This article contains major spoilers for Stranger Things 3. You’ve been warned.
According to Netflix, a record-setting number of people have already watched Stranger Things 3, and they all have the same question: What now? The third season of the smash hit left just enough plot threads dangling to keep fans talking and speculating between seasons. As of today, we know nothing at all about Stranger Things 4, which Netflix still hasn’t officially announced, but which everyone (including creators Matt and Ross Duffer) assumes is happening. And when it does, we have some questions we need answered, starting with …
What exactly happened to Jim Hopper?
Raise your hand if you think Jim Hopper really died when those keys were turned and the gate was closed at the end of Stranger Things 3? Anybody? Bueller? Let’s leave behind for a minute the idea that the Duffers would kill off one their most beloved characters and look at the facts. When other characters have been killed on Stranger Things, including the Russians fried in the underground compound in the opening scene of the season, we saw the bodies. This is not a show that often equates disappearance with shuffling off this mortal coil. So they at least want to leave the door open to the idea that Hopper somehow survived that explosion, whether he was captured by the Russians or perhaps transported to the Upside Down again, where he’s stuck between planes of existence.
Whether the return of Jim Hopper makes the emotional beats of the final episode a bit of a cheat in the long run is a deeper question, but it’s highly doubtful we’ve seen the last of the tough local cop with a heart of gold. In fact, we may already know where he is, which brings us to …
Who is “the American”?
In the final scene of Stranger Things 3 — which runs after a few credits have rolled, MCU-style — we travel to Kamchatka, Russia, where some nameless soldiers seem to be, well, feeding a Demogorgon. One goes to a door and is scolded, “No. Not the American.” Of course, fans have been speculating who is in that cell, and why the Russkies are keeping him alive. The natural thought is to presume Hopper is the man behind that door, but what if it’s not Hopper? (And it should be noted that David Harbour himself has his doubts). Dr. Brenner didn’t appear in Stranger Things 3, but executive producers Shawn Levy and Dan Cohen have explicitly stated that he isn’t dead. Could Matthew Modine’s creepy doc be the man stuck in Russia? Or could it even be Brett Gelman’s Murray? He’s exactly the kind of guy who would go all the way to Russia trying to find Hopper and get captured in the process. Or, here’s a wild theory to blow your mind: What if it’s somehow Barb?!?! Justice for Barb!
What are the Russians doing with the Demogorgon and how did they get it?
Speaking of that credits scene, what the hell is going on in that sequence? In the frozen tundra of Russia, soldiers are treating a Demogorgon like Jabba the Hutt treats his Rancor. Why? And where did it come from? The really interesting possibility that this opens up is that there could be a “gate” somewhere other than Hawkins. It’s hard to believe the Russians transported a Demogorgon from Indiana all the way to Russia, isn’t it?
Here’s another interesting, related question that you may not have considered — when is this taking place? Right after the end of Stranger Things 3? A few months or years later? Or what about earlier? For a season heavily inspired by Back to the Future, would it be that shocking if the tag ended up being a vision of the past?
Where did Joyce, Jonathan, Will, and Eleven go, and will they return to Hawkins?
After the death of Hopper, it’s hard to blame the Byers family for finally leaving Hawkins. After all, Joyce, Jonathan, Will, and Eleven all have a lot of lingering trauma around the small town, and a change of scenery could help them all to heal. So where will Joyce and the kids go? They’re going far enough away that Mike says in the finale that he can’t see Eleven until Thanksgiving, so it’s probably not just one town over. It may not even be in the Midwest, but one imagines it would be a small town similar to Hawkins. The show has such a Midwestern, small-town energy that it’s hard to picture El in Los Angeles or New York City (especially considering how her last trip to a big city went over.)
The bigger question here, though, is whether the action of next season will take place elsewhere or if something will drag them back to Hawkins. It’s hard to imagine a Stranger Things 4 that’s entirely set in another city, but it’s not out of the question because …
If they don’t, will the Upside Down follow El?
There’s been a connection between the Upside Down and Eleven since the first season, which raises the question of whether that tie could be geographical. Sure, there was an illicit, underground, experimental research center in Hawkins, but alternate planes of existence don’t really care too much about your GPS settings. Joyce and Eleven are leaving Hawkins for a number of reasons, including the trauma of what happened there, but it’s entirely possible that the connection between the Upside Down and El could follow them wherever they go.
Will Eleven get her powers back?
The action of Stranger Things 3 left Eleven in an unfamiliar state: powerless. Mike seems confident that his girlfriend’s superpowers will return, but how and when? And what if they don’t? It seems unlikely that El will be a “normal girl” forever, but it’s not difficult to picture the Duffers delaying the return of her powers and defining the character without them for at least a few episodes next year. Exactly how and when to turn Eleven’s abilities back on could define the arc of Stranger Things 4.
Is Dr. Owens going to return, or was his season-finale cameo it?
One of the biggest shocks of Stranger Things 3 was seeing Dr. Sam Owens return to Hawkins in the season finale. Was it just a fun little cameo for Paul Reiser, or is there something more to it? Why would Dr. Owens be the head of the group that comes in to clean up? And what does that look on his face mean when he sees the gate? There’s something going on in that long shot of his sunken face — could it possibly be disappointment? Or fear from the knowledge that this is all far from over? Did he know what was happening under Starcourt Mall? And could he be a part of the action in season four?
Is there more for Mayor Kline to do?
It looks like Mayor Kline’s political career is over, as he’s shuffled off in handcuffs in the season finale. (Maybe a zealous prosecutor can try him as an accomplice for the deaths of all the townspeople who melted into the Mind Flayer?) Cary Elwes gave a wonderfully slimy performance as one of the most corrupt and uncaring mayors in the Midwest, and it seems like his time on the show is probably over — but don’t forget that another Mayor Larry, the one who ran Amity in Jaws, was still mayor in Jaws 2. And the Duffers love to bring back their guest stars, including Reiser, Modine, and Gelman. Chances are good we’ll probably see Larry at least one more time.
Who will be the next ’80s guest star?
Speaking of Cary Elwes, the Duffers have included in every season at least one guest star who rose to fame in the era in which the show is set. Matthew Modine, Sean Astin, Paul Reiser, Cary Elwes — who’s next? Here’s a thought: How about a woman? Sure, Winona Ryder qualifies, but why not consider a female ’80s star for the “major guest part” of Stranger Things 4? The Duffers have nodded to the movies of John Hughes a few times. How about Molly Ringwald or Ally Sheedy? Or what about another star of films referenced by the Duffers a few times this season: Linda Hamilton? Too bad GLOW already claimed Geena Davis, although she could easily do double duty on Netflix ’80s hits.
In what year will it take place, and what movies will it reference?
Stranger Things 3 didn’t just reference the movies of 1985, the year in which it was set. It worked elements of films like Back to the Future and Day of the Dead into the entire season. Presuming the next year takes place in 1986, what films released that year could provide plot templates? Aliens is obvious, but that was a major influence on Stranger Things 2. There are a dozen or so films from 1986 that feel like they could work their way into the world of Stranger Things, including The Fly, Big Trouble in Little China, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Short Circuit, Labyrinth, Highlander, Little Shop of Horrors, Top Gun, and maybe even Blue Velvet. (Ten bucks says they include a PBR reference if the next season takes place in 1986.) And don’t forget Howard the Duck, you monsters.
However, a better question may be whether the Duffers will stick to a “one year later” format? Could Stranger Things 4 take place in 1987, 1988, or even the ’90s? The kids of the show are growing up fast, but 1986 seems so rich in potential show ideas that it’s hard to see the Duffers letting them go by. We’re not ready for ’90s Stranger Things. At least not yet.