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Everything Stranger Things has revealed about the Upside Down so far

And what it all means for season 5

The Mind Flayer looms over the landscape in Stranger Things Credit: Netflix
Sadie Gennis is the managing editor of Polygon. She’s been covering TV and entertainment for nearly 15 years, with her work appearing in TV Guide, Variety, and Vulture.

Stranger Things 4 revealed a lot about Eleven’s past and dropped a big twist about who is the true mastermind behind the Upside Down’s war on humanity. But with only one season left to go, we still have a lot of unanswered questions — several of which center around the Upside Down.

In an interview with Variety, Ross Duffer did promise that “answers for the Upside Down is really what the basis of season 5 is about.” But rather than sit around and wait for all to be revealed, we’ve gathered up everything we already know about the Upside Down so we can start making our own predictions.

[Ed. note: The following contains spoilers for Stranger Things 4 part 2.]

What is the Upside Down?

Nancy investigates a vine-covered pool in the Upside Down in Stranger Things Image: Netflix

The Upside Down is an alternate dimension that mirrors our world — or at least our world if it was a toxic hellscape overrun with creepy, moving vines, filled with murderous creatures linked together in a hive mind system, and is constantly experiencing electrical storms.

Likely because of these storms, the Upside Down affects the electromagnetic field of our world. This is how Will was able to use the Christmas lights to communicate with Joyce and why compasses will, if they’re in close enough range, point to Upside Down gates rather than true north.

When Henry Creel/One/Vecna (who we will hereafter refer to just as Vecna for simplicity’s sake) first entered the Upside Down, the location he arrived at didn’t appear to be a version of Hawkins, though. All we saw was a mountainous landscape and more electrical storms. No houses. No school. No Castle Byers.

But if the Upside Down didn’t always mirror Hawkins, is it truly a parallel dimension that reflects our world or an alternate dimension that was transformed to reflect our world? Or maybe it’s simply that the Upside Down expands far beyond Hawkins and we’ve previously only glimpsed a small portion of it.

Did Eleven create the Upside Down?

Young Eleven looks at the first gate to the Upside Down in Stranger Things Image: Netflix

The first known human contact with the Upside Down was in 1979 during Eleven’s fight with Vecna. During the match, Eleven was able to overpower Vecna, using her psychic abilities to keep him pinned to the Rainbow Room wall as his body disintegrated. But before he could disintegrate completely, she unintentionally opened a gate to the Upside Down behind him, which Vecna then fell through.

There’s been debate as to whether or not this scene implies that Eleven created the Upside Down or merely opened the first gate to it. But according to Millie Bobby Brown, the Upside Down existed before El ever meddled with it. “I don’t think that she created the Upside Down,” Brown told Variety in June. “No, I think that it was always there, I think she just created a gate to it which no one could before.”

Brown is likely right in saying that no one created the Upside Down and that the parallel dimension has always existed. And if the boys’ science teacher was right in saying there are “infinite variations” of our world in alternate dimensions, there could even be several versions of the Upside Down out there.

Why is the Upside Down stuck in 1983?

Robin, Eddie, Nancy, and Steve, crouching in the Upside Down Image: Netflix

In Stranger Things 4 part 1, Nancy figured out that the Upside Down became frozen in time on Nov. 6, 1983, the same day Eleven opened the mothergate in Hawkins Lab and that Will disappeared. Obviously, this is not a coincidence, but it was still nice to get confirmation from production designer Chris Trujillo that the Upside Down becoming stuck in time is directly tied to Eleven opening the gate. As he explained in a featurette:

The moment that the Upside Down was quote-unquote “created” inadvertently by Eleven, the set dressing and the world of the Upside Down is frozen in that moment. So like when we’re in Nancy’s room, we’ll discover in the Upside Down that Nancy’s room is as it was season 1 when we first were introduced to it.

While we’re still missing the “why” part of this mystery, it’s possible that after Vecna entered the Upside Down, he transformed it to match Hawkins (he does want to reshape the world, after all). Then maybe, after the Upside Down came into contact with the real Hawkins and/or Eleven’s powers when the mothergate opened, it disturbed his control over the realm and froze time as a result.

Another theory is that for years, the Upside Down remained the barren landscape we saw Vecna first enter, and it was only after the mothergate opened that the exact 1983 version of Hawkins was copied into the alternate dimension.

Are either of these theories great? Who knows at this point. They aren’t giving us a lot to work with.

What monsters live in the Upside Down?

A close-up of an Upside Down Demodog Image: Netflix

In addition to the dangerous flora and fauna that thrive in the Upside Down, such as the toxic vines and spores, the dimension is crawling with monsters. These include the Mind Flayer, the terribly powerful, many-legged mist being; the Demogorgons, whose adolescent forms are called Demodogs; and Demobats, which can fly and may be smaller than Demogorgons, but are equally vicious.

Then, of course, there’s Vecna, the monstrous evolution of Henry Creel/One who preys on humans’ trauma before gruesomely killing them.

Is Vecna the Mind Flayer?

One standing in front of the Mind Flayer in the Upside Down Image: Netflix

In the first part of season 4, Dustin guessed that Vecna was the Mind Flayer’s “five-star general,” but it’s actually the other way around.

When Vecna first entered the Upside Down, he wandered the wasteland until he came across a living cloud of dark mist, which was a primitive form of the Mind Flayer. Vecna, who absorbs beings’ consciousnesses and resultantly feeds off their power, knew he had stumbled upon exactly what he needed to exact his revenge on the world:

I saw so many things, then one day I found the most extraordinary thing of all. Something that would change everything. I saw a means to realize my potential, to transcend my human form, to become the predator I was always born to be.

Vecna reached out to the Mind Flayer, seemingly using his powers to reshape it into the spider-legged monster he had doodled as a child. It was in this moment that Vecna likely created the Upside Down hive mind, becoming the puppet master behind all the monsters while simultaneously growing stronger by absorbing their minds.

When Eleven opened the mothergate years later, Vecna was finally able to get a foothold in our world. He used the hive mind to send out his soldiers, like the Demogorgons and Mind Flayer, all while he stayed in the Upside Down, building up even more power.

What does Vecna actually want?

The Vecna kneeling Image: Netflix

During Vecna’s 20-minute monologue in the season 4 part 1 finale, he made his distaste for humanity extremely known. As Vecna explained — at length — he finds people’s hypocrisy unforgivable and sees them as irredeemable parasites. Eleven was the one exception to this, as he saw himself in her as someone who is better than the rest of humanity. But when she turned against him and banished him into the Upside Down, any caring feelings he had for her curdled into hatred.

So in short, his motivations don’t seem to be that complicated: destroy Eleven and destroy humanity, all under the pretense of doing it for a better world unencumbered by humanity’s stain. But how Vecna has been executing this vision is a bit more complex.

Vecna’s ultimate goal is to create enough cracks in the barrier between our world and the Upside Down, paving a way for a full-scale takeover of our world aided by his army of monsters. But Vecna knew his power alone wasn’t enough to do this and that he had to acquire and exploit Eleven’s powers as well, which is what everything he’s done up until this point has been about.

“All this time, we’ve been building it for you,” Vecna told Eleven through Billy in season 3.

In the season 4 finale showdown with Vecna, Eleven battled with him in Max’s mind while Steve, Nancy, and Robin attacked his physical form, shooting him and engulfing him with flames. Though they thought they defeated him, Vecna survived and even managed to enact the next stage of his plan.

After the fight, a massive earthquake rocked Hawkins, creating four huge rifts in the earth that converged on the center of town. For a few days, these rifts didn’t show signs of their supernatural origins; by the show’s final scene, the Upside Down had begun coming through the cracks, bringing with it electrical storms and the vegetation-killing infection.

Now, with the barrier between the worlds barely intact, it’s only a matter of time before Vecna tries to fully take over our world.

What is Will’s connection to the Upside Down?

Will lies back as someone attaches wires to his head for an EEG test in Stranger Things Image: Netflix

After returning from the week he spent trapped in the Upside Down, Will was still haunted (literally) by his time there. Season 2 found Will having visions of the Upside Down, vomiting up monster slugs, and being possessed by the Mind Flayer. Even after the Mind Flayer was driven out of Will’s body, we’ve seen that Will is still able to sense its presence in Hawkins. Only, the end of season 4 revealed that Will wasn’t actually sensing the Mind Flayer — he was sensing Vecna.

While this is obviously quite unsettling for Will, his ongoing connection to the Upside Down might provide the gang with an advantage in their fight against Vecna. “I can still remember what he thinks, and how he thinks,” Will told Mike.

But why is Will still connected to the Upside Down when no one else who has visited has experienced the same effects? Some fans speculate that it’s because Will is even more closely tied to the Upside Down that we already know. There are those even who believe that Will was specifically targeted for abduction in season 1 because he has unexplored powers similar to Eleven’s, and that’s why he survived a week there when no one else has survived.

How many gates to the Upside Down are there?

Steve struggles against a vine pulling him into an underwater gate to the Upside Down in Stranger Things Image: Netflix

The first known gate is the temporary one Eleven opened in 1979 that she sent Vecna through. Eleven opened the first permanent gate in 1983 after making physical contact with a Demogorgon/Vecna while in a deep psychic state.

When that Demogorgon escaped into our world, it was able to create multiple temporary gates between the two dimensions, such as the one in Will’s room and the one Nancy goes through in the base of the tree. Eleven has also created temporary gates in the years since her escape from the lab, including the one in Hawkins Middle School.

In 1984, Russia discovered the Upside Down’s existence and began working on creating its own gate. This is what led to the creation of the Keys, finicky and volatile machines that could temporarily create a gate. While there are several keys in existence, we only know the locations of two: the one under Starcourt Mall and the one in Kamchatka.

After destroying the Starcourt gate in season 3, the Hawkins gang thought they’d closed all the openings to the Upside Down. But when Vecna killed Chrissy, Fred, and Patrick, each of their deaths coincided with the opening of a new gate.

However, when Vecna got his fourth sacrifice in Max, it didn’t just create another small gate. Instead, huge rifts between the worlds opened up throughout Hawkins, turning the entire city into the biggest gate yet.

So how many gates are there, exactly? The answer: too many.