An illustration for the TV show, Stranger Things
Illustration by Abby Yang, Minneapolis College of Art and Design

‘Stranger Things’ Will Venture Back Into the Upside Down in May

With Season 4 finally given a release date, it’s time for an overview of all the great moments leading up to the long-awaited season.

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An illustration for the TV show, Stranger Things
Illustration by Abby Yang, Minneapolis College of Art and Design

With Season 4 finally given a release date, it’s time for an overview of all the great moments leading up to the long-awaited season.

The wait is finally over! “Stranger Things” Season 4 has been announced, releasing on May 27. Fans have been patiently waiting for this installment since the end of the third season, which was way back in July 2019. Many questions were left unanswered with the latest finale; as a result, audiences are eager to discover what’s next for the beloved characters. While much has changed throughout the series since it first captivated Netflix users worldwide in July 2016, it has always remained a binge-worthy story with characters people care about.

The story begins in November 1984, with the vanishing of 12-year-old Will Byers, portrayed by Noah Schnapp. Byers’ disappearance is felt immensely throughout the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, but especially by his mother Joyce, played by Winona Ryder; his brother Jonathan, played by Charlie Heaton; and above all, his trio of friends, Mike, Dustin, and Lucas, played by Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Mattarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin respectively. Sheriff Jim Hopper, played by David Harbour, is called to investigate the disappearance and goes above and beyond to bring Will back home when he suspects something not quite right about the Hawkins lab.

 

The premise starts off hauntingly enough; viewers watch an eerie, other-worldly presence stalk Will before the flicker of light and POOF! — gone without a trace. More unexplained things keep happening, with faceless monsters running rampant, continued flickering lights and a second disappearance, this time of Barbara Holland (Shannon Pursuer), the best friend of Mike’s sister, Nancy (Natalia Dyer). These stranger things all seem to stem from the experiments occurring within Hawkins Lab. The sci-fi element in the series, reminiscent of many parts of popular ‘80s culture from slasher films to novels, enamored fans and continues to do so in every season. In Season 1, audiences learned quickly not to assume anything; nothing is ever what it seems — and this has remained true for the following installments.

The strangest thing could be the presence of Eleven, a young girl with telekinetic and telepathic abilities. Millie Bobby Brown portrayed the character who spoke few words, had a strong love for Eggo waffles and had a mysterious past. Eleven’s history still remains fairly unknown even after the third season, but a teaser released last May seems to promise that Season 4 will fill in more gaps in her origin story. Eleven plays the central hero in Season 1; she uses her knowledge of the Upside Down to help Mike, Dustin and Lucas find Will while also trying to keep them safe from the evils they don’t understand. The audience discovers that Eleven’s powers inadvertently opened the gate to the dangerous dimension, which is home to the Demogorgon, the creature hunting Will. As she fought her own trauma caused by a lifetime as a human test subject, audiences fell in love with the strong character, as did Mike Wheeler, and Eleven continued to be a fixture in the series.

“Stranger Things” Season 1 ends with Will safe at home — or as safe as one can be after experiencing the horrors found in an alternate universe. Joyce and Hopper’s persistence was the main factor that brought Will home; even a body provided by Hawkins Labs couldn’t deter the pair. With the exception of Eleven’s disappearance and presumed death, the season ends on a relatively happy note.

“Stranger Things” Season 2 arrived in October 2017, presenting new horrors and new characters. Viewers were ecstatic to see Eleven return, living with Hopper in a cabin in the woods. But since her powers were exposed, Hopper keeps her hidden as many speculate that she’s a Russian weapon. Meanwhile, the friends are older and enjoying some fleeting moments of childhood — trick-or-treating in Ghostbusters costumes, for instance. Maxine or “Max” Mayfield (Sadie Sink) arrives on the scene and becomes the new girl in the group, and also serves as a first crush for both Dustin and Lucas. Her older stepbrother, Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery), on the other hand, becomes the new bad boy bully, replacing Steve Harrington, who softened up after he started dating Nancy. Another new character was Bob, played by Sean Astin, who becomes Joyce’s boyfriend.

The second season doesn’t take long to get freaky: Will suffers from PTSD following his stay in the Upside Down, and it isn’t long before the new foe, The Shadow Monster — later named the Mind Flayer — attacks and possesses him, planning to use him to control other creatures from the Upside Down. Eleven, sick of cabin fever, breaks out and reconnects with others just like her, finally filling in some of the missing details of her past. By the end of the season, the audience has a better understanding of the Upside Down; in the final episode, the characters manage to sever and seal the gate, preventing the escape of further evil.

More loose ends are tied up by season’s close in a way that satisfied. Nancy is relieved of some of her grief after she and Jonathan exposed the truth about what happened to Barb, and those that wanted Nancy and Jonathan as a couple got to see it happen. Mike and Eleven finally reunited, and Eleven was finally able to have a somewhat normal life. Max even took a chance on Lucas, and Dustin found solace in Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) as they developed a deep friendship many fans went nuts over. With the gate closed and Will exorcised of at least some of his Upside-Down demons, it left viewers feeling pretty good. The only indication that the show would return was the very last shot, which implied that the Shadow Monster still lingers not too far behind.

Season 3 was completely new, both in setting and time, as the show traded school for a blissful childhood summer. For a while, it seemed that the only troubles really looming were having to grow up and being left out; in the summer before Will and his friends start high school, everyone is coupled up except him, leaving him to figure out how to interact with his friends again. Season 3 is a testament to the power of the “coming of age” narrative and how relationships and identities can shift as people get older. It’s seen from multiple viewpoints, especially in Nancy, Jonathan and Steve. Since all three, at this point, have since graduated high school, they are left to contemplate their place in the world after it.

Naturally, it wouldn’t be “Stranger Things” if that’s all that there was. Billy Hargrove, the rebel bully, steps in as the primary antagonist and is fully possessed by the Mind Flayer that is now in their dimension. A suspicious mayor and the interception of a Russian code suggest that scientists in Russia have diabolical plans regarding the Upside Down and its potential untapped power. By the end of the season, the Starcourt Mall isn’t as glamorous as all of Hawkins believes it to be, but rather, it is the center for a horde of exploding rats and a creature far more frightening than the Demogorgon. Season 3 was overall gorier and more emotional than seasons past, as viewers saw Max reconcile with her stepbrother minutes before he passed away and watched Joyce pack up her family and Eleven to move out of Hawkins.

“Stranger Things” is a great show for a multitude of reasons. A big reason is an incredible cast with great on-screen chemistry, and another is getting to watch the child actors grow up throughout the seasons as they mature in their roles, talent and lives outside the show. Character growth is another big reason why the show remains so popular. Nothing was ever more satisfying than bigshot Steve Harrington becoming “Babysitter Steve” or watching Lucas give Eleven a chance or Jonathan finally feeling comfortable enough to befriend, and then date, Nancy. These pieces evoke what it feels like to grow up, to rely on your friends the way you only could when you were 12 years old. It’s nostalgic, it’s beautiful — and the show has a great soundtrack too.

Season 4 is a bit of a mystery, except for some assumptions that can be made based on the latest finale. When last seen, the Byers were leaving Hawkins, hinting that the terror of the Upside Down may extend past the tiny town — unless an unexpected reunion is in the cards. Audience members also assumed that Hopper died at the end of Season 3, but a clip at the very end of the season set in Russia suggested he could still be alive, and a trailer released in early February 2020 confirmed he was, but is enslaved in a Russian prison camp.

The posters shared by cast members promise new characters, and four spooky settings for more events to come. One such location is the Creel House, with a history that hinges on the infamous statement, “The devil made me do it.” The most telling answer presented is the phrase, “Every ending has a beginning,” which at least explains the future of the show — that the fifth season will be the final one.

While May still feels far away, there’s still time to rewatch or watch for the first time. Audiences can rest assured that some things never really change — that “stranger things” will continue to happen.

Writer Profile

Aly Walters

Michigan State University
English With a Creative Writing Concentration

I am a senior at Michigan State University who also works at MSU’s Writing Center. In my free time, I love working on my latest writing projects!

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