Briefing

Everything to remember before watching Stranger Things season 4

The series returns Friday

The highly anticipated fourth season of Stranger Things hits Netflix on May 27. Here's what you need to know before watching: 

Where did 'Stranger Things' leave off?

Stranger Things' third season culminated in a battle against the Mind Flayer, a creature from the alternate dimension of the Upside Down. A season earlier, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) closed a gate to the Upside Down and seemingly trapped the Mind Flayer, which had been possessing Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). But it returned by finding a new host in Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery), the abusive step brother of Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) and by creating a blob-like physical form in the real world. 

By the season three finale, Jim Hopper (David Harbour) confronts a team of Russians attempting to open a doorway into the Upside Down, and he and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) destroy their machine to seal off the gate. Doing so kills the Mind Flayer's physical form, but Hopper also seemingly dies in the process. Billy, no longer possessed by the Mind Flayer, also dies after heroically saving Eleven.  

Did Hopper really die?

A post-credits scene showed Russian prison guards referring to a mysterious "American" being held captive, and a promo for season four confirmed this is Hopper, so season four picks up with him still alive at a Russian prison camp. All of the characters believe Hopper is dead, though — including Joyce, who had just agreed to go on a date with him. 

Notably, that credits scene also showed the Russians feeding a prisoner to a Demogorgon, another creature from the Upside Down. What the Russians plan to do with their Demogorgon isn't yet clear. 

What's going on with Eleven and her powers?

Eleven was raised at a laboratory in Hawkins and subjected to scientific experiments after being kidnaped at birth. She has telekinetic powers, which she's used throughout the show to fend off creatures from the Upside Down. After the battle against the Mind Flayer in season three, though, Eleven realizes her powers are gone for reasons somewhat unclear but possibly because they were absorbed by the Mind Flayer. Mike predicts Eleven's powers will come back, but by the time season four begins, she still doesn't have them.

Where did we leave everyone else?

Season three ended with Joyce, Will, and Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) moving to California, and Eleven, who was adopted by Hopper before his supposed death, goes with them. Everyone else, including Max, Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) stay in Hawkins.

Eleven and Mike emotionally say goodbye and vow to see each other over Thanksgiving and Christmas and stay in touch via walkie talkie. Meanwhile, Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) and his new friend from work, Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke), go to get a job together at a video store. Steve told Robin he had feelings for her earlier in the season before she came out to him as gay. 

Season four's trailers show Eleven struggling to adjust to life in California, while Max is continuing to grapple with her step brother's death — and she may or may not have gained powers of her own, as one trailer shows Max floating in the air. 

How long of a time jump is there? 

Though it's been three years since season three was released, season four picks up in spring 1986, meaning only about six months has passed. 

Who is Dr. Brenner? Is he still alive?

Season four features the return of a villain we haven't seen in a while: Dr. Brenner. Played by Matthew Modine, Brenner ran the lab where Eleven was raised, and she called him "Papa." He was seemingly killed by the Demogorgon at the end of season one. But in season two, Eleven learned from a former orderly at the lab that Brenner is still alive, and Kali (Linnea Berthelsen), another girl from the lab, urged her to "face him again." According to a preview released by Netflix, the new season opens with a flashback to Brenner's time in the lab with Eleven, though fans suspect he'll also return in the present — possibly in the eighth episode, which is titled "Papa." 

Who's the villain this season?

Season four introduces a new villain known as Vecna, another creature from the Upside Down. We don't know much about Vecna yet, but David Harbour described it as the "big bad that we've needed in the series," and it will be a "sentient villain" who can speak and that the showrunners have compared to horror icons like Pennywise, Pinhead, and Freddy Krueger, IGN reports. Fan theories have ranged from Vecna actually being Billy, Dr. Brenner, or the Mind Flayer in a new form, though it could also just be a brand new monster. Either way, the Mind Flayer is still out there in the Upside Down and will presumably return before the show is over.

Are there any new characters?

Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, will play Victor Creel, a man sent to a psychiatric hospital after a "gruesome murder" in the 1950s. Some other notable additions include Booksmart's Eduardo Franco as Argyle, a pizza delivery driver and "Jonathan's new BFF," and Joseph Quinn as Eddie, the head of the Dungeons & Dragons club at Hawkins High. 

What's the season's release schedule? 

Netflix is changing up its release schedule for season four. Rather than dropping the whole thing at once, the fourth season's nine episodes will be split into two volumes: the first seven episodes debut on May 27, and the final two episodes debut a few weeks later on July 1. 

Creators Matt and Ross Duffer say this is due to the season's "unprecedented length." Indeed, the final three episodes are all as long as movies: the seventh is 1 hour and 38 minutes, the eighth is 1 hour and 25 minutes, and the ninth is nearly two and a half hours

Season five will then be the show's last, though its release date hasn't been set. 

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