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What to know about Stranger Things season 3 before season 4 part 1 hits

It’s been almost 3 years since the Battle of Starcourt Mall!

Max, Will, El, Mike, and Lucas standing and looking at the camera. El looks mad Photo: Netflix
Zosha Millman (she/her) manages TV coverage at Polygon as TV editor, but will happily write about movies, too. She’s been working as a journalist for more than 10 years.

It’s been almost three years since we last got a dose of the Upside Down weirdness of Stranger Things (the same time frame as that between Stranger Things seasons 1 and 3). That sort of delay is not unheard of in the new normal, but hoo boy, there’s a lot to remember about where the folks of Hawkins have been.

Unsurprisingly, things look a lot different for just about everybody in Stranger Things 4. So we’ve put together a refresher on where we left off with Eleven, Will, Mike, Max, Lucas, Dustin, Erica, Steve, Robin, Nancy, Joyce, Hopper — OK, you get the picture.

[Ed. note: There’s gonna be spoilers for Stranger Things season 3 here, as you might’ve expected!]

Season 3 was the mall season

Steve, Robin, and Dustin walk through the mall Photo: Netflix

It’s been long enough you might’ve forgotten: In an homage to the burgeoning mall culture of the 1980s, much of Stranger Things 3’s action takes place at the new Starcourt Mall. Unfortunately, the new shopping complex also happens to be a front for a secret Soviet research base (it was the ’80s!), under which the Russians have built the first Key — a portal to the Upside Down — on American soil. (According to one of the Soviets, there are definitely more in Russia, but none have been as successful as the Hawkins Key.)

After Steve, Dustin, Erica, and Robin discover the Key, they inform Hopper, who hatches a plan to break into the base and deactivate the machine alongside Joyce and Murray (the conspiracy theorist who gets looped in because he can translate Russian).

Unfortunately, their plan gets hamstrung by Hopper having to fight a Russian hitman to the death right next to the active machine. Unable to rejoin Joyce in the control room before she could stop the machine, the two shared a meaningful glance as she deactivated it, possibly disintegrating him in the process. While Joyce wanted to search the debris, Murray escorted her out so as to avoid angry Soviet troops swarming in.

Everybody’s long-distance now

Mike, Lucas, Max, Jonathan, Will, El, and Nancy in a living room in Stranger Things season 3 Photo: Netflix

Eleven and the Byers moved out to California after the events at Hawkins’ mall, meaning that not only is Will split up from the D&D group, but so are the couples Jonathan and Nancy as well as Eleven and Mike.

Just before they left, El and Mike promised to see each other at Thanksgiving and Christmas; El also told Mike “I love you” officially, so when we left them in season 3 they were cruisin’ right along. Jonathan and Nancy made no such promises, but she did offer to keep him in her basement if he wanted to stay.

“No, not the American.”

A little teaser in some Russian facility saw two guards feeding a prisoner to an Upside Down monster. But before they grab the poor bastard, one guard waves the other off, unlocking a different cell.

What other way to interpret this is there than Jim Hopper being alive? I dunno, but let’s see what the Stranger Things season 4 promo says.

OK, well that was quick: Yes, he’s definitely alive and captured by the Soviets. More on that in season 4.

Billy sacrificed himself

Billy in Stranger Things drenched in close-up Photo: Netflix

After being possessed by an Upside Down monster (so to speak), Billy was brought back to himself when El mind-melded with him and shared a vision of his happy childhood memory. The reconnection to his humanity inspired him to stop the Mind Flayer attacking the rest of the kids. He was ultimately stabbed through the heart by the monster.

Though they were never particularly close, it hit his step sister, Max, pretty hard in the moment.

Eleven lost her powers

Photo: Netflix

After the Mind Flayer bit her and left a piece of itself lodged inside of her, Eleven’s powers vanished. Though it was presumed to be a side effect of the bite, she still didn’t have her powers as the Byers set off for California three months after the battle. When season 4 picks up in California, she’s still struggling to figure out who she is outside of her superpowers.

Dustin’s got a hacker girlfriend, Suzie

All season Dustin talked about his long-distance girlfriend he met at camp. In the eleventh hour, the team finds out she is, indeed, real, and she is a whiz at computers.

The Stranger Things kids are off to high school now!

Will, Lucas, Dustin, and Max standing in a field in Stranger Things s3 Photo: Netflix

Yes, they’ve all aged a lot in the three years (our time) since we last saw them! But in-universe, it’s been about six months since the end of last season, and Stranger Things 3 took place in the summer of 1985, just before the younger kids started high school. Will it be more horrific than facing off against Upside Down monsters multiple times? It’s the ’80s, so probably!

Erica got Will’s D&D shit

A close-up of Erica in a vent with a helmet with lights on it Photo: Netflix

After risking life and limb to uncover the truth of Starcourt Mall alongside our plucky heroes, Lucas’ younger sister, Erica, became an instant fan favorite and also more invested in her brother’s social life — or, at least, the nerdy, possibly alien parts of it. Dustin and Lucas presented Erica with the D&D books Will left behind (he said he definitely didn’t want to find any D&D friends in California, which is a nice gesture but not entirely smart, in this writer’s opinion).

Eleven has been seen by many doctors!

Dr. Brenner smiling at El, strapped into a machine Photo: Netflix
Hopper and Dr. Owens looking scared at something Photo: Netflix

This isn’t a season 3 thing, since much of that plot was localized around the Russian invasion and the mall. But in season 1 we were introduced to Dr. Martin Brenner, a scientist at the facility that raised El; he built himself up as a father figure to her so as to make her more compliant with the experimentation, so she called him “Papa.” In the end, she finally saw through his manipulation and left him to be attacked by the Demogorgon. Although he was presumed dead for a while, Brenner was confirmed alive in season 2. By then he had already been replaced by the Department of Energy’s Dr. Sam Owens, who ultimately took a far more sympathetic approach to Eleven and Hopper.

Considering Dr. Owens pops up in the trailer for season 4, suffice it to say that the season will be revisiting El’s past.

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