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How the STRANGER THINGS 3 Finale Sets Up Season 4

Ah, Stranger Things. How we’ve missed you. And how happy we are that you’ve returned in such fine form. The third season of the hit Netflix show racked in rave reviews, and deservedly so; after a rocky second outing, this felt like the show at its absolute best–loaded with fun character moments, a scary (and quite gooey) monster, and even more ’80s nostalgia than we know what to do with.

But like all good Netflix shows, it was over as soon as it began, with all eight episodes delivered at once. If you didn’t binge the series, you’re stronger-willed than the rest of us. However, if you zoomed through the show at rapid-speed (like us) and are left with some big questions about what comes next, we’ve got you covered!

We broke down all of the tantalizing hints at season four nestled in this year’s finale. Who survived, who might return, and where will it all go from here? Here are some theories about what could happen when Stranger Things returns.

Massive spoilers for the Stranger Things 3 finale.
Season 4 will likely take place at Christmastime

If there’s one thing we’d put money on based on the Stranger Things 3 finale, it’s that season four will almost definitely take place in the holiday season. The episode ends with the Byers family–and newly acquired daughter-figure Eleven–leaving Hawkins in a moving van. Joyce was already set to leave before the events of season three, and the death of Hopper solidified that desire to get out. As Mike helps Eleven pack up the Byers house, he mentions that he’ll be coming to stay with her for Thanksgiving. He then says that she and Will should visit for Christmas. “I was thinking Christmas Day could be super fun because we’d all have cool new presents to play with,” Mike says, which basically feels like confirmation that next season will have a jolly holiday vibe.

The first season of Stranger Things took place in November, the second around Halloween, and the third ended with the Fourth of July, so holidays are closely associated with the show. We got a brief look at Christmastime in the season one finale, but so far we haven’t had a full season set in the wintertime. Snow would add a brand new element to the show, and would also open the door for a whole slew of ’80s Christmas-movie references, from A Christmas Story to Gremlins to Silent Night, Deadly Night.

“Satanic Panic” could be a thing

In the finale’s “Three Months Later” sequence, we see footage from a documentary-style show called “Cutting Edge” on WCPK-TV, a local Indiana news channel. The episode is focused on the Starcourt Mall disaster and the other strange goings-on in Hawkins, and is a conspiracy theory-style look at what might have happened. “Government coverups, a bizarre chemical leak,” says the voiceover. “Is it all a vast conspiracy, the fault of a disgraced corrupt mayor, or is something more going on in the Heartland?” The show then mentions curses and Satanism as a possible cause for the bizarre activity in the small town, which hints at a possible “Satanic Panic” focus in season 4.

What is Satanic Panic? It’s a phrase coined to explain a phenomenon that took over the country in the mid-’80s to early ’90s, where Evangelical Christians across the nation blamed local scandals on the work of the Devil. It sounds silly in retrospect, but Satanic Panic was a dangerous epidemic, often inciting allegations of ritual sex abuse and pedophilia, and usually with little to no “proof” to back it up.

The most famous example of Satanic Panic was the West Memphis Three case, where three Arkansas teens were accused of murdering a trio of little boys in their small hometown, despite a severe lack of evidence. But because they were outcasts who listened to heavy metal and eschewed Christian norms, they were found guilty and placed on death row. Public outcry led to their eventual release and raised awareness for this strange global mania.

That same fear of the Devil may play into the events of Stranger Things 4. The burning of the Starcourt Mall will have raised suspicions about Hawkins to outsiders, and the timeline fits nicely into the rise of Satanic Panic. Will we see the leaders of Hawkins charged with crimes of the occult? Will conspiracy theorists make their way to town? We have a feeling our friend Murray Bauman may have a lot more to do when the show picks back up.

Hopper will likely be back

Despite his emotional voiceover in the finale, we’re pretty skeptical that Hopper is actually dead. First of all, we never saw his body or any “proof” that he died. It’s a commonly held belief in genre stuff that without a body, there’s a pretty good bet the person isn’t really gone. But there are a few other clues that could point to Hopper’s return. The biggest one is the what happens in the post-credits scene when we hear the Russians reference “an American” they’ve got in captivity. We don’t see the face of this person, but it’s possible that–in the blast when Joyce closed the “door” to the Upside Down–Hopper “crossed over” to Russia. We’re not sure how this could happen, but anything’s possible when you’ve got nuclear energy and parallel universes in your show.

Another possible hint that Hopper isn’t really gone? The final montage in the episode is set to Peter Gabriel’s cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” off Gabriel’s 2010 album Scratch My Back. The song previously appeared in the first season of Stranger Things, in episode 3, “Holly, Jolly.” It was set to a montage when Will’s body is found, prompting everyone to believe he was dead. But, as we soon find out, the body was a dummy and Will was actually alive and in the Upside Down. In Stranger Things 3, the song accompanies another montage, when everyone is mourning Hopper and the Byers are leaving town.

What’s the purpose of bringing back this exact song? Could it be a clue that, like the first time it was used, the character’s “death” it’s accompanying isn’t what it appears? And maybe Hopper didn’t actually flash to Russia but, like Will, is now trapped in the Upside Down.

Brenner might be with the Russians

If Hopper is in the Upside Down and not Russia, which American do the Soviets have in their hold? It could be Dr. Brenner, the Hawkins Lab scientist who abducted Eleven as a child and exposed her to military-style testing. His manipulation of her telekinetic abilities opened the door to the Upside Down in the first place, an event that Brenner and his team tried to painstakingly cover-up. This led to an eventual confrontation with the Demogorgon, who attacked Brenner–and whose fate remains unknown. In season two, a former agent for the Department of Energy revealed to Eleven that Brenner was still alive, but his whereabouts were unknown.

Is it possible Brenner was captured by the Russians, and he’s in their holding cell? Or maybe he’s working with them willingly and is the reason they were so intent on reopening the door in Stranger Things 3. That could be why Dr. Owens–who shows up briefly in the finale–looked so concerned; perhaps Brenner has betrayed U.S. intelligence to the Russians and will return as the show’s Big Bad in the next season.

One thing is for certain: Anything is possible in Stranger Things. We’re sure we have a long time to wait, but we’re already counting down the moments until season four hits our screens.

Did you like Stranger Things 3? What do you think will happen next season? Join us for theories, breakdowns, and more in our spoiler discussion post!

Images: Netflix

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