If you haven’t finished watching the third season of Stranger Things you should probably stop reading this article. We’re going to spoil the hell out of the show as we discuss this season and, more importantly, what we think should and will happen next season now that people have left, evaporated, and lost the ability to trade a nose bleed for heroism. Thanks, Russia!
Jason Tabrys: I know we have strong opinions on what went down and what’s coming, but can we at least agree that, while season three was strong, it also extended the show’s familiar premise to its natural end and that the events in the finale set up something new? That’s a good thing, creatively, for the show, I think.
Jessica Toomer: It depends. If you think emotional terrorism is, creatively, a good thing, then yes, the ending of season three marked an exciting new evolution in the storytelling of this show. These characters are growing up and the series needs to grow up with them. That’s the main takeaway I had from how this latest installment wrapped things up. But as someone who likes to milk the nostalgia for all it’s worth, it was tough to see the group separated and the fate of a certain character stamped with a big question mark.
Jason: Hopper. You mean Hopper. We slapped the spoiler warning on this sucker. Be free!
Jessica: It’s too painful to say just yet. But yes, that Hawaiian-shirt sporting sheriff’s ambiguous end has kept me up many a night. So let’s just put it out there. Is Hopper really gone?
Jason: They handled the after-effects of Hopper’s evaporation so well, setting up this chapter break and these character transitions. But I can’t fathom the Duffer Brothers ignoring the fist pump of a Hopper return. It’s a crowd-pleasing move and these guys know how to play to their fans (which isn’t a knock). Whether he’s back or not, however, there’s certainly going to be some kind of on-screen exploration of that question. I can see it consuming season 4. The big questions are: do they keep us waiting or are we going to see Hopper in a cell? And, also, how on earth are these kids going to the USSR to find Hopper? Are we Far From Homing or Police Academy: Mission To Moscowing? What if… what if they’re already there and Hawkins is actually a town in the Soviet Union made to look like a classic slice of Americana? As in the John Travolta/Arye Gross starring ’80s American film classic, The Experts. Whoa.
Jessica: You’re spiraling, man. But anyway, a field trip to the Motherland in the midst of the Cold War — feels appropriately 80s. I have no doubt Hopper’s still alive. We would’ve seen his body’s leftover remnants of goo staining that metal walkway if he hadn’t survived the explosion. But I think, as much as the Duffer Brothers love their fan-service, they like their plot twists more and what better red herring to tease us with than that post-credits scene setting up the ultimate misdirect? I’m calling it now, Hopper is not the “American” in Russia.
Jason: In the Upside Down, then? Trapped in another space, melded with the mall and locked in a Kay-Bee Toys in another dimension with only stale Sbarros to live on? Where is he!? Does he even have access to chips and salsa!?
Jessica: I’d like to imagine he’s enjoying an endless supply of USS Butterscotches at his own private Scoops Ahoy but alas, I think it’s more probable he’s pulled a Byers and gotten himself trapped in the Upside Down. That slit into the alternate dimension looked just big enough to fit a dad-bod through — three-inches big enough — and Hop’s got a better chance of surviving there than in a Russian prison. Those Commie bastards wouldn’t put up with his wisecracks and chain-smoking for too long. And it sets up a nice parallel to season one when Hop was the one rescuing Will from the Upside Down. Maybe all those spores he accidentally inhaled on that mission will help him avoid the curse of Barb?
Jason: Jim Hopper could never be Barb. His internet canonization is earned. But, I do agree that that is a viable scenario, though I’m unsure how the gang is going to rescue him with a de-powered Eleven.
Jessica: I’m convinced she’s just not consuming enough Eggos. Once Joyce Byers starts making those triple-decker waffle stacks that Hop loved so much, the nosebleeds will come back in full force. No, it’s another great storytelling choice to have Eleven lose her abilities next season. We’ll get to see the character grow and come into her own without the trait that’s come to define her, and we’ll have an adequate answer to why no one knew Hopper was alive. And when she does regain her powers — which she will — she’ll use them to rescue her dear old dad setting up a reversal of roles that brings both characters full circle. Or, ya know, I’m bullsh*tting all of this and season four ends up focusing on Erica Sinclair creating her own D&D group play with no mention of Hop, Russia, or the Upside Down. It’s 50/50 at this point.
Jason: I just want more Scoops Ahoy non-adventures in retailing. Let’s skitter away from the ‘80s and move into ‘90s nostalgia and the Clerksification of Stranger Things.
Jessica: As a proud 90s kid, I’d fully support a time jump to the era of Game Boys, fanny packs, and thigh masters. We’d only need to go forward a few years, which might push the story into interesting places. Plus, have you seen this cast? They’re one growth spurt away from looking suspiciously out of place as teenagers. I think a bigger question than, “What happened to Hop?” is “What happens to this group of kids after that big move?” Do they stay in touch? Where do the Byers go? What brings them back together again? That’s what will fuel season four more than anything else.
Jason: These are all good questions that we don’t have answers to. Here’s another one: is Paul Reiser, ultimately, going to save the day? Dr. Owens arrived on the scene just a little too late to save Hopper, but his presence at the end of season 3 suggests some level of inclusion in season 4.
Jessica: He’ll definitely be involved in some capacity, but I have a hard time picturing him as some kind of savior next season. He’s always arriving a bit too late, finding himself one step behind, to convince me he’ll make a difference. Although I find it interesting that, post-Hopper’s disappearance, he was cool with Eleven being passed off to Joyce Byers. Owens had an agreement with Hopper, but now that he’s gone, what role does he play in Eleven’s life, and in sweeping all of this chaos in Hawkins under the rug? I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him trying to manage things in the small town next season while investigating the Russian’s interest in the Upside Down. Which means we’ll have to question how the Russians even knew about the Upside Down. Which means the possible return of another forgotten character, Dr. Brenner, aka, the “American” I think is in that prison cell.
Jason: Your theories are more robust than mine. Speaking of Joyce, I feel like the Duffer Brothers need to not repeat this season and have her visibly mourn Hopper. Joyce needs to sort of be the Hopper next season as this adult support beam. And I think we saw shades of that. Despite her ache from Bob’s loss, she really rallied this season near the end. I’m hopeful for more of that.
Jessica: Her choice to pick up and move post-Hopper’s death didn’t sit well with me, but maybe the distance from Hawkins will give her some clarity and the ability to raise these kids without the shadow of Russians and Mind Flayers hanging over them. The Byers move does make me think about the future of Hawkins itself though. Now that the mall is destroyed and 30 people are dead because of the Mind Flayer, how does this town move on. Who’s gonna be the new sheriff? Where will Steve Harrington work if not Scoops Ahoy? If we’re thinking about jumping to the 90s, having Steve and Robin man a local blockbuster feels like the way to go I guess, but I’m interested to see which characters step into the shoes of the fan favorites it looks like we’re losing.
Jason: They’re going to probably bring in some fresh talent. As for the move, I get it, but also I think Joyce is mama bearing and trying to keep her kids safe from all this nonsense. The better question might be: why the hell is everyone else staying?
Jessica: Better schools? Higher property values? Who the hell knows, but I would like to see season four really lean into the hysteria more and make Hawkins this kind of dark tourist destination where travelers who vacation in haunted psych wards and locations where mass murders took place can go to get their kicks. What if the town just monetized this tragedy and things got really camp in season four?
Jason: Hawkins is losing its innocence and the gang is losing its gruff protector. Why does it feel like season four and the effort to navigate and maybe undo some of these things (or not, since the lost innocence of one’s surroundings and the feeling that the “grown-ups” aren’t there to save us anymore coincides with the end of adolescence) is all a set-up for the end of the show?
Jessica: It’s strange because, in a lot of ways, the end of season three felt satisfying enough to end the entire series on. We have questions obviously, but I don’t think this show will ever end by answering all of our questions. I know the Duffer Brothers have said they have a plan for seasons four and maybe even five, but with the nod to season one with the return of the Demogorgon and the Upside Down, it feels like season four might be the most natural place to end this story.