Spoilers ahead for Stranger Things season 3.
Should Stranger Things end with its upcoming season 4, there are some major predictions that we can make for how everything will be resolved with a big bow. Yes, since the executive producers’ original, now-famous quote two years ago that the Netflix show would probably end with the fourth season, they’ve walked that claim back a bit, leaving some wiggle room for the fifth year now being the last – however, assuming that the next batch of episodes will, indeed, end the story, there’s much that can be gamed out.
Taking a look at resources like the original conceptualization of Stranger Things, which audiences have received in the form of the Worlds Turned Upside Down behind-the-scenes/coffee table book; the historical references and source material that the Duffers continually mine; the manner in which the first 25 eps have managed to unfold; the ever-more-sprawling Expanded Universe of novels, comic books, and video games that is just beginning to blossom; and, of course, some plain, old-fashioned guesswork, it’s not hard to get a good picture of what the show’s conclusion could entail.
When all this evidence is compiled together, the net result is four very specific hypotheses that paint a very expansive – and very exciting – home stretch for the most popular original series in Netflix’s history.
One could argue that, at its core, Stranger Things is a story about loss, and one of the key motifs in this grand theme is how it treats its main cast of characters: some are killed off (Barb Holland, Bob Newby, and Billy Hargrove), some are lost along the way (such as the Byers family selling their home and moving off for greener pastures with Eleven), and others apparently perish only to subsequently be revealed to still live (the first season’s Dr. Martin Brenner was the grand example here until Police Chief Jim Hopper may have stole his thunder in season 3).
We’ve already seen how the combined threat of the Upside Down and the Soviet Union forced Hawkins, Indiana’s unlikely band of protectors to call in the cavalry – in the form of Dr. Sam Owens, yet another character who was previously written off of the show – and as the stakes only continue to get higher, there’s just no way that “the party” of adolescents, teenagers, and (socially-maladjusted) adults will even attempt to tackle it all by themselves. This not only means Joyce, Jonathan, and Will Byers returning to the sleepy town, and not only Dr. Owens making his triumphant return (yet again), but also the likes of Dr. Brenner, test subject Eight (who’s only appeared in a grand total of two episodes thus far), and the not-really-dead Chief Hopper all assembling, as well.
But there’s actually one final strata of characters to be “reunited” in the grand Upside Down climax: those faces that have yet to appear on the small screen at all. There is a growing collection of stories devoted to all the other test subjects Martin Brenner accumulated under the aegis of Project Indigo in the so-called Expanded Universe, from the mentally-manipulative Three to the precognitive Six, and it could be that the storytelling masters of the Stranger Things mythology have been developing them all for the final showdown to come.
The (possible) return of all the various figures from Stranger Things’s past will fulfill more than just one narrative purpose – it’s extremely likely that Dr. Martin Brenner’s homecoming in specific will also pave the way for Eleven to redevelop her telekinetic powers.
Of course, the television show leaves the exact explanation behind the former Jane Ives’s abrupt loss of her superhuman abilities ambiguous, but it would seem to be down to one of two reasons: she simply burnt herself out by her constant deployment of her psychokinetic talents or because of the malign influence of the Mind Flayer’s aberrant infection in her leg (or, more than likely, some combination of the two). Either way, Brenner could serve to stimulate her powers’ regeneration, through either psychological or physiological means and whether deliberately or accidentally – something of an echo of season 1’s flashbacks to Eleven’s time as part of Project Indigo in Hawkins National Laboratory.
This would also serve to further develop one of Stranger Things’s more prominent thematic trends: having the show’s various villains redeem themselves before they meet their ultimate demises. While it’s true that Martin has been painted in an exclusively vicious manner – even Billy Hargrove was given something of a sympathetic backstory, explaining his transformation into a human monster – it’s still not out of the picture for him to help our protagonists along on their path to end both the Upside Down and the various government agencies that attempt to manipulate it, no matter which side of the international divide they fall upon.
Though the number of deaths in Stranger Things has been consistent thus far, it’s also been rather limited – but, just as with the Harry Potter series, expect this trickle to be turned into a flood come the final installment.
Beyond the need for higher dramatic stakes (and, perhaps, to help make up for the fact that our group of largely-underage characters can pull off such astounding feats as infiltrating – and escaping from – secret underground Russian facilities), there’s also the little fact that Matt and Ross Duffer originally conceived their television baby with a number of deaths for a number of key individuals firmly in place. While Steve Harrington is high on this list, the biggest culprit is, of course, Eleven herself, the superhuman figure who was supposed to swoop in and save the day, sacrificing herself in the process – a fate which would still fit the theological and/or comic-book overtones of the character, and one which would only be rendered all the more powerful after four years of getting to know young Ms. Ives.
Such a turn would also help to service the ‘80s callbacks the series constantly employs and to also further a storytelling trend of its own – in this way, Eleven would join the ranks of Bob Newby and (supposedly) Jim Hopper, doing whatever it took for the people that have become her family.
The Cold War overtones from the first two seasons of Stranger Things – such as Dr. Martin Brenner wishing to develop Eleven’s formidable abilities before the Russians can do the same with their own top-secret government programs – erupted into the foreground in season 3, with the Soviets having finally discovered the existence of the Upside Down and racing against the clock in order to create a permanent link to it. It would seem, heading into the (potentially) final batch of episodes, that the two threats – one real-world, the other supernatural – will inextricably be combined into one, and, in the process, the TV show could resolve both its historical and horror storylines.
It could be that the Mind Flayer will assimilate the leadership of the USSR, making the entire Soviet Bloc into its puppets, or it could be that the army of Demogorgons that the Russians are obviously attempting to amass may get turned loose, ravaging the communist military forces. In either scenario, the trans-dimensional front of the Cold War would not only be resolved for good, but the battle would spill out into the wider international standoff between the West and the East, helping to explain some of the secret reasons why the Eastern Block and the Soviet Union itself fell in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
In retrospect, this may be the only ending truly available to Stranger Things, allowing its cast of characters and the sleepy town they call home to move on with their lives while also fully addressing the larger pop-culture and historical tropes the series constantly borrows from and attempts to add to.
NEXT: What to Expect from Stranger Things Season 4
Marc N. Kleinhenz