Stranger Things Season 4 Catch-up: Watercooler Guide to the Story So Far

After an incredibly long hiatus, our favorite D&D nerds have returned! Season 4 of Stranger Things is getting ready to premiere (in two parts: the first half in May and the second in July), and we’re more than ready to return to Hawkins (and more far-flung locations). A lot happened at the end of Season 3, including the deaths of beloved characters and a move to California for Eleven and the Byers. Since it has been so long since we last saw these kids and their families (remember the days before this nasty bug called Covid-19 turned up?) you may have forgotten a lot of what went down. That’s why we created this handy dandy guide to help get you all caught up for Season 4!

Season 1

Still from Stranger Things S1
Netflix

In the 1980s, in a sweet little Indiana suburb called Hawkins, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), a sweet little nerd returning home from a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, is abducted by a massive monster. His friends, Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) are investigating his disappearance when they encounter Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), a bald girl who has psychokinetic abilities and a love of waffles. Fascinated by her, and the fact that they’ve never hung out with a girl, the boys agree to let Eleven stay in Mike’s basement, but they keep her a secret from everyone else.

Meanwhile, Mike’s older sister, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) drags her rule-abiding friend Barb (Shannon Purser) with her to a party along with her boyfriend, Steve (Joe Keery). Barb, who isn’t feeling the party, really has a rough night when the mysterious monster that took Will takes her too. At the same time, Will’s mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder) decides that Will is trying to communicate with her through Christmas lights (the ’80s were a wild time) and eventually sees the monster that took Will (so there really was something to those lights).

With all of these questionable kidnappings going on, detective Jim Hopper (David Harbour) enters the picture. He’s more interested in the creepy laboratory in town and the suspicious fact that Will’s body is supposedly found, only it turns out to be a fake. After investigating the laboratory, Hopper gets knocked out by government agents and finds out that they’ve been hiding a portal to an alternate dimension. Eleven also happens to be aware of this place, which the boys dub “The Upside Down.” Through a series of flashbacks we learn that poor Eleven was subjected to cruel experiments after being kidnapped by the evil Dr. Brenner. In one of them, it’s revealed that she is the one who opened the gateway to the Upside Down and first made contact with the creature. A group of government agents try to track down Eleven, but being the badass that she is, she flips their van with her mind. Eleven doesn’t have time to deal with incompetent agents; she’s gotta go save Will!

Now that half the town is aware of the fact that they live among “stranger things,” everyone is determined to track down the monster. The boys realize that their best bet to trap the creature is through Eleven, so they recreate the experiment where she was able to enter the Upside Down. She discovers that poor Barb is dead (Barb just couldn’t catch a break) but that Will is alive. Joyce, Hopper, Nancy, Steve, and Joyce’s other son, Jonathan, also try to capture the monster in the Upside Down, but ultimately Eleven is the one to take it down by sacrificing herself. Will is saved, and the boys resume their D&D campaign. When you want to trap a monster, send in a girl with telekinetic abilities and a love for Eggo waffles to do it.

Season 2

Still from Stranger Things S2
Netflix

Season 2 has one of the most ’80s moments possible: the boys all dress up as Ghostbusters for Halloween. To continue the ’80s theme, the boys also meet a new girl at their school, Max (Sadie Sink) who has the highest score on an arcade game. Lucas and Duncan immediately fall for this video-game-playing, skateboard-riding enchantress. Unfortunately, poor Will has been experiencing flashbacks to his time in the Upside Down, and sees yet another giant monster lurking over the town. A heartbroken Mike is despondent over the loss of Eleven. Luckily for him, Eleven is alive and well, living with Detective Hopper in a cabin in the woods.

The teenagers are dealing with their own set of problems. Nancy and Steve realize that Barb’s parents don’t know that she’s dead and have hired a private investigator. Nancy wants to tell them the truth, but Steven doesn’t. This disagreement comes to a head when Nancy gets drunk at a Halloween party (maybe Nancy just shouldn’t be allowed to go to parties) and tells him that she doesn’t love him. Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) is left to take care of a wasted Nancy and they end up falling for each other.

Poor Will falls into further disarray when he keeps drawing this new monster, which Hopper realizes is hiding in underground tunnels underneath a pumpkin patch. Things only get worse from there when it becomes clear that the monster, now known as the Mind Flayer, possesses Will.

Eleven, who’s tired of living in a cabin in the woods, escapes and tries to track down her real family. She discovers her sister from the lab, Eight (Linnea Berthelsen) who wants revenge on those who tortured them. Eleven isn’t feeling that, so she reunites with Hopper and together they break into the lab and close the Upside Down once and for all. At the same time, Will’s family is able to exorcize the Mind Flayer from him by using a red hot poker, which apparently works as well as holy water when it comes to exorcisms.

By the end of the season, Eleven and Mike are a couple, and so are Lucas and Max (good for him!) However, just as it seems like everyone has finally gotten their happily ever after, it’s revealed that the Mind Flayer is still lurking around the Upside Down. Man, the residents of Hawkins just can’t catch a break!

Season 3

Still from Stranger Things S3
Netflix

The third season picks up a year after the finale of the second, and our young heroes are still in love. Even Dustin comes back from camp with a girlfriend, although she is long-distance and can only communicate with him via radio. Steve gets a job at the local mall at an ice cream shop called Scoops Ahoy, which is where all of those sailor costumes came from a few Halloweens ago. He’s also joined by his sarcastic classmate, Robin (Maya Hawke).

This brief respite from the weird is broken when Dustin hears a message in Russian. The gang translates it, only to discover that the Russians are planning to reopen the Upside Down. Dustin, Erica (Lucas’s sister), Robin, and Steve decide to investigate because they don’t seem to have learned much from the previous two seasons, and Robin and Steve are kidnapped by the Russians. After undergoing a harrowing experience, Robin tells Steve that she is gay.

Meanwhile, Max’s obnoxious brother, Billy (introduced in season two, played by Dacre Montgomery), is possessed by the Mind Flayer. The group heads off to kill the pesky demon and close the portal once and for all, and this battle takes place at that most ’80s of locales, the brand new mall. Eleven is able to reach Billy through the Mind Flayer by reminding him of a treasured childhood memory. Billy is then able to fight the Mind Flayer, but unfortunately (or maybe not, depending on your opinion of Billy) dies in the process, and Eleven appears to have lost her powers.

The Russians are still lurking about though, and Hopper discovers that the mayor is allowing them to smuggle an unknown liquid substance into the lab. Hopper and Joyce head off to finally close the gate once and for all. As these things tend to go, someone has to sacrifice themselves to close the portal. And this time that someone is Hopper. He leaves a sweet note for Eleven, and if you’re like us, you probably dissolved into tears. The season ends with Eleven joining Joyce and her family as they moved to California.

And that’s what you missed on Stranger Things!

What Could Happen in Season 4?

Still from Stranger Things S4
Netflix

With season four just around the corner, the creators of the series (the Duffer brothers) have dropped a few hints about what might be in store for the town of Hawkins. They have stated that season four was the most challenging season to film yet and that season five will be the final one. We also know that the season finale will be over a whopping two hours!

In an after-credits scene, it was revealed that the Russians have kidnapped an “American.” Fans have been speculating since it first aired that the prisoner is a very-much-alive Hopper. Now those suspicions can be confirmed (like they would actually get rid of David Harbour, not a chance). We’ve also learned a bit more about the season through a series of trailers, tidbits revealed on Instagram, and Netflix has even released the first eight minutes of the first episode to get us pumped. We know that the Byers and Eleven are living in a suburb in California, while the rest of the gang is trying to figure out what the hell is going on in Hawkins. We expect to get some answers about the exact mythology of the Upside Down and why Hawkins is so darn weird. Max will also get her own unique story arc, especially as she comes to terms with the death of her brother. We will also meet some brand new folks, including Victor Creel, who will be played by Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, and possibly a new character played by Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries). We know that there will be eight new characters in total. It’s also been shown that the kids are examining a haunted house known as the Creel House. As for poor Eleven, it’s shown that she is not having the time of her life in California and is getting bullied.

We’ll have to wait to see how all of these plot lines come together. In the meantime, get ready for one strange and scary season!

Search for Watercooler Picks
Search
Generic filters
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Filter by Section
Watercooler Picks
Community Picks

Now Percolating

Trending Across the Site
RECENT ARTICLES

Looking for something new to watch?

Our advanced search engine can help you find fresh suggestions based on mood, interest, theme, and more.

BINGE VIEWERS CLUB

Find your people! Sign up for fresh recommendations, invites to events, and a chance to be featured on our site.

Start a watercooler conversation:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on tumblr
Share on email

Newsletter signup

Scroll to Top