This article contains spoilers.
The next season of Netflix’s Stranger Things is premiering on May 27th, with the second part coming out on July 1st. When the trailer initially dropped, I could not have been more excited. Except less than a minute in, Max is at her stepbrother’s grave and my only thought was Billy died? When did that happen? Needless to say, I forgot the majority of what happened during the previous season. And after thinking about it, I forgot some of the major plot points from the beginning seasons as well.
I decided to re-watch the entire show. And so you don’t have to, here is a brief recap of the first three seasons before we delve into the fourth.
This season is all about the mysterious vanishing of Will Byers. Set during 1983 in Hawkins, Indiana一a town where supposedly nothing ever happens一a twelve-year-old boy uncharacteristically goes missing. We eventually find out that Will is trapped somewhere called The Upside Down, a supernatural dimension that mimics our world. A government entity called Hawkins Lab is where the gate opened between the two worlds. Dr. Martin Brenner, along with the rest of the lab, focuses on covering that up at any cost, even going so far as to fake Will’s death.
While all of our main characters are trying to figure out what could’ve happened, the season is divided into four primary stories that eventually come together. There is Will’s mom一Joyce Byers一trying to figure out how her son is communicating to her through the electricity in their house, as well as what his messages mean in regards to his location and safety. Then, we follow the story of Will’s friends一Mike Wheeler, Dustin Henderson, and Lucas Sinclair一who are looking for Will but instead stumble across a girl who ran away from Hawkins Lab, nicknamed Eleven. There is also Jonathan Byers (Will’s brother) and Nancy Wheeler (Mike’s sister), who come across the Demogorgon from The Upside Down: the monster that took Will. And lastly, there is police chief Jim Hopper, who discovers information on Hawkins Lab while searching for Will, and information on Eleven by extension: a girl with telepathic powers that accidentally opens the gate in the first place.
The season ends with Will returning back safely, but Eleven has to risk her life to do it. While we find out she survives, Hawkins Lab is still looking for her, determined to imprison and experiment on her once more.
The second season takes place one year after the first, and while the events of the previous year should be put behind them, the interdimensional gate is still open. This causes a dominating, evil presence known as the Mind Flayer to invade. At first, the Mind Flayer is trapping Will in between our world and The Upside Down, but then it possesses him. Just like last time, the overarching story is divided into multiple plots that come together.
We find out that El is living with Hopper, and the police chief is determined to keep that a secret for her protection (even though Mike has been reaching out to her every day for a year). As the season progresses, El learns how to control her powers by meeting her mother and then visiting her sister Kali.
Meanwhile, the rest of The Party (Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will) is thrown off guard when new girl Max Mayfield shows up, some being happier about her appearance than others. Dustin finds a slug at his house that the kids quickly find out is from The Upside Down, but he is determined to secretly keep it anyway. And while Dustin keeping a “Demodog” as a pet results in a dangerous situation—being that they are monsters that are under control by the Mind Flayer—it also contributes to Dustin’s newfound (and iconic) bromance with Steve Harrington as they try to get rid of it.
Nancy and Jonathan are attempting to expose the truth about Hawkins Lab, consulting Murray Bauman—a former investigative journalist—to help them spread the story (which is when the duo inevitably become a couple). Joyce and Hopper, along with the former’s boyfriend Bob Newby, as well as Dr. Sam Owens (the new head of operations at Hawkins Lab), discover the Mind Flayer’s hold on Will and Hawkins.
Eventually, these characters come together to get rid of the Mind Flayer once and for all. Joyce, Jonathan, and Nancy separate it from Will; El and Hopper go to Hawkins Lab to close the gate; Mike, Lucas, Dustin, Max and Steve travel to The Upside Down and burn the tunnel system that the Mind Flayer uses. And they are successful! With Hopper officially adopting El, as well as the rest of the characters leading somewhat normal lives afterward, we almost believe in this town’s happy ending.
It’s the summer of 1985 and life in Hawkins is supposedly back to normal. But less than a year after El closes the gate, the Soviet Union infiltrates Hawkins in order to reopen it. Through their ruse in the form of the Starcourt Mall, the Russians are creating a machine to open the gate in Hawkins because it’s a “weak spot” (due to the gate just recently being closed there). Dustin accidentally intercepts the Russian lab’s transmission, so he works with Steve and Steve’s coworker Robin to translate. Once they figure out the translation, they end up recruiting Lucas’s little sister Erica. The four of them get trapped in a lab underneath the mall, finding out the plan.
The Soviet Union and their presence in Hawkins makes Joyce suspicious too. Noticing that magnets are demagnetizing at home and at work, she realizes that this cannot be a coincidence, especially in Hawkins. Joyce convinces Hopper to take her to Hawkins Lab to confirm her suspicions, where they end up being attacked by a Russian soldier named Grigori. Hopper recognizes Grigori from when he visited the mayor’s office, which leads to him finding out that the mayor has been helping the Soviets hide their portal. They kidnap one of the lead scientists, named Alexei, and consult Murray to translate. When Joyce, Hopper, and Murray go to the lab to close the gate, Joyce is forced to close the gate with Hopper near the portal, seemingly killing him in the process.
That’s not all. We also find out that the Mind Flayer didn’t fully escape Hawkins. Upset that El beat it, the Mind Flayer is possessing others around town—starting with Billy Hargrove—and forcing them to consume dangerous chemicals that result in them becoming its weapon. El, Max, Mike, Lucas, and Will, along with Nancy and Jonathan, find out that this weapon is to destroy Eleven, being that she is the only one who can overpower the Mind Flayer. When El first attempts to telepathically reach Billy—seeing a series of memories from his childhood—she lets the Mind Flayer in on her location. But after El is finally able to talk to Billy, she frees him, resulting in him risking his life to save her.
The season ends a few months after these events. Eleven, still without her powers, and now living with the Byers, is moving with them to California. But the real cliffhanger takes place after the initial credits, where we see a Russian prison referencing “the American” (who can only be Hopper) and showing us a Demodog in a cage.
There you have it: a quick recap of the first three seasons before the next one premiers this month. After waiting for three years since the last season, I am excited to see how this story continues.