Explainers

Stranger Things Season 3 Ending, Explained

Updated July 4, 2019
15 min read

If you haven’t yet caught up with the third season of ‘Stranger Things’, you might as well hop over to Netflix, and return only after you have dealt with your feelings about the finale. This Netflix show became an instant sensation when its first season started streaming, and for the fans, the Duffer Brothers have left no stone unturned in the third. It is easily the best season (yet) of the show. As its protagonists enter another stage of life, so does the story. It gets mature with tackling various issues and becomes bolder with the characters that it wants to risk. It is edge-of-the-seat entertainment; it is a tear-jerker. But above all, it is saturated with the 80s nostalgia.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Summary of the Plot

The last time we saw our favourite residents of Hawkins, Indiana, they were safe and sound and enjoying their time together. The third season picks up with a breezy summer where everyone has recuperated from the loss of life and property incurred in the second season. Joyce is still sad about Bob, but the spark between her and Hopper is too bright to ignore now. El and Mike, and Max and Lucas are enjoying their budding relationships, and Will is doing well too. Jonathan and Nancy’s romance has blossomed and they work as interns at the Hawkins Post. A new mall has opened up in town and Steve has a job there now, at the Scoops Ahoy. Dustin had been away at the science camp, where he says he made a girlfriend called Suzie. Of course, no one believes him.

While everyone is enjoying their moment, the Russians are working on a plan of their own. The Hawkins lab had been shut down after the events of the second season, but the Russians aren’t ready to let go of it yet. They meddle with the portal that connects the real world to the Upside Down, which invites a whole other bunch of problems. To win the war this time, the residents of Hawkins will have to pay a heftier price. No one will come out of it unscathed.

The Reopening of the Portal

Before we move on to more pressing issues, let’s address the agenda of the Russians, and why and how they reopened the portal to the Upside Down. As far as we learnt from the previous seasons, the Americans came to know about the alternate universe when Eleven tore through the fabric of space and opened a gate that allowed the Mind Flayer and the Demogorgon to access our world. Then how come Russians knew about it?

The prime purpose of Eleven’s abilities was to spy on Russians for the Americans. Safe to assume, the Russians were spying too, though not through similar channels, and found out about this. OR, maybe they already knew about this alternate universe. Maybe they had been trying to tear down the wall, even when they had no idea what they would find or the other side. As Alexei (whom I had grown to like and was extremely saddened by the death of) tells Hopper and Joyce, there were many doors in Russia too, but they “turned out wrong”. How did they turn out wrong? What happened there that screwed up these “many” doors so much that they had to come to the other side of the world to get their work done?

The Russians didn’t have an Eleven (or maybe they did and something happened to her!) to help them with the portal, so they created a machine that would use an immense amount of power to bring about this task. Hawkins was a perfect place for them to do so because the portal had already been opened there. By the time the Hawkins lab was closed and abandoned, the portal was still healing. (As I mentioned in the explainer for the previous season of ‘Stranger Things’, the Upside Down tends to behave like an organism and a portal is a wound that takes time to heal.) The Russians arrived just in time to use its weakness and activate it again.

Now, in order to run their machine, they needed energy, humungous amounts of it. So, they started buying properties around Hawkins, so strategically that all of them were in the close proximity of a transformer. This is why, when they first fired it up, the power went out in the whole town! The green liquid that the Scoops Troop find in the boxes in the loading dock would be the fuel to run this machine. Also, to invest so heavily in the property of Hawkins, they needed a proper front. Something that would easily mask their true intentions with none the wiser of their plans. Hence, the mall Starcourt. It distracted the whole town, while the Russians carried their operations right below them. Considering that it was the time of the Cold War, any Russian investment, leave alone concentrated in a single town, in America would raise concern. In order to protect themselves from such a problem, they bribe the mayor of Hawkins and continue with their plan.

As to why exactly they wanted to access the Upside Down so bad, there could be many reasons to that. Maybe they found something there, something they could use against their enemies. Maybe they saw the army of Demogorgons and thought that they could use them as weapons. We don’t yet fully know the anatomy of the Upside Down, so we are free to make another speculation: maybe it allows you to travel from one place to another, as in from America to Russia and vice versa. Too far-fetched? I have my reasons to nurture this theory. You will find out soon enough, read on.

The Mind Flayer and his Army

For two whole seasons, we saw Eleven and her friends fighting various threats from the other side- Demogorgons, Demodogs, the vines and all else. The Mind Flayer got hold of Will’s brain, but it continued to run the show from the other side. It never crossed over. In the final scene of the second season, we see its shadow looming over the school, but even that is in the Upside Down. How does it cross over to this side then, after the portal had already been closed by Eleven? Mike covers the explanation for this pretty well.

Will was being controlled by the Mind Flayer because the creature had inserted a part of itself inside him. After he was cleansed of it, that part just flew away, it wasn’t destroyed. In the first episode of the third season, we see that part accumulating again. It needs a host to survive, so at first, it makes do with the rats. Now, here is the interesting part. This part of the Mind Flayer seems quite ethereal in our plane. It doesn’t seem to have a body of its own, and yet, by the season finale, the creature attains its complete form and romps across the town, promising annihilation. How did it get that flesh and bone on itself?

The part of the Mind Flayer that is trapped on this side needs a living thing, no matter what it is, to survive. The more it branches out, the greater the number of hosts it can possess, and hence, a greater chance for it collect a body for itself. It starts out with the rats that die a painful death and turn into a lump of blood and flesh which then accumulates to become one giant Mind Flayer. Also, it might be the king of the Upside Down, but here the creature is weak, so it needs time to build up. It doesn’t take much time to graduate from rats to humans. The Mind Flayer takes control of Billy and starts building an army from there. One after the other, it creates a hive mind that doesn’t spare even children. All of these bodies finally meltdown and combine to give structure to the ultimate Mind Flayer.

But that’s not the only thing it needs to grow. It needs food. Hence, the chemicals. The rats eating up all the fertilizer, the old lady feasting on it, the chemicals consumed by the Holloways- all of this points towards the fact that this is the Mind Flayer’s food. This is what it thrives on, which makes it strong. Being in alien surroundings and with no connection to its mothership, it needs all the strength it can get. We have already had a hint of this theory in the second season, where the spread of the underground vines begins destroying the pumpkins.

At first, it seems like this spread is turning the soil poisonous, leading to the situation with the crops. But now it seems like the vines, that are made of the same matter that the Mind Flayer is made of, ate up the fertilizers in the soil and that’s how they were growing further. But then, why didn’t Will eat chemicals when he was under the influence of the Mind Flayer? Well, conditions were different back then. That time, the portal was wide open and the creature was focused on travelling from the Upside Down to Hawkins. It didn’t need to create a body for itself. It just needed to transfer the one it already had to the normal world. The Mind Flayer just needed control on Will’s mind to spy on the other side. In the third season, the circumstances are completely different. And so, it had to change its diet chart.

Another reason for the Mind Flayer to create an army out of humans was to build offence against the one person that could be its undoing. In the finale of the second season, Eleven had closed the gate, and that too, on its face. The creature remembered that and knew that this time as well, she could pose the same threat. Before embarking on world domination, it needed to get its most dangerous enemy out of the way. So, it concocted a plan that would begin with the end of her. Eleven had super-powers but she wasn’t that strong, not enough to fight an army. The Mind Flayer wanted to pit her against that, she would fail, it would destroy her, and then on to better plans.

The Ending and Post Credits

After a thrilling ride, the third season of ‘Stranger Things’ ended on a bittersweet note, more bitter than sweet. Even in the first half, when the stage was being set for the war to come, we could see the world-changing around the gang. In the previous seasons, they were kids and things were simpler. Yes, they got involved in a government conspiracy and dangerous creatures, but their own lives and relationships were untainted. In the second season, we started seeing a shift in that dynamic, which began with a very innocent rivalry of Lucas and Dustin over Max.

This season left that subtlety behind and started treating these kids like the grown-ups they were turning into. For Eleven and Mike, who seemed perfect together, for whom it felt like there would be no problems, it got problematic. Taking a break from her relationship, El embarks on a journey of self-discovery with Max. Dustin returns home to find his friends disinterested in spending time with him, which drives him towards his valuable friendship with Steve. Will suffers the most, as he had already lost a good part of his childhood due to the whole Mind Flayer scenario. The loss of innocence of the kids is portrayed in an effective manner through his feelings. Even the mention of his sexuality comes to pass, so they really have grown up. Nancy too enters a world where the appreciation of her talents is a rare feat. She is a hero while fighting the creatures from the Upside Down, but doesn’t receive the treatment deserving of a normal person while working at the Hawkins Post. Every character breaks out of their shell to enter the real world in one way or another.

These small things become hints for the overall arc of the story. The writers want you to know that the stakes too are higher now and you should get ready to deal with the aftermath of this show as an adult. The finale proves that in a very intense manner. The death of a character is not a new thing in ‘Stranger Things’. We saw the deaths of Benny, Barb and Bob in the previous seasons. As much as we liked all of them, there wasn’t any particular attachment with them. The death of Alexei followed this pattern, where ‘Stranger Things’ got us fond of an innocent character only to kill them off. Unfortunately, that was not the only death of this season. Billy, Max’s hateful half-brother, too, meets a tragic end, which is what acts as his redemption. With so much going on with every character, how do you make the audience love a character, that most of them hated in the previous season, so much that they feel bad for his death? Give them a backstory that plays out in a touching manner, do all sorts of wrong with them, and then allow them to die at their own terms. Billy had all of that and that’s why his death succeeds in having such an intense effect.

But the death that makes us cry our eyes out is Hopper’s. How in the world could they kill him? Especially when we were finally going to have that date between him and Joyce? His death further promotes the decision of Joyce to relocate to some other town, and she takes Jonathan, Will and Eleven with her. The touch of Hopper’s letter adds another layer on the heavy emotional tone and only makes you go back to his death scene to find the proof that he is not dead after all. As soon as you have wiped your tears, there comes a post-credit scene. We are taken to the secret facility in Russia and before the Russian scientist is served as food to a Demogorgon, the mention of an “American” comes up, which makes you wonder, who is this person?

Stranger Things Season 4: What to Expect?

The third season of ‘Stranger Things’ has left us with the fodder for further speculation. What’s next in store for Hawkins? What does the departure of Eleven and the Byers from the town mean for the gang? When, if at all, will Eleven’s powers come back? Is Hopper really dead? And who could possibly be that American?

While saying their goodbyes, Mike tells Eleven that he will visit them for Thanksgiving and that he wants her and Will to visit him on Christmas. The holiday that the Byers choose to return to Hawkins will be the setting of the fourth season. El’s recovery will be a major part of the plot, along with the further maturity in the characters. Living away from each other is sure to affect their dynamics and that could become a pivotal point in the plot. Another thing that we would like to see is how ‘Stranger Things’ continues its pattern of killing characters whose names start with “B”!

The show has increased its cast every season, by introducing new characters. Will the next season follow suit? What new characters will we get to meet? And now, about the most important part, how will they bring Hopper back? I simply refuse to believe that he is dead. If there is one thing we have learnt from deaths on TV shows, it is that if you don’t see a corpse, it isn’t dead. We did not see Hopper’s dead body, neither did we see him explode like the others. What could have happened to him? Well, he was standing rather close to the machine.

Does that mean that instead of exploding him to pieces, the machine actually transported him to the Upside Down? If he is there, then getting him out of there will be the primary concern of the Duffer Brothers. Moreover, is there a chance that instead of landing himself on the Upside Down, Hopper got teleported from the portal in America to the portal in Russia? Is he the American in captivity? If not him, then who? Will we finally see Brenner return? The fact that he is alive was hinted in the second season. Has he been a prisoner all along? Is he the one who told Russians about the Upside Down? Further, we will get to see the story of the Russian side of the portal. How did they manage to get a Demogorgon out and why are they keeping it in captivity? What are their plans for it?

Read More: Everything We Know About the Next Season of Stranger Things