re in now with so much media, that everybody wants to talk to you about it.
Of course, with Hopper having went up in an explosion after destroying a Russian device designed to use the Upside Down as a portal, the how’s and why’s regarding his fate and the manner in which he got to said camp all the way from Hawkins, Indiana can be theorized. Yet, viewers are still left without context. Now, it seems that Harbour has provided said context, albeit in a metaphorical manner, comparing the apparent resurrection of Jim Hopper to that of Ian McKellen’s wizard, Gandalf the Grey, in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, specifically regarding the character’s presumed demise in The Fellowship of the Rings while battling the Balrog, only to resurface in second film The Two Towers in a blindingly luminescent new getup, seemingly more potent than ever, bearing the new designation, Gandalf the White. As Harbour continues about the Duffers’ plans:
“I’ve had those discussions [about Hopper’s resurrection] with them from the very first season. We were always interested in that idea of the Gandalf resurrection – Gandalf the Grey who fights the Balrog and then becomes Gandalf the White. It’s the idea of the resurrection of the character. And mythologically, Hopper, in a sense, had to change. I mean, you couldn’t go on the way he was going on. He has to resurrect in some way. So, it was a great opportunity to do that. So, we’ll see a very different guy going forwards. The same guy but in a different vein. It’s a very cool thing to be able to play.”
While there’s a Tolkien-text rabbit hole regarding Gandalf’s transformation that’s deep enough to irreparably sidetrack this article, our focus on Harbour’s point seemingly defines a redemptive direction in which Jim Hopper’s arc is heading. The character started Season 1 as a brusque, hard-drinking, chain-smoking, pill-popping police chief who abandoned the concept of caring about anything in the world; an attitude that gradually changed after the monstrous incursions from the Upside Down, his slowly burgeoning romance with Joyce and the role he eventually assumed as a loving foster father to Eleven. Thus, like Gandalf—who plummeted to a presumed death down the chasm of the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, only to emerge reborn both in body and spirit as a kind of savior—Harbour’s local lawman will be changed in the most intrinsic ways from his captivity in Russia, and possibly by the mysterious manner in which it initially occurred.
Coincidentally, the topic of Russia, specifically secret Russian experiments has become a recurring theme in Harbour’s recent roles, seeing as he has a prominent role in the Scarlett-Johansson-headlined Black Widow, playing Alexei Shostakov, a.k.a. Russia’s own conjured Captain America, Red Guardian. Yet, unlike Alexei’s transformation into an elite Russian agent, Hopper’s Russian experience will apparently force him to let go of self-identifying conceits, specifically when it comes to being an American from the 1980s. As he describes of Hopper’s culture-clashing experiences during his incarceration:
“One of the things was to be a Russian, as opposed to being an American in a Russian prison, which is a very different experience. I think that Hopper is very much the American, as they talk about it at the end of season three. And in that way, you know, the American mentality of the ‘80s ‘cowboy’ American that Hopper is in Russia, it’s a very different dynamic than a Russian dissident or a Russian former KGB or whatever being ostracised.”
Exactly how Hopper’s transformation ultimately manifests on Stranger Things Season 4 will, of course, have to remain a mystery for the near future, especially since Netflix has yet to reveal a release date, having only cited the vague window of 2021. Indeed, rumors recently pointed to the series resuming its Georgia-located production as soon as this week, but cast member Caleb McLaughlin (who plays Lucas Sinclair,) had a less-optimistic appraisal in his recent comment, stating that it will start, “Hopefully this year, but it may be next year. We have no idea.”
On a similarly unfortunate note, David Harbour’s next onscreen appearance in Black Widow, which is scheduled for release on November 6, also happens to be in jeopardy as Disney currently mulls over (once again) delaying its release as poor performances from the current crop of theatrical releases—notably director Christopher Nolan’s Tenet—seem to prove that people generally aren’t ready to return to theaters as the pandemic persists. –Where’s Gandalf when you need him?