With the latest installment of Netflix’s megahit ending on a momentous note, where will things go next?
Thanks to the show’s most devastating (albeit somewhat speculative) death to date and a tantalizing postcredits scene in Mother Russia, no sooner did the third season of Stranger Things end than we began rampantly theorizing about what will come next. And rest assured: Netflix didn’t need to boast about Stranger Things’ binge-watching numbers for us to be convinced a fourth season is imminent. The Stranger Things kids may be growing at an alarming rate, but they’re not going anywhere.
So with the fourth season just an official (and inevitable) confirmation away, let’s look ahead with eight lingering questions the next installment will need to address. Needless to say, heavy spoilers for Season 3 ahead.
What do the Russians want with the Demogorgon?
As the postcredits scene revealed, while the Russians and their scientists were booted out of Hawkins, their Upside Down–related experiments continue unabated back home. That includes, as one poor Russian prisoner discovered, harboring their very own—and very hungry—Demogorgon.
First off: It’s unclear whether this Demogorgon is the one same that terrorized Hawkins in Season 1. Stranger Things hasn’t ever been a stickler for intricate world-building—most of its in-show terms were named by kids who are really obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons—so the Demogorgon is either a singular creature or its own Upside Down species. Whatever the case, this Demogorgon would be extremely dangerous if it ever escaped its Russian enclosure. (For cinematic purposes, the odds of this happening are pretty high.)
But despite the Russians’ showing up this season, we still don’t know much about their interest in the Upside Down and why they’re probing around in its gooey dimension. We previously theorized that it might be for the purposes of surveillance on the U.S. government during the height of Cold War tensions; one of Eleven’s powers is being able to spy on people, and she was tasked with spying on a Russian in a Season 1 flashback. That could still be the case, or perhaps the Russians stumbled upon a Demogorgon and are keeping it locked away for “research purposes.” We should know more about the Russians’ motivations in the fourth season—the Duffer brothers wouldn’t throw to the ol’ USSR in a postcredits scene if they weren’t planning to bring them back into the fold.
Who is the “American” prisoner?
In addition to the poor prisoner who became Demogorgon chow, the postcredits scene had a brief but crucial mention of an “American” being held captive by the Russians in another cell. We don’t see who said American is, but the fact they were even mentioned is an obvious tease that it’s someone important. Odds are it’s one of two characters, so let’s break down the cases for both.
First, it could be Jim Hopper. Yes, he was in the blast radius when Joyce Byers shut down the Russians’ Upside Down device, incinerating all the nearby dudes in hazmat suits in the process. But we don’t actually see Hopper get vaporized along with them, a critical omission that leaves the door open 3 inches for the character’s return. It’s also worth noting that, in an interview with SlashFilm, David Harbour admitted that Hopper’s being the American prisoner was the “most likely” scenario. It’s certainly possible, then, but I’m hoping Stranger Things doesn’t bring Hopper back from the dead. The emotional payoff of his tear-jerking speech addressed to Eleven was about how part of the human experience is to grow up, move on, and change; it would be antithetical to the speech’s message if he is just resurrected and things go back to the way they were. Many likely hope that Hopper will return, but if he stays dead, the series will be more emotionally and thematically resonant, and generally better off for it.
Alternatively, the prisoner may be Dr. Brenner, the Hawkins Lab scientist from Season 1. The fate of Matthew Modine’s sleazy villain has been left intentionally vague since he was presumably attacked by the Demogorgon at the end of the first season—although, like Hopper, we didn’t actually see his death happen. The last hint we got about Brenner came in the second season from a former employee at Hawkins Lab, who told Eleven that the doctor was still alive. (Also, if Brenner wasn’t eventually coming back, the show definitely would’ve just killed him outright.) Brenner being a Russian prisoner could help explain how they discovered the Upside Down—and how they knew Hawkins was ground zero for interdimensional experiments. And on a grander scale, Brenner’s reappearance seems like a safe bet—if only to provide closure for Eleven in facing the insidious man responsible for her traumatic childhood and the telekinetic abilities that came from it.
Can Eleven regain her powers?
In Austin Powers parlance, Eleven has lost her mojo. It seems like the nasty interdimensional slug that burrowed into her leg, courtesy of the Mind Flayer, somehow sapped Eleven of her powers. She couldn’t do anything against the Mind Flayer in the climactic battle, failed to crush a can of (New) Coke, and at the end of the season in a three-month flash-forward, couldn’t use her powers to move a teddy bear from an unreachable spot in her closet.
While Eleven’s losing her powers allowed Stranger Things to avoid the redundant formula of having her rescue everyone in Hawkins, it’s unclear whether this is a temporary thing or something she’ll have to navigate for a large chunk of the next season. If the loss of her powers wasn’t because of that gross slug, it could be some type of a mental block—a subconscious resolution of “I’m tired of being the LeBron on the ’17-’18 Cavs of this show” while Eleven moves on to experiencing a seminormal childhood. Without her abilities, Eleven and Co. would be at a huge disadvantage the next time something sinister goes down in Hawkins; but then again, keeping Eleven powerless would be a good way for Stranger Things to avoid repeating itself.
Will Eleven’s “siblings” play a role in the future?
[Extreme Captain Obvious voice] If Eleven’s name comes from the fact that she was the 11th child experimented on at Hawkins Lab, then there are at least 10 other kids who could be lurking around with special powers. We already met one of them, Kali, in Season 2, who was also known as Eight. And while Eleven’s stand-alone episode in Chicago was critically derided, it did invite the possibility of Stranger Things expanding its scope—and introducing more gifted children.
Kali hasn’t been seen since Season 2, and we didn’t get any more of Eleven’s “siblings” this season. But with Eleven at least temporarily deprived of her powers—and with the Byers’ moving out of Hawkins with Eleven in tow—Season 4 might be the perfect time to bring some other X-Men-lite kids in. Also, if the Russians are messing around with the Upside Down—and if Dr. Brenner is their captive—what’s to stop them from experimenting on children in the motherland? Season 3 blessed us with Russian Terminator; maybe next season will bring forth Russian Eleven.
Will Suzie get a more prominent role?
For most of the third season, Dustin claimed to have a girlfriend from science camp named Suzie while everyone else proceeded to dunk on him, unconvinced she was real. (In their defense, he did say she was hotter than Phoebe Cates.) Given how many times Suzie was brought up—and how many times her existence was questioned and openly mocked—that she was eventually unveiled as an actual person seemed unavoidable. What was more shocking was how the character got introduced in the finale—via ham radio to relay Planck’s constant, but not before forcing Dustin into a duet of the NeverEnding Story theme song, which absolutely slapped.
Suzie’s role was small but undeniably memorable. And assuming she and Dustin are still going steady in Season 4, perhaps her role be expanded—similar to Erica’s becoming a tiny capitalist queen this season. It would be an easy way to expand the show’s roster; plus, it’d be fun to see Suzie’s reaction to the fact that Dustin wasn’t being melodramatic about saving the world, since his hometown is constantly being threatened by interdimensional monsters. More Suzie—and potentially another ’80s-themed sing-along for her and Dusty Bun—would be a net positive for Season 4.
Will Season 4 leave Hawkins for an extended period of time?
Joyce, Jonathan, Will, and Eleven packed up and left Hawkins at the end of the season, though they didn’t disclose where, exactly, they’re headed. But unless Season 4 takes place at a time when all four characters are back in Hawkins—for the holidays, perhaps?—then it appears the series will be taking an extended break from the town. This would be a natural evolution for Stranger Things, especially now that it’s brought in Russians and, with them, the look and feel of a big-screen blockbuster. Even if the series doesn’t completely break free of Hawkins’s small-town charms, an extended detour to a place with a larger scale seems inevitable.
As for new locales, it might be fun to throw some Upside Down high jinks into a sprawling urban area. Eleven already had a brief spell in Chicago, and it is the closest big city, geographically, to Hawkins. (Although the Byers don’t seem like city folk.) In any case: More time spent outside of Hawkins is probably good for the longevity of the series. Here’s hoping it’s just much better than Eleven’s stand-alone episode was in 2017.
Related: Should everyone else just move out of Hawkins?
Joyce was already thinking about leaving Hawkins before she effectively flipped the switch that (possibly!) killed Hopper. And though Hopper did his best this season to convince Joyce to stay in town, uh, why the hell would she? Let’s briefly relay some of the shit Joyce has had to deal with: Her son was captured by an interdimensional monster, the U.S. government faked her son’s death in a cover-up, her boyfriend Bob was ripped to pieces by supernatural beasts, and, on the work side of things, the Starcourt Mall crushed local business and depleted her job prospects.
Hawkins is … not a safe place to raise children and not an economically viable place to live! Sure, most of the townsfolk aren’t aware of the Upside Down stuff, but Hawkins has experienced more tragedies over the course of a few years than most towns do in a century. It’s a cursed place. Everyone else should follow Joyce’s lead and put their houses on the market before it’s too late.
What pieces of ’80s pop culture will be riffed on next?
In the understatement of the century, Stranger Things has a lot of pop culture references, most of which stem from hallmarks of the ’80s. In Season 3, the series exchanged its E.T. and Goonies vibes for more action-oriented inspirations like The Terminator, The Thing, and Red Dawn—a fun change of pace, and a reflection of the show’s young characters growing out of old childhood habits. As sure as the sun sets in the west every evening, a fourth season should be filled to the brim with more, now-late-’80s pop culture references—and while there’s sure to be some overlap from earlier seasons, the series will likely bring new throwbacks into the mix.
What could they explore? Well, fresh off The Terminator and brief nods to other action franchises (Rambo, Die Hard), why not RoboCop? If the series is insistent on bringing Hopper back from the dead, let’s get weird and make him some kind of cybernetic Russian experiment. (Ditto if they can somehow put back together the chunks of flesh that once composed Russian Terminator—he was a ton of fun.) Give us Bill & Ted, except it’s Dustin & Steve. Someone—maybe Jonathan and Nancy?—could reenact Dirty Dancing. Another person could be an early arriver to grunge (or rap). And, uh, bring on the sadomasochism of Blue Velvet? Sorry, the show’s mined so much ’80s content, the more wholesome pickings are now kind of slim. I’m sure the Duffer brothers will think of something.