(Spoilers for Netflix’s Stranger Things will obviously be found below.)
Stranger Things fans have waited three years to return to Hawkins, Indiana and plenty has happened in that long and painful interim. The cast has grown up, the episodes have reached cinematic run times, and the story about a group of misfits saving their cursed town from Demogorgons, Mindflayers, and Russian scientists has expanded. A long hiatus and more plot threads than a Marvel multiverse movie mean there are likely some characters and storylines audiences have probably forgotten about over the years.
Look, we don’t judge, but we do want you to be prepared for season four, which is why we’ve crafted this handy guide to refresh your memory when it comes to the biggest plot points and character arcs last seen hanging off the proverbial cliff in season three. Here’s where we left Hawkins, and where things might be headed next.
Back to the Beginning
Over the course of three seasons, Stranger Things immersed us in a nostalgic sci-fi trip back to the ’80s, complete with government experiments and Goonies references, and monsters. So many monsters. The show’s central focus was on a group of preteens called The Party which was made up of Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin), Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), and Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo). When Will went missing, Mike met Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), a young girl with incredible powers who may have been responsible for creating a rift between our world and its evil twin, a place called The Upside Down. As the kids searched for their friends, the adults in town, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) and Jim Hopper (David Harbour) did their own digging. Eventually, Will returned safe — though deeply traumatized — and Eleven was able to close the crack temporarily. Following seasons proved though that The Upside Down and its many horrors were weirdly drawn to Hawkins, which meant The Party (which added both El and new girl Max Mayfield, played by Sadie Sink, to its roster in season two) seemed to always be tasked with saving the day.
Summer Lovin’ and the Starcourt Mall
The show kicked off its third season by leaning into not one but two teenage rights of passage: summer hookups and mall hangouts. Eleven and Mike were navigating their relationship while trying to manage Hopper’s protective instincts as her adopted dad while Max and Lucas also started dating. Dustin returned from summer camp with a girlfriend too — and a long-range DIY radio that proved surprisingly helpful later in the season — while poor Will was left alone, wondering why none of his friends wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons anymore. Hawkins also got a brand new mall, filled with Jazzercise studios and extinct retail shops like Radio Shack. It was, for all intents and purposes, a simpler time. A happier time.
Of course, this is Hawkins we’re talking about so the season’s big bad reared its ugly head early on and it chose Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery), Max’s arrogant and abusive stepbrother as its havoc-wreaking avatar. The Mindflayer manipulated the thin veil between our world and The Upside Down to possess Billy and other residents in town, consuming them in order to feed a gnarly-looking creature the kids would face off against at the end of season three. Eventually, Eleven was able to “rescue” Billy (who’d already killed plenty of people by that point) and the show’s resident bad boy decided to sacrifice himself to save the group in a showdown at the Starcourt Mall.
The Scoops Troop
But monsters weren’t the only threat using Hawkins’ most popular hangout spot as a base of operations, the Russians were camped out there too. At the beginning of season three, Russian scientists were seemingly frustrated by failed experiments concerning The Upside Down. When an intimidatingly large laser couldn’t create a portal in their homeland, they came to Hawkins to re-open the tear between the two worlds. Why? We’re still not entirely sure, but it may have something to do with the military’s hope that Demogorgons and all of the other terrifying creatures inhabiting The Upside Down could be harnessed as weapons by whoever controls that world. Unfortunately for them, the Russians weren’t as clever as a group of bored teenagers motivated by free ice cream and unsolvable puzzles. In season three, the Scoops Troop, which was named after the mall’s ice cream shop where babysitting hunk Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) worked with newcomer Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke) banded together to decode a Russian transmission Dustin accidentally picked up on his supercharged walkie-talkie. They recruited Lucas’ younger sister Erica (Priah Ferguson) to help, eventually discovering the Russians had built a bunker deep beneath the mall where they were blasting through the wall between our world and its opposite.
Magnetic anomalies and Russian bodyguards lingering around Hawkins Town Hall alerted Hopper and Joyce to the weird sh*t going down in town too, but it took the adults a while longer to clue into the larger conspiracy. First, they had to kidnap a naïve, slushie-loving scientist named Alexei (R.I.P.) and recruit help from their old friend, private investigator Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman). Eventually, they returned to the Starcourt Mall, and, while the children battled the Mindflayer, Joyce blew up the Russian’s operation (literally) with Hopper trapped too close to the laser to avoid the fallout.
Where They Are Now
Stranger Things ended its third season by scattering its cast to the four winds, which is just a dramatic way of saying some kids went to California and some stayed in Hawkins. Dr. Owens, the clueless-yet-well-meaning government guy from season two popped up to help relocate The Byers family who apparently decided Will had been terrorized by The Upside Down long enough. With Hopper gone, El went with them, assuming a new identity as Jane Hopper and attempting to start fresh after losing her superpowers in the fight against the Mindflayer. Though Jonathan and Will seem to be thriving on the West Coast, El looks like she’s having a tough time adjusting to handling school bullies without her abilities. Meanwhile, in Hawkins, Nancy’s heading the school newspaper, Lucas is trying to get in with the jocks by joining the school’s basketball team, Dustin and Mike have joined the Hellfire Club (a DnD group the rest of the town believes to be low-key Satanists) Max is mourning the loss of her stepbrother, and Robin and Steve are working at a video rental shop.
Based on trailers for season four, the group will face off against another fantasy-inspired villain named Vecna who’s into an even more terrifying form of demonic possession than the Mindflayer and who may have his sights set on Max. And, all the way around the world in Kamchatka, Russia, a believed-to-be-dead Hopper is planning his escape from a Siberian prison, likely with help from Joyce and Murray.
So, now you’re all caught up.
Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things’ returns on May 27.