Stranger Things Recap: Here’s What You Need to Know in Anticipation of Season 3
It's been over a year and a half since Season 2 debuted, so let's get you up to speed before the new episodes arrive.
The much-anticipated third season of the Netflix original drama Stranger Things is out on July 4th, and if you’re equal parts excited to find out what happens next and confused because you can’t remember a single thing that happened in the first two seasons, you’re in the right place. Below, I put together a recap of everything major that happened in the series so far, from kids getting trapped in the Upside Down to cats being eaten by Demodogs.
How Did It All Start?
The thrilling plot of Stranger Things Season 1 was jumpstarted by the disappearance of a boy named Will Byers in the town of Hawkins, Indiana. His mother, Joyce, is frantic, to say the least, as she starts looking for her son. His friends, Mike, Lucas, and Dustin also look for him through the woods. Enter Eleven, a creepy-looking, short-haired girl who they feel compelled to bring back home with them.
While Joyce starts getting strange static phone calls that she’s convinced are from Will, the young party is shocked to realize Eleven knows who Will is upon seeing him in a photo at Mike’s house. That’s when we get introduced to the Upside Down and part of the creepy things happening in Hawkins.
Meanwhile, Joyce discovers her fair share of out-of-the-ordinary things when the string of light bulbs she places around her home over the letters of the alphabet seem to be communicating with her before she spots her son trapped under the wallpaper. Talk about things escalating quickly!
What’s the Thing with the Upside Down?
The Upside Down is exactly what it sounds like, an upside-down version of the town of Hawkins, but instead of being populated by people, it is quite ominous and deserted. You know, except for the terrifying creature living there. Technically, the correct term for the Upside Down is an “alternate dimension” that exists as a superorganism controlled by a Mind Flayer. Too many things at once? Let’s take it one step at a time.
The Mind Flayer, also dubbed the Shadow Monster, is a term the Duffer brothers borrowed from the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. The Mind Flayer’s hive mind contains all the flora and fauna found in the Upside Down, as well as some creatures called Demogorgons. We’ll talk more about them later on, but for now, let’s focus on why the Upside Down exists.
We find out that the Hawkins National Laboratory was conducting experiments on children with Eleven being one of them. While being in a sensory deprivation tank and spying on a Russian spy (spyception), she stumbled upon a Demogorgon. Upon making contact with it, she opened an interdimensional gate which helped the creature infiltrate the real world of Hawkins. Now, he can travel between worlds and drag his victims to the Upside Down. Fun!
All of the Monsters
Stranger Things is all about creepy monsters. In case you’ve forgotten some of them, here’s a list: the Demogorgon, the Mind Flayer, the Demodogs, and the Vines. The Demogorgon is Season 1’s main bad guy and a pretty scary one at that. It is the one who kidnapped Will and was defeated by Eleven by being pushed back into the Upside Down.
The Mind Flayer is the main bad guy of Season 2. It starts haunting Will way before we get to actually see it, but when we do, it’s pretty clear that it is much more dangerous than the Demogorgon. It's also more mysterious, because even if to our knowledge, Eleven managed to seal him into the Upside Down for good, Season 2 ends with him looming over the Upside Down version of Hawkins Middle School. Have we seen the last of him? I think not.
Demodogs are basically baby Demogorgons. The first one we get to meet is Dart, Dustin’s pet. They are originally slugs that grow very quickly and apparently eat cats (RIP Mews and WTF Dustin). We soon find out that there are many more creatures like him and that they’re part of the Mind Flayer’s hive mind.
Finally, while the Vines aren’t actual monsters, they do seem alive as they’re controlled by the aforementioned hive mind. They link the two worlds and they can make humans their hosts. They also don’t like fire (hello, Devil’s Snare). We also know that since he’s been to the Upside Down, Will is not really himself anymore, and that is due to him becoming part of the Mind Flayer’s hive mind via the vines. That explains why burning the vines causes him great pain.
Eleven, whose real name is Jane Ives (later Hopper) is a timid, yet extremely fierce girl who, due to her psychokinetic abilities, was experimented on by the Hawkins National Laboratory. When she escapes upon unleashing the Demogorgon into the world (oops), she runs into Mike, Lucas, and Dustin in the woods and ultimately agrees to help them find Will. While Mike is quick to accept her into the group (for obvious reasons), the others are reluctant at first.
At the end of the first season, Eleven faces off (and beats the crap out of) the Demogorgon at Hawkins Middle School, but she disappears in the process. However, given the resilient little fighter that she is, she is revealed to be living with Hopper in Season 2.
All is well and good you might say, but what about her friendship with the guys? Well, that’s what she was wondering as well, so she rebels against papa Hopper’s strict rules and ends up in Chicago where she reunites with her lost “sister,” Kali (or 008), in an episode that many (myself included) were bored to death or just unimpressed by.
While Eleven’s time in Chicago showed us a different side of her and also served as a learning lesson for our protagonist, it was quickly over, with her realizing she has to be in Hawkins with her friends to, once again, get them out of trouble. Can you sense a pattern here? However, all’s well that ends well (for now, at least), and Eleven ends Season 2 getting officially adopted by Hopper and going to the Snow Ball dance with Mike. I’m sure nothing bad is going to happen to her from now on.
The Group Dynamics
One of the things I like most about Stranger Things is the way the characters interact through their friendships and the unlikely alliances that form between them. For the purpose of this refresher, I’m going to separate the “kids group” from the “teenagers group.”
The kids group is made up of Mike, Dustin, Lucas, Will, Eleven, and later on Max. Mike and Eleven immediately hit it off, but the other boys are not so quick to accept her. Lucas is the most skeptical of them, especially when he sees Eleven’s manipulative side, but eventually, they do understand each other’s motives and apologize.
While Dustin is friendlier toward Eleven, he still isn’t as confident as Mike that she’s a friend. However, he does help Mike find her and generally thinks she’s awesome and badass. As for Will, he and Eleven don’t interact as much, what with Will being trapped in the Upside Down and all, and when they do interact, they do it in her “mental void,” as one does. Still, I think we can all see this two becoming firm friends given all the shared trauma.
Max is introduced in Season 2 as this badass, cool rule-breaker to basically add some female energy to the group with Eleven gone. Dustin and Lucas both like her, but she ends up connecting with the latter. As for her relationship with Eleven, she seems pretty open to being her friend, but Eleven is still harboring some jealousy as she thought her and Mike were “hitting it off.” Ah, that sweet pre-adolescence drama.
But if you think this is as dramatic as the show gets, you have another thing coming. Let me introduce you to the teenager crowd of Hawkins: Jonathan (Will’s brother), Nancy (Mike’s sister), and Steve – a love triangle for the ages. Nancy used to date Steve, but fell in love with Jonathan while they were investigating her friend Barb’s disappearance and later trying to get Will out of the Upside Down. Teenager drama ensues.
Steve is portrayed as a jerk for pretty much all of Season 1, but we start to see another side to him the following season, to the point where he becomes a fan favorite. He is a main party ally and develops a really nice friendship with Dustin (cue all the awws in the world).
What Are the Adults up to?
The adults might not be the focus of this show, but it’s worth taking a look at their dynamic. There’s Joyce and Hopper, who become quick friends (and you just know everybody is holding their breath anticipating a possible hookup in Season 3), and then there’s (or was) Bob, Joyce’s boyfriend, who gets killed by a Demodog (RIP).
Joyce looks and acts like a distressed mother on the verge of a breakdown for most of Season 1 (many thanks to Winona Ryder’s impressive range of facial expressions for that), with Hopper acting as her rock in many instances. She is a devoted and loving mother, a good friend, and a generally likeable person.
Hopper is the Chief of Police – a stern man with a heart of gold and a troubled past. He helps Joyce and the group save Will and develops a father-daughter kind of relationship with Eleven, ultimately adopting her. An honorable mention goes to his dad bod, which seems to have caused quite the thirst on the internet.
Bob was a genuinely good guy who cared for Joyce and whose involvement with the gang led to his untimely death. He was the show’s way of basically slapping us in the face while not killing off any of the main characters. RIP Bob.
What to Expect from Stranger Things Season 3
In the last episode of Season 2, the party manages to get rid of the virus plaguing Will (his connection to the Mind Flayer as part of his hive mind) by literally burning it out of him. Then, Eleven closes the gate to the Upside Down and we’re this close to getting a happy ending with everybody frolicking at the Snow Ball, except this is Stranger Things, so of course we won’t.
My best guess is that in Season 3, we’ll see much more of the Mind Flayer, his vines, and the nuances of his powers. I’m also looking forward to a change in the group’s dynamic now that they’re all together and full-blown teenagers at that. And of course, I’m hoping for a new monster in true Stranger Things fashion. Can’t wait!