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What is Stranger Things? Everything you need to know to watch hit Netflix series

We recap each season of Stranger Things in preparation for the latest season dropping on Friday.

Actor Winona Ryder and Creator/Writer/Director/EP Ross Duffer speak onstage during Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things’ panel during Deadline Contenders Television at Paramount Studios on April 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Deadline Hollywood

The highly acclaimed Netflix original series Stranger Things is finally making its return with the release of Season 4 on May 27. It has been three years since audiences last visited the fictional town of Hawkins when Season 3 left viewers on a cliffhanger. Whether it be returning fans or first-time viewers, a debrief into the world of Stranger Things is worth the debrief before the fourth season.

Stranger Things is a science-fiction horror drama series and is one of Netflix’s most successful original series on the platform. The show takes place in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana during the 1980s. The Duffer Brothers serve as showrunners along with Shawn Levy and Dan Cohen as executive producers. The Duffer Brothers drew inspiration from a variety of sources such as pop culture trends in the 80s and conspiracy theories during the Cold War.

After debuting in 2016 the series has seen immense critical acclaim and has set numerous viewership records on Netflix. Exceptional storytelling with well-placed homages to 80s film themes has attracted all types of viewers. The show’s success has created a pop culture phenomenon with audiences each having a fan-favorite character among an established ensemble cast.

Main cast

  • Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers
  • David Harbour as Jim Hopper
  • Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler
  • Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven
  • Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson
  • Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair
  • Natalia Dyer as Nancy Wheeler
  • Charlie Heaton as Jonathan Byers
  • Joe Keery as Steve Harrington
  • Cara Buono as Karen Wheeler
  • Noah Schnapp as Will Byers
  • Sadie Sink as Max Mayfield
  • Priah Ferguson as Erica Sinclair
  • Dacre Montgomery as Billy Hargrove
  • Maya Hawke as Robin Buckley

Season 1 recap

The inaugural season takes place in November of 1983 as scientists at Hawkins National Laboratory successfully open a portal into an alternate dimension called the “Upside Down.” In the aftermath, a monstrous creature called a “Demogorgon” is released and subsequently captures Will Byers as well as a girl name Barbara Holland. Will’s mother Joyce works with Hawkins’ police chief Hopper to search for Will and confirm he is still alive. Elsewhere, a girl with telekinetic abilities called Eleven works with Mike, Dustin, and Lucas to find their missing friend Will on their own.

Joyce and Hopper work to infiltrate the Hawkins lab and eventually make their way to access the opening into the Upside Down. After traversing the alternate dimension they both free Will from its grasp and resuscitate him back to life. Meanwhile, Nancy, Jonathan, and Steve confront the Demogorgon on the loose after Nancy has a brief encounter in the Upside Down. They formulate a plan to lure the creature into the Byers’ house with the goal of killing it. The three fail to kill the Demogorgon but manage to severely wound the creature.

Eleven, Mike, Dustin, and Lucas eventually meet face-to-face with the Demogorgon in the school as Eleven uses her powers to vanquish the monster. In the process of doing so, Eleven is seemingly lost to the Upside Down, disappearing into the ether. Despite the belief that Eleven sacrificed herself, we see Hopper leave out a pack of Eggo waffles in the woods. Given that Eleven had a fondness for Eggos during the season, there’s a hint that she could still be alive.

Meanwhile, as the show fast-forwards to Christmas we see Will cough up a slug in the bathroom and experience an incursion into the Upside Down. Thus, hinting that the Upside Down may have some control over Will heading into Season 2.

Season 2 recap

Now set approximately a year later in the fall of 1984, Will becomes the target of the Mind Flayer, the newest adversary from the Upside Down. The Mind Flayer’s control over Will and its terrorizing of the citizens of Hawkins draws the entire group together once more, along with the newest addition to the cast, Max.

We learn that the Mind Flayer has been targeting Will since his abduction into the Upside Down in Season 1, leaving him with flash incursions. When the Mind Flayer finally takes control of Will the monster subsequently turns him into a spy, with the larger goal of trying to overtake the real world from below. Hopper and Joyce unravel this plan when investigating the deaths of farmers’ crops, encountering roots underneath Hawkins that connect to the Upside Down.

Elsewhere we discover that Eleven is indeed alive, but for her safety is living with Hopper in a hidden cabin in the woods. Throughout the season Eleven struggles with interacting in the real world versus staying hidden, which Hopper believes is for her own protection. After briefly running away from Hawkins, Eleven eventually makes her way back and reunites with Mike and the rest of the crew.

As the entire crew finally reunites they work together with one goal in mind: vanquish the Mind Flayer. Eleven uses her powers to destroy the monster’s reach into the Upside Down, thus relinquishing its control over Will. Despite the belief that the monster is gone, another teaser hints otherwise. Audiences are led to believe that the Mind Flayer is still out there somewhere, waiting to regain strength and terrorize Hawkins once more.

Season 3 recap

Fast-forwarding one year ahead to the summer of 1985, the group of characters faces their respective coming-of-age as another threat looms from the Upside Down. This time the Mind Flayer takes possession of Max’s brother Billy as it slowly controls each citizen of Hawkins one by one.

While summer is in full swing we see our titular characters coming of age, all the while there is a covert Russian operation going on in Hawkins. It’s revealed that the Russians are using the newly opened Starcourt Mall as a cover for their operation of reopening the Upside Down. Throughout the season, Steve, Dustin, Robin, and Erica uncover the operation and work to stop the Russians from achieving their goal.

Elsewhere, the Mind Flayer takes control of Max’s brother Billy and slowly grows in strength with each citizen of Hawkins it possesses. As the Mind Flayer grows stronger, it eventually comes face to face with Eleven. After their initial battle, Eleven is significantly wounded and finds herself slowly losing her powers. This is an internal conflict that continues to hamper her throughout Season 3.

Both overarching storylines lead to the setup for the finale, as the gate into the Upside Down must be closed and the Mind Flayer must be killed once and for all. The final battle takes place at Starcourt Mall where audiences are left with a number of significant moments. Eleven uses what’s left of her powers to release Billy from the Mind Flayer’s control. Afterward, Billy sacrifices himself as it buys time for the rest of the crew to bring down the monster.

Underneath the mall, Joyce and Hopper work to confront the Russians with the hope of closing the gate. After a battle ensues, Joyce finds herself with no choice but to shut down the gate while Hopper finds himself trapped near the machine. As Joyce destroys the portal into the Upside Down, the machine explodes and seemingly takes Hopper’s life.

Months go by and Joyce takes custody of Eleven, choosing to move her family out of Hawkins. Before the season concludes, audiences are taken to a Russian prison where a Demogorgon is being held by the guards. Viewers also hear a guard refer to one of the prisoners as “The American,” leading to the belief that Hopper is not dead and is now imprisoned in Russia.