A lot has gone down in Hawkins, Indiana, that small midwestern town with the most interdimensional catastrophes per capita, since we first met superhero–child experiment–Eggo connoisseur Eleven and her cohorts in season one of Netflix’s Stranger Things. Monsters have been fought, gates have been opened (and closed and opened), people have been taken prisoner by the Russians without telling the person they love how they really feel even though they totally held hands on the Gravitron and we all saw it, Hopper, God!!! So many things. The first three seasons of Stranger Things have been filled with heroes and heartbreak and, perhaps most important for a show billing itself as a spooky supernatural drama, really scary bad guys.
Now, when you think of the monsters that have inhabited Stranger Things, you, like Will Byers before you, probably feel a creepy-crawly sensation. You remember how freaked out you felt the first time you met a Demogorgon or a Mind Flayer, but the details surrounding those encounters may be a little hazy. (Okay, fine, no one forgets their first melted rat.) We’re here to help with that. Before we head out on whatever journey awaits the gang in Stranger Things 4, let’s take a deeper look at the villains — both otherworldly and human — we’ve met along the way.
Dr. Martin Brenner, a.k.a. Papa
Known for: Doing a ton of shady shit as head of Hawkins Lab for the “U.S. Department of Energy”; stealing people’s babies to develop their telekinetic powers; torturing children by running experiments on them but also manipulating them into thinking he is some sort of father figure; giving kids numbers as names; honestly, really pulling off that white hair.
What’s so scary? You mean aside from the fact that, in general, the guy just loves doing drug-fueled experiments on people and will electroshock a woman until she’s a vegetable just to take her baby from her for more experiments? Well, Brenner really does a number on Eleven, pushing her to the limits physically and emotionally in hopes of using her as a U.S. government weapon. It’s why she freaks out in the sensory-deprivation tank after coming face-to-face with a Demogorgon, causing a rip (also known as “opening the gate”) in the fabric separating our world and the hellish underworld we’ve come to know as the Upside Down. Plus, once Eleven escapes and tries to find freedom with Mike Wheeler and his friends, Brenner is relentless in trying to find her and lock her up again. And by “relentless,” I mean he’ll take out anyone standing in his way. (R.I.P., Benny!)
Is he still a threat? Unknown. At the end of season one, Brenner and Eleven finally meet again in the halls of Hawkins Middle School after Chief Hopper trades info on her whereabouts for access to the Upside Down to save Will. Eleven gets to watch as he’s attacked by the Demogorgon. We never get confirmation that Brenner is fully dead, but we do get confirmation that he’s creepy as hell.
Season 1 and a special appearance in season 3
Known for: Having a slimy, humanlike body, but instead of a face, has fleshy flower petals that open up to a giant mouth hole full of teeth; bloodlust; taking people from our world to feed on them in the Upside Down; entering rooms in Kool-Aid Man style; terrorizing children and others.
What’s so scary? You read the thing about the mouth hole with the teeth instead of a face, right? Just checking. When Eleven inadvertently opens the gate to the Upside Down, she enables the Demogorgon to travel between the two worlds, which means this slimeball is the one who kicks off all the chaos in Hawkins by taking Will to the Upside Down (and later, taking and killing dearest Barb). The gang figures out how to bait the thing, but in the end, it’s so strong that only Eleven can defeat it. It’s no match even for a baseball bat full of nails.
Is it still a threat? Most likely. Although no Demogorgons show up to terrorize Hawkins again in their adult form, the end of season three transports us to a prison in Russia where prisoners are being fed to one. So, yes, Russia’s new pet could make a return at some point.
The Shadow Monster, a.k.a. the Mind Flayer
Known for: Hive-mind powers; wanting to kill all races of other dimensions; being super into vines; taking over Will’s mind and adding him to his “flayed” army; creating those killer tunnels under Hawkins; breeding demodogs; living for that cold-weather life.
What’s so scary? For being made mostly out of shadows and smoke, this giant spider-looking thing has a ton of power to wield. Watching it put a trance on Will and then use its smoke tendrils to force its way inside him is one of the more harrowing images from this whole shebang. There’s also something extra-scary about how nebulous this thing is. How do you kill a shadow monster? Well, it turns out the only way to stop it is to cut it off from the army it controls with its hive-mind powers; to do that, Eleven has to close the gate to the Upside Down. And this isn’t just some dinky gate, as you’ll recall: It’s a huge tear with a monster inside it and an army of Demodogs flanking it for protection. It’s a real David vs. Goliath situation here, and it could go bad quickly.
Is it still a threat? Oh, buddy, wait until you get to season three.
Known for: KILLING BOB NEWBY, THOSE BASTARDS!!!
What’s so scary? What started out as a cute, mysterious lizard-type thing in Dustin Henderson’s trash (he named it Dart) molted and molted and grew and grew until it was eating Mrs. Henderson’s cat, Mews, and then joining up with its other Demodog friends to feed on humans. The most unsettling thing about these Demogorgons-on-all-fours is that they aren’t in control of their actions — they’re called on by the Mind Flayer–Shadow Monster to do things like eat a bunch of government agents who go into the tunnels to try to eradicate the thing, or try to attack Eleven as she begins to close the gate. Oh no, wait, the most unsettling thing these monsters do is stand there and go to town on poor Bob’s body. Joyce Byers’s nerdy boyfriend saves everyone with his IT skills only to become the trough during Demodog feeding time.
Are they still a threat? They all die when Eleven closes the gate and cuts the Mind Flayer off from its army, but there could still be some of these creatures lurking around the Upside Down, so never say never!
Seasons 2, 3
Known for: Being such an asshole that no one questions why this high-school student looks like a 35-year-old man; taking out the abuse he receives from his father on his step-sister, Max; tight pants; being possessed by the Mind Flayer and used to create an army; making the moms in Hawkins feel things again.
What’s so scary? In season two, Billy is presented as a real-world menace. He makes Max’s life a living hell, he is definitely racist and hates that Max and Lucas have a thing going on, and he partakes in the age-old tradition of beating the shit out of Steve Harrington. In season three, however, things get weird. Billy gets big-time possessed by the Mind Flayer, who forces him to carry out some pretty nasty deeds. So, really, when you see Billy attacking his lifeguard friend and her parents so that they too can become possessed, you can’t really blame it all on him, even if you really want to. Sorry, he’s just the body.
Is he still a threat? The craziest thing about Billy’s story is that, in the end, he tries to right his past wrongs with one final act of bravery. When the Mind Flayer wants him to kill El, he fights it as hard as he can and then sacrifices his own life to protect her. He pays for this with a gruesome death right in front of his sister! He still seems like a pretty shitty dude, but we will give him that one.
The Mind Flayer, Melted-Flesh Flavor
Known for: Oh this guy. THIS GUY. The Mind Flayer 2 Fast 2 Furious gets a nifty new trick in season 3, in which it enslaves people (with the help of Billy) and then uses their melted bodies to become bigger, stronger, and fleshier, so I’d say it’s mostly known for that.
What’s so scary? It’s not just the fact that the Mind Flayer now has a body made out of melted humans and rats alike; it’s what he does with that body. Obviously, this dude’s M.O. is still to eradicate all living things in our dimension, but first he has to take out Eleven, whom he now knows is the only thing that can stop his mission. There’s a big fight in Hopper’s cabin, in which the Mind Flayer tries to destroy El, but with a combo of her powers and the power of friendship, the gang fights it off — however, it does take a nice bite into El’s leg, leaving a piece of itself living inside of her. Eventually, she has to use all of her strength to summon her powers and pull that mini flesh monster out of her body. Although the flesh monster “dies” when Hopper, Joyce, and Murray Bauman close the Russian gate, it’s still successful in its mission to stop Eleven because, um — code red — after all those run-ins with the Mind Flayer, Eleven has lost her powers.
Is it still a threat? I don’t care how many gates are opened and closed — as long as there’s an Upside Down, I will never count out the Mind Flayer, in any form.
Known for: Opening a new gate with a big energy blaster; underground bunkers located under malls; sending giant henchmen to attack Hopper and Joyce; borscht, I guess?
What’s so scary? Well, aside from the normal, terrifying Cold War stuff, there is now the supernatural, terrifying Cold War Stuff. In short, these guys have opened another gate in a giant bunker deep under the pride of Hawkins, the Starcourt Mall. If there’s anyone you don’t want getting their hands on the monsters that live in the Upside Down, it’s these dudes. Oh, also they do a number on Steve and Robin Buckley after they’re caught down in the bunker trying to suss out the Soviets’ evil plans — and one of them by the name of Grigori gives Hopper and Joyce a lot of trouble while they work with Murray and Soviet scientist Dr. Alexei to figure out how to stop them. Poor Alexei, he just wanted Slurpees, man.
Are they still a threat? That’s so cute. Yes, of course. Sure, Joyce and Hopper blow up the laser gun that’s opening the Upside Down, but in the chaos of it — thanks to Grigori — Hopper gets trapped next to it when it explodes. Everyone thinks he’s dead, and it is heartbreaking, not just because Hopper adopted El (she’s Jane Hopper, remember?!) but because he and Joyce were supposed to go on a real date to Enzo’s and could these two just kiss already?? For all our sakes?? But hang on! Hop’s not dead — he’s now a prisoner trapped behind the Iron Curtain. In the same prison where the Russians are keeping a Demogorgon! So that’s fun and will most definitely be dealt with in the near future.
Known for: Turning once-cute tweens into goddamned monsters; inciting awkward kissing; making Hopper have to yell about keeping the door open three inches; acne.
What’s so scary? If you think the Mind Flayer possesses people, you should meet Hormones. No one on this show is safe from Hormones. Eleven and Mike can’t keep their hands off each other, upsetting Hopper, Will, and a whole nation watching. Max and Lucas Sinclair are together but always fighting. Dusty-buns and Suzie-poo seem solid, but she’s so out of her mind with love that she won’t reveal Planck’s constant to him until he sings the theme to The NeverEnding Story with her, even though Planck’s constant will save the world. And Jonathan Byers and Nancy Wheeler may think they’re cute interning at the local paper, but a few melted rats later, even they are questioning what they’re doing together. I mean, eventually, they reaffirm their love because fighting a flesh monster made out of your misogynistic bosses will do that, but still, it was a real roller coaster with a lot of feelings.
Are they still a threat? You may think that with the Byers family and Eleven moving to California, things could even out. But we all know distance is no match for Hormones.
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