Before Stranger Things 3 premiered, producer Shawn Levy said the season would draw inspiration directly from Back to the Future. The show did then feature numerous Easter eggs from the iconic film. Including Maya and Steve watching and commenting on it. However, the hit Netflix series didn’t use the movie’s signature element: time travel. That is, unless it did without us knowing. Because promos for Stranger Things 4 have raised the possibility time travel has already come to Hawkins and will play an important role in the upcoming season. And if it does, it could have change everything about the past, present, and future of everyone in Hawkins.
Who Has Time for All These Clocks?
The announcement promo for Stranger Things 4 (released two years ago) features an eerie trip through the woods of the Upside Down. The dark dimension’s vines overtake the show’s logo, like it covers everything there. That includes an unlikely item – a tree with a clock in it. It’s the incessant ticking of that clock, followed by its ominous bells, that replaces the monstrous noises of this sinister world. As the trailer ends with a note “we’re not in Hawkins anymore.”
On its own the promo works as an extension of the Stranger Things 3 finale. The season ended with Joyce moving her sons and Eleven out of their small, demon-filled town. But the imagery of that embedded tree clock has taken on a whole new meaning with additional season three trailers. All of them have featured clocks, memories of the past, or both.
Eleven Returns “Home”
Stranger Things’ original human villain, Matthew Modine’s Dr. Martin Brenner, seemingly died in the season one finale. However, in season two his former employee claimed the man who raised and exploited Eleven still lived. While he might have secretly been behind the Russians’ plans in Stranger Things 3, he has yet to reappear in the present timeline since his possible death. (Modine’s season two scene was not real.)
But Brenner’s presence is hard to miss in a Stranger Things 4 teaser. It features the now decrepit and abandoned Hawkins Laboratory when it was still fully functional. That’s where Brenner kept powerful children like Eleven prisoner. It’s also where she accidentally opened a door to the Upside Down. “Papa” can be seen in the trailer walking the halls of the lab as his voice calls out to Eleven.
The promo hints at Brenner’s possible return. And it presages Eleven’s past playing an important role in the new season. But like the announcement trailer, when taken as a whole with the show’s other trailers her past life might not be that distant from her current one.
The Clock and Cruelty of Creel House
The season four announcement teaser featured a clock. The Brenner promo featured a flashback. And now Stranger Things 4‘s newest trailer features both. It introduces Creel House and the photogenic family that lived there during the ’50s. Their picturesque life seemingly became a nightmare when it was touched by the Upside Down. As the trailer hints at a story that has elements of The Shining, The Amityville Horror, and IT.
By the time Hawkins’ young heroes find it in the ’80s, the house is abandoned. It stands as a grim reminder of the terrors that felled the family of four who once called it home. We don’t know what the characters of Stranger Things 4 will be looking for in that house. But we know they will find an old clock there. One similar to that seen in the announcement teaser. It not only tick-tocks over the latter half of the trailer, it becomes the primary focus of the promo at the end. It sits in the attic like a forgotten obelisk in a town center. Rays of broken light fall on it, before it’s suddenly standing in the Upside Down bather in red light that turns dark. And as the camera gets closer, it finally breaks at the center.
As far as meaningful symbolism goes, time literally breaking is as direct as it gets. And if this house is/was a gate to the Upside Down, these many clocks indicate that door might lead to more than just a place. A possibility that has major implications for a portal Stranger Things 4 has already introduced.
A Door Across Space, and Also Time?
The Russians built a powerful, dangerous machine under Hawkins’ Starcourt Mall. With more time it would have opened a permanent gateway to the Upside Down. Instead Hopper and Joyce Byers destroyed it, with Hopper giving his life to the cause. But Netflix didn’t wait long to let us know Chief Hopper survived the season three finale. (A development it hinted at in a Stranger Things 3 post-credits scene.) He’s alive, though possibly not that well.
The Russians’ device transported Hopper across a vast swath of space, from Indiana USA to the Soviet Union. How it worked is unknown. But it has shown that their are powerful, unexplained forces at work in this universe even beyond monsters and alternate dimensions. And if you can open a door across space, why can’t you also open a door across time?
“When” is Chief Hopper?
Shawn Levy promised direct connections between Back to the Future and Stranger Things 3. He didn’t promise they’d end there though. What if that machine didn’t just send Hopper to another place? The recurring flashbacks and hyper focus on clock imagery of Stranger Things 4 raises an obvious question: what if that machine also sent him to another time?
There’s so little we know about the Upside Down and what it is. It’s a dark mirror dimension that flips our world on its head. Why would time work the same way there as it does in the human dimension? The series has already shown us portals to other worlds exist. It has now introduced a portal to cross within worlds. Why couldn’t the Upside Down also be have a door to another time within those worlds?
Stranger Things 4 keeps hinting at the reality of time travel. If the show introduces that ability to its story, it could lead to some major returns. Both good and bad.
B-B-Back from the Dead?
If you live in Hawkins, Indiana you do not want to have a name that starts with the letter “B.” It’s the surest sign you won’t survive an encounter with the Upside Down. Prominent “B” deaths include fan-favorites and all-around good people Barb and Bob. As well as the detestable Billy and Brenner.
If you learned the Upside Down was a way to bring someone—whether it be your friend who died because of you, your mom’s kind boyfriend who saved your family, your step-brother who was more empathetic than you first thought, or a man who once wielded incredible power and influence—would you risk it? Would you go back in time and save them? Even if it meant passing through an evil world? Is this how Brenner is still alive? Not because he survived his encounter with the demogorgon, but because the Russians went back and got him from the past?
Messing with time is dangerous even without involving the Upside Down. But the past might also be the only thing that can protect the present.
A Return Trip to Hell for Eleven
Changing history or saving people aren’t the only thing someone from Hawking might want to find in the past. They might need something important from a previous era. Something that might be the difference between survival and annihilation. Eleven potentially lost her powers in season three. Thus far her and her skills have been the only things standing between the Upside Down and her world. When that dark dimension comes calling again, an actual return to Hawkins Lab where she mastered her powers might be the world’s only hope. That teaser might not be a reminder of what happened before and where Eleven comes from. It might be a sign of what’s to come and where she is going.
Stranger Things 4 doesn’t premiere until 2022. But it’s future might reside in the past.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike, and also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.