- Season three of Netflix’s hit ’80s sci-fi series, “Stranger Things,” culminates in a main-character death. Or does it?
- Warning: This video contains spoilers.
- We take a look at the ending and all-important post-credits scene.
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Season three ends with Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce (Winona Ryder) attempting to close the gate between this world and the Upside Down. Hopper is standing next to the machine that controls the gate, and he disappears after the blast. Later scenes show the other characters mourning, and Eleven moves out of Hawkins with the Byers family.
So here’s why Hopper is probably still alive.
Instead of rolling to the usual end credits, the camera pans over the skyline of Kamchatka, Russia. This snowy outcrop houses a mysterious Soviet facility. As a soldier passes a doorway to unlock a prisoner, another soldier says, “No, not the American.” They then unlock a second door, dragging a man out and feeding him to a demogorgon. It’s unclear if this is the same demogorgon from season one.
There are very few candidates for who “the American” could be. Either it’s a whole new character, or someone presumed dead in previous seasons. Dr. Brenner from season one was a research scientist in Hawkins who was killed by a demogorgon. But in season two, a former lab employee tells Eleven that Brenner survived. Aside from him, there isn’t anyone else whose death has remained an ambiguity to such an extent. It seems too much of a coincidence that the Soviets call Hopper “the American” all season.
Of course, for this to be Hopper, he would have had to survive the blast in the Starcourt Mall basement. We know that he wasn’t able to get back through the glass divide to Joyce because of the electrical charge caused by the machine after Grigori’s death.
In the opening of the season, we see exactly what happens to anyone in the blast radius. Their bodies are overtaken by blue tendrils of energy, apparently electrocuted. This also occurs immediately after the machine is detonated.
This is different with Hopper. We don’t actually see any physical effects from the blast, because he just vanishes. Here is where he stood when Joyce turns the keys. Look again one second after she turns them: He’s not standing there anymore.
Most important, the blast in episode one leaves behind bodies. We see the technicians getting fried and then spot their corpses, whereas there isn’t even a partially melted mustache for Hopper.
Hopper is also standing extremely close to the gate, within jumping distance of the Upside Down. If he is still alive, he could have climbed down the ladder and jumped into the crack before it closed.
The room goes black for a few seconds. Then the lights come back on. Contrast this with the nearly continuous blinding light from episode one.
So the next question: How would the Soviets have gotten Hopper out of the Upside Down? We know they have been studying the gate, as we saw in episode one. We also see in the mid-credits scene that they have access to beings from the Upside Down, i.e., a demogorgon. They could have also gone back into the Upside Down and taken Hopper out.
Hopper was in the Upside Down a few times before, so he may be able to survive there. In season two, Hopper and Dustin inhaled spores in the Upside Down tunnel. Dustin had his face covered, but Hopper didn’t, and the side effects of this have never really been shown since that episode. Would whatever was in these spores help him survive in the Upside Down?
After the blast, we see characters reacting to news of Billy’s and Hopper’s deaths. Then a WCPK-TV news segment pops up. A sign that previously read “Welcome to Hawkins” now reads “Welcome to Hell,” echoing Hopper’s final line of season three, “See you in hell.”
Teasing a character death at the end of the season isn’t new to “Stranger Things.” In season one, it was suggested Eleven had died, only for her to return. The same song that plays at the end of this season, a version of “Heroes” by David Bowie, also played when we thought Will had died. Also, “Stranger Things” has shied away from a central character death for nearly three seasons. While supporting cast members like Bob, Barb, and now Billy are potentially more disposable, it’s difficult to imagine season four without Hopper.
The audience is teased with a will-they-won’t-they storyline with Joyce and Hopper throughout this season, culminating in their emotional glance at each other through the partition. There seems to be little point in going so far with this budding romance if there won’t be a true resolution. Joyce has already seen Bob, her previous love interest, die, so it would seem like lazy writing to repeat this arc.
While Eleven is packing, she reads a letter. It’s Hopper’s speech to her and Mike that he wanted to say to them but never did in episode one. This speech encourages Eleven’s growth via the pain she has suffered: “When life hurts you, because it will, remember the hurt.” And it also teases that Hopper is just on the other side of a door: ” For the sake of your poor old dad, keep the door open three inches.” Will Eleven and her friends have to reopen a door to get Hopper back?
Produced by Ju Shardlow