Get out your Farrah Fawcett hairspray and find your favorite baseball bat covered in nails — Stranger Things is back! Season three of the mind-flaying Netflix series makes its patriotic debut this July 4, smack in the middle of summer vacation for the kids of Hawkins, Indiana. It’s been almost two years since we left our intrepid crew dancing at the Snow Ball, so if your mind is a little fuzzy on Demogorgons and the status of gates to interdimensional worlds and what a delight Steve Harrington is, you are not alone! Just kidding, no one could forget that last thing.
Over the course of two seasons, we’ve seen the original Party (it’s a D&D term, guys, get onboard) grow from four to six members as Mike, Lucas, Dustin, and Will welcomed telekinetic Eggo-lover Eleven and skater girl Max to the group. We’ve watched police chief Jim Hopper attempt to deal with his grief over his late daughter Sarah in order to become the hero Hawkins — nay, the world — needed. We’ve seen Joyce Byers fight for the whole truth and nothing but the truth not once but twice, even though it made her look like, let’s be honest, a wackadoo.
Point is, we’ve seen a lot of stuff, which is why Vulture thought it might be helpful to revisit some of the major developments from the first two seasons of the Netflix series before jumping into the terrifying shenanigans sure to befall our beloved citizens of Hawkins in the summer of 1985. Welcome to the Party.
It was nice knowing you, Hawkins Lab.
Ah, the shadiest lab to ever shade. In season one, we learn that Hawkins Lab, used by the Department of Energy, is run by Matthew Modine’s Dr. Brenner, who is attempting to harness the power of a young girl he refers to only as Eleven (we’ll get to Eight later), in hopes of using her as a weapon for the U.S. government. After encountering the Demogorgon while using her psychokinesis in a sensory-deprivation tank, Eleven freaks out and tears the fabric between our world and the Upside Down, unleashing a whole lot of trouble known as season one of Stranger Things. Brenner has his face eaten by the Demogorgon, and in season two the lab is run by Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser), who, although still a little shady, ends up having a soft spot for Will Byers and becomes an ally to Hopper.
Nevertheless, Nancy realizes that, due to the agreement Hopper and Joyce made in season one to get permission to go into the Upside Down and retrieve Will themselves, Hawkins Lab will never be held accountable for the death of her BFF Barb Holland (Shannon Purser). Nancy has no time for this and so she and Jonathan secretly get Dr. Owens on tape talking about how the gate to the Upside Down is growing and bring it to ex–freelance investigative journalist Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman). Since the truth is too insane to believe, they make it seem like Hawkins Lab is leaking chemicals into the town, send it out to every newspaper in the country, and at the end of season two Hawkins Lab is forced to shutter for good.
Like Sting said, the Mind Flayer will be watching you.
Stranger Things has a lot to offer viewers — joyous friendships, Hopper, ’80s nostalgia, Hopper, Winona Ryder’s comeback, and Hopper, obviously — but let’s get real: This show is very much about monsters. Not just the monster that is puberty, which is sure to wreak havoc on the bonds of the Party in season three, but actual monsters.
Season one introduced us to the Demogorgon, which is basically the physical manifestation of that feeling when you’re in your 30s and you’ve been drinking for two days and then you wake up at 3 p.m. on Sunday and you can’t feel your face but you know you need that leftover lo mein in your fridge and you’ll do what’s necessary to reach it. Eleven destroys that guy at the end of season one. In season two, we learn that the Demogorgon has relatives! Dustin names them “demodogs” because, well, they are the size of giant dogs and run around in bloodthirsty packs. But these demodogs are merely minions of season two’s true big baddie, the Mind Flayer, also known as the Shadow Monster.
The Mind Flayer is much more evolved than the demodogs, controlling both them and poor Will — WHO HAS BEEN THROUGH ENOUGH — in an Upside Down Hive Mind situation. It’s described as a virus, even infecting Hawkins itself thanks to the elaborate system of tunnels it builds under the town. Although the Party and Co. get it out of Will by blasting it with heat, the only way to stop it is by having Eleven close the ever-growing gate to the Upside Down. But season two ends on an ominous note, as we see the kids dancing to the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” at the Snow Ball with the Mind Flayer still lurking below in the Upside Down — or Above, depending on your perspective.
Love is in the air!
There may be a tear in interdimensional space, but dammit, people are still going to find time to fall in love! Obviously, the cutest example here is Mike and Eleven, who just love each other so much. Remember how, after she disappeared when she killed the Demogorgon in season one, he tried to find her on the walkie-talkie every night for a year? Remember when he learned that Hopper had been keeping Eleven from him and he got so angry and then cried because he’s just a kid and he doesn’t understand his feelings yet, but they are there and they are strong? And remember when Eleven walked away from her Hawkins Lab sister and brief stint as a homeless criminal because she sensed Mike was in trouble and Mike is her home? Anyway, these two shared their first dance and first kiss at the Snow Ball at the end of season two, and going into season three, this little romance is so on.
But wait, there’s more! When Max skated into town in season two, both Lucas and Dustin immediately fell for her thanks to her Dig Dug arcade-game prowess, but Max only had eyes for Lucas. These two also shared a kiss at the Snow Ball, leaving poor Dustin all alone (emotionally speaking, because merciful Nancy rescued him with a pity dance). And speaking of love triangles, the two-season-long back-and-forth between Nancy, Steve, and Jonathan seemed to reach a definitive conclusion that left Steve Harrington and Steve Harrington’s hair out in the cold. He was no match for Jonathan’s total willingness to hunt a no-face-all-teeth monster and help Nancy as she sought #JusticeForBarb by taking down Hawkins Lab. Nancy and Jonathan seem right for each other, but that doesn’t mean Steve isn’t deserving of love. The kid has turned into a world-class babysitter and true gentleman right before our eyes. May you find love in season three, Steve!
Finally, Hopper and Joyce haven’t officially declared any romantic feelings for each other, but what was all that talk of sharing cigarettes during high school for if not to build a foundation for a relationship? Hello, even in season one when he thought she was losing it because she swore her son was talking to her through lights and a monster with no face came out of the wall, he slept in his car outside of her house to keep her safe. Sure, Joyce might need some time to get over watching her sweet boyfriend Bob Newby (Sean Astin) get eaten alive by demodogs (you were too good for this world, Bob!), but THIS! IS! LOVE!
She’s Jane Hopper now!
Eleven, this is your life: Our little Eggo-loving mindbender’s origins begin with her mother, Terry Ives, taking part in Dr. Brenner’s LSD-fueled experiments at “the Department of Energy” at Hawkins Lab. When Terry ended up pregnant, Brenner stole her baby, Jane, and told Terry she suffered a miscarriage. Terry didn’t buy it, but Brenner caught Terry and electro-shocked her brain, turning her into a shell of a human who is forced to relive those horrible memories on a loop at her sister’s house.
When Eleven escaped Hawkins Lab after the whole “accidentally opening the gate to the Upside Down” thing, she befriended Mike & Co., ate a lot of waffles — some frozen — then killed the Demogorgon and hid in the woods, fearing capture. Hopper found her and took her to a cabin in the middle of nowhere to keep her safe. She eventually ran away because the cabin was just another form of captivity, albeit one based in love and grief. She found her mom, learned the truth about Brenner, and discovered she was not the only child at the lab. She made it her mission to find Eight/Kali (Linnea Berthelsen), who is living a life of crime in Pittsburgh and taught Eleven how to harness her powers and wear oversized blazers. But when Eleven discovered Hopper and Mike were in danger, she headed home to finally close that freaking interdimensional gate once and for all. She celebrated by donning a pretty dress and dancing with the boy she likes at the Snow Ball.
In thanks for Eleven’s saving the world, Dr. Mad About You procured a forged birth certificate for one Jane Hopper. She’s now “officially” Hopper’s daughter (I’M CRYING), and per the doctor’s warning, they’ll wait a year until she makes her society debut. Whew. Eleven has lived a life.
The strangest thing to happen on Stranger Things is that time a 30-year-old went to high school and everyone just accepted it.
There’s an evil mirror version of our world called the Upside Down where terrifying monsters roam? Sure! A middle-schooler has the power to crush skulls with her mind? Why not! But you will never convince us that Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery) is a teenager, Stranger Things. I’m sorry, did those abs come from Hawkins Lab too? The end of season two saw this ACTUAL MAN getting Mrs. Wheeler all hot and bothered, beating Steve Harrington within an inch of his life, and almost taking that very versatile nail bat to the balls courtesy of his stepsister Max, who warned him not to mess with her and her friends. We know we should be more concerned about if/when the Shadow Monster will be back and if we’ll ever meet other Hawkins Lab alums aside from Eleven and Eight, but honestly, our top five burning Stranger Things questions are in regards to the existence of this dickhead. Yes, fine, he’s partially a victim of his circumstances, but that DOES NOT GIVE HIM THE RIGHT.
The Byers house is, incredibly, still standing.
Here’s a list of all the things that have happened to the Byers house over two seasons: Joyce covered it with string lights; Joyce painted the alphabet on the wall with black paint; Joyce took an ax to the wall when she caught a glimpse of Will in the Upside Down and wanted to free him — this did not work; Nancy, Jonathan, and Steve doused the carpet with gasoline and then lured the Demogorgon there, shot it multiple times, beat it with a nail bat so it was bleeding everywhere, led it to a bear trap they set in the hallway, and then lit the thing on fire; Joyce, Hopper, and Mike covered the entire house in Will’s drawings of the Mind Flayer’s tunnels under Hawkins; Eleven threw a demodog through the window; Steve and Billy got into an all-out, plate-breaking fight; Dustin stuffed a dead demodog in Joyce’s refrigerator. Joyce is a queen and a legend, but not even she could get the smell of dead demodog out of the carpet.