Stranger Things season 1 recaps and study guide
Netflix dropped all eight episodes of the first season of Stranger Things on July 15. So, like a space demon created in a laboratory swallowing up helpless teenagers, we binged and recapped every single episode from the season. There are two recaps per page, so feel free to dig in and read along while you watch. We’ll be updating as we watch, so be sure to check back and refresh.
“Chapter One: The Vanishing Of Will Byers”
Stranger Things really sets its ’80s sci-fi/Stephen King vibe right off the bat. The series premiere opens on a laboratory isolated in the woods in Hawkins, Indiana, in 1983. A man in a lab coat runs down a dark hallway, frantically pushing buttons for the elevator. As the elevator arrives he seems to be safe, but as the doors are about to close something growls above him. He’s pulled up and we never see him again.
Meanwhile, four middle-schoolers, Michael, Dustin, Lucas, and Will, are playing a fantasy RPG in their basement. They want to play just a bit longer, but it’s time for them to go home Michael’s mom insists. That sends Will and Dustin biking home. They decide to race and, as Will pulls away, he finds his way into the same area as the laboratory and crashes his bike.
He hears something in the distance and scrambles home, but something’s still chasing him. He holes up in a shed in the backyard and loads a gun to fight off whatever’s coming for him, but it’s not enough. The lights flicker, a growl is heard, and Will disappears. That’s the setup for the rest of the series. Will Byers vanishes during a night of many power outages across Hawkins. His mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder), can’t find him the next morning, and neither can his older brother, Jonathan.
Joyce goes to Police Chief Hopper, who seems to have his own issues with pill-popping and general ennui, but he doesn’t seem too worried. This is Hawkins after all, a quiet, sleepy town. Hopper’s first instinct is to question Joyce’s ex-husband Lonny, but she insists Will wouldn’t run away to him. Not a chance.
Things get weirder when a young girl wearing a hospital gown, complete with a shaved head, wanders into Benny’s Diner. Benny feeds her and tries to make conversation, but she’s elusive. She has a tattoo of the number 11 on her arm, and says that’s her name. There’s more to her than Benny knows though: She seems to stop a fan from spinning just by using her mind. I think we’ve got a lab experiment on our hands.
Anyway, Benny calls social services to come pick her up, but the people who show up clearly aren’t there to help. They’re some sort of shady government organization, and Eleven, as she’s called, is part of their experiments or something. The woman who shows up kills Benny and a number of agents go after Eleven, but she escapes.
Feeling helpless, and with the police’s search not finding anything, the boys set out to find Will on their own. While Michael’s high school-aged sister Nancy is undertaking a secret romance in her bedroom with a rather annoying dude named Steven, Michael’s out with his friends searching through the woods with flashlights, looking for his friend.
In the final moments the action really picks up. Not only do the boys stumble upon Eleven in the woods, Joyce gets a creepy, static call on her phone. She says she can hear Will breathing, but it’s hard to confirm. There’s static, some growling, and then the lights flicker and the phone surges with electricity, burning Joyce. Stranger Things is just getting started, but it’s damn compelling right off the bat.
Be sure to read The Duffer Brothers’ blog for “Chapter 1,” where they talk about casting the perfect kids and Winona Ryder.
“Chapter Two: The Weirdo On Maple Street”
After finding Eleven in the woods, Michael brings her back to his house to sleep. Lucas thinks it’s a terrible idea and that they should tell his mom right away, but as Michael points out, that’ll just get them all grounded because they weren’t supposed to be out at night looking for Will.
The next day Michael tries to get Eleven to sneak out and go to the front door to make it look like she stumbled upon the house, and that way his mom can help. Eleven doesn’t want help though. She tells Michael that “bad people” are after her, and that telling an adult will only make things worse.
Meanwhile, Joyce tells Chief Hopper about the creepy call, and while he’s not sure of her story, he admits it’s weird. From there Joyce heads to her workplace to buy a new phone and demand two weeks pay in advance from her boss. Her boss is reluctant at first, but since her kid’s missing and all, he shows a little sympathy and gives in.
Back at Michael’s house Eleven sees a picture of the boys and points to Will. She knows him; perhaps she saw him in the woods before he vanished. Just before Michael can ask more questions though his mom comes home. He hides Eleven in the closet, which freaks her out; we get a flashback to her being dragged into a dark cell in the Hawkins laboratory. Michael quickly comes to comfort her though, and it’s clear that Eleven trusts him. Lucas learns to trust her too, as she shows off the powers she has, closing the door to Michael’s bedroom with her mind while Lucas and Dustin look on in astonishment.
Eventually the episode builds to a climax where we learn a little more about Will and see another monster attack/abduction. The cops find a drainpipe in the woods that leads to the laboratory, and they think Will may have crawled through. It’s possible, as Eleven uses the boys’ D&D set to show them that Will is hiding from some sort of monster. Then, to confirm that something really strange is going on, we see Joyce get another crazy call and the walls of her house move and take on some weird shapes. All of this happens while Barb, Nancy’s friend who’s not too pleased to be the fifth wheel at Steven’s “house party,” is taken by the monster/alien thing after Nancy leaves her to get it on with Steven. Kids are missing, cooks are dead in restaurants, and nobody knows what’s going on. Stranger things, indeed.
NEXT: Chapters Three and Four
“Chapter Three: Holly, Jolly”
Well, it isn’t long before we find out what happened to Barb, and it’s not good. While Nancy is getting it on with Steven, she’s trying to get herself out of some weird underworld thing that looks exactly like Steven’s backyard pool but way creepier. She can’t do it though, and she’s dragged back into the depths by whatever that lab experiment gone wrong really is.
Meanwhile, the boys decide to meet with Eleven after school and she’ll lead them to where Will is hiding. Before that happens, and while the boys are at school, Eleven explores the house. She takes a look around Nancy’s room and watches a little TV. She sees a commercial for Coca-Cola and it causes her to have a flashback to the laboratory where she was forced to try and manipulate things, like Coke cans, with her mind. She also basically kills two dudes when she’s thrown into lockup again when she refuses to kill a cat, so her powers are certainly explosive.
As far as the investigation goes, Hopper manages to get inside the Hawkins laboratory, but he doesn’t find much in terms of evidence. However, when he’s shown some security footage from the night of Will’s disappearance, he notices that there’s no rain on the footage despite the huge storm that night. Totally weird, right? Hopper is starting to suspect that this Dr. Brenner guy, who he reads a lot of shady stuff about in old newspapers at the library, might be a bit of a problem.
If there’s something that’s surprising about “Holly, Jolly” it’s that it ends on such an emotional, affecting note. The episode creates tension by cutting between Joyce communicating with Will at her house through Christmas lights right before the monster starts crawling out of the wall, and Eleven leading the boys to Will’s house where she says he’s hiding out. When they hear sirens they follow the cars and end up in the quarry, where Will’s body is being pulled out of the water. It’s a devastating moment, underscored by Nancy and her mom hugging after her daughter breaks down because Barb is missing, and Jonathan and Joyce embracing in the road.
“Chapter Four: The Body”
Oh, well this is interesting. Everything might not be what it seems when it comes to finding Will’s body in the quarry. Joyce is the first person to deny that it’s her boy they found, even though she hasn’t seen the body yet. She’s at home telling Hopper that she talked to Will through the lights and through the wall, so he can’t be dead. Maybe, just maybe, he’s still alive.
The evidence keeps piling up in fact. Eleven is in the basement with Michael, playing on his walkie-talkie, when she finds a frequency with Will’s voice on it. He’s singing the same song from The Clash that Jonathan introduced him to. Things get even shadier when Hopper goes to the morgue and is told that the usual coroner didn’t do the autopsy. Instead, some guys from “state” took over. That sounds pretty fishy to me. When Joyce refuses to sign the form saying it’s Will on that table, Hopper can’t help but be intrigued even further.
Meanwhile, a peak inside the Hawkins laboratory gives us a sense of just how dangerous this thing (or these things) might be. A man in a hazmat suit makes his way into the gooey flesh that adorns one of the walls looking for some sort of answer about these space monsters/demons/whatever. He doesn’t really get any info though. Instead, he gets killed, and all the scientists get is an understanding that the situation is dangerous.
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“Chapter Four: The Body” sees many of the main characters starting to believe in the idea that something supernatural is going down in Hawkins. Nancy sees the monster in the photo Jonathan took of Barb. When she tells Jonathan, he recognizes the description as the same one his mother gave. Then there’s Hopper, who goes down to the morgue to prove to himself that the body is Will Byers. He knocks out a guard reading a Stephen King book and finds his way in. He pulls out Will’s body and cuts into it. What does he find? Stuffing, like what you’d find in a teddy bear.
Between Eleven showing off more of her powers when Michael confronts his bully, and Hopper making the massive discovery that sends him to break into the Hawkins laboratory at the end of the episode, things are heating up at the halfway point of the first season.
NEXT: Chapters Five and Six
“Chapter Five: The Flea and the Acrobat”
Hopper already knew something was fishy when he found stuffing inside Will’s “body,” but in this episode he discovers just how much he doesn’t know. He manages to sneak and force his way into the Hawkins laboratory and finds his way to the room with the wall covered in monster goo or whatever it is. Then, when he’s drugged and removed from the laboratory, he wakes up in his trailer and finds a bug planted in his ceiling light. Plus, he hears that the “Stateys” found Barb’s car near a bus station, which we know can’t be true. Yeah, things are fishy. As he tells Joyce later: she was right all along.
Meanwhile, after a funeral is held for Will, the boys and Eleven head out to find what they’re calling “a gate to the upside down.” Basically it’s a rip in the space-time continuum that would allow them to access an “underground” universe. That’s where they believe Will is.
As they’re heading to the gate though, with Dustin taking the lead after he notices his compass isn’t pointing true north but rather towards some other large force of energy, Eleven begins to panic and steers them away. A flashback reveals she knows all too well the dangers of the “upside down.” Lucas is livid when he finds out, and he and Michael begin fighting before Eleven uses her powers to rip Lucas off of him. It knocks him right out. When he wakes up and storms off, Eleven is gone too.
The boys may not have found the gate, but it looks like Nancy did. She and Jonathan, who’s not at the house when his mother throws Lonny out for trying to profit off of Will’s death, go searching in the woods for any sort of clue. It doesn’t look like they’ll find much until, later at night, they stumble upon a broken and bleeding deer. They’re just about to put it out of its misery when it gets yanked away by something unseen. The two get split up and Nancy finds a tree covered in that same monster goo from the lab. She crawls through it and emerges in another place, or the “upside down” the boys are referring to. As the episode cuts to black, Nancy has caught the attention of a monster, and Jonathan has no clue where she could be.
“Chapter Six: The Monster”
When we last saw Nancy, she was trying to get away from a monster in the “upside down.” “Chapter Six: The Monster” opens with Nancy managing to escape — just barely — as Jonathan pulls her out from that gross hole in the tree. The two head back to her place, where Nancy tells him to stay the night because she doesn’t want to be alone. To make matters worse, Steven catches a glimpse of the two of them in her bedroom. Thankfully, teenage boys are really rational and calm, right? Wrong.
While “The Monster” starts with Nancy, the episode is really about Eleven finding her way back to the boys. Lucas refuses to accept Michael’s apology and sets out alone to find the gate, which leads him to the Hawkins laboratory. That leaves Dustin and Michael to go looking for Eleven on their own.
Eleven, as it turns out, is wandering around town, not sure what to do. She goes into a supermarket and makes off with a few boxes of Eggos, smashing the windows to the automatic door on the way out. When Dustin and Michael see the damage, they know she must be close.
Sure enough, Eleven encounters them at just the right time. Those bullies manage to find Michael and Dustin in the woods and chase them to the quarry. The one bully pulls a knife on Dustin and says he’ll cut out his teeth if Michael doesn’t jump in the quarry. Michael takes the leap but Eleven saves him, using her mind to bring him back to the top of the quarry. She then throws away the one bully and breaks the other’s arm before telling them to run. Eleven is reunited with Michael and Dustin, and everything is looking up. Well, there’s also Brenner’s shady agents following them, but still…
While all of this is happening, Hopper and Joyce track down Terry Ives, the woman who said she lost her daughter to Brenner. When they go to question her, they find her unable to speak; she’s traumatized and totally out of it. Her sister relays the details, though, even if she doesn’t believe them. She says Brenner and his people conducted tests on Terry, but she didn’t know she was three months pregnant at the time. Her sister says she had a miscarriage, but that Terry always insisted her baby was born with special powers and Brenner took her away. Sounds like Eleven to me.
So Eleven’s mother is in the picture; Lucas is near the laboratory; Nancy and Jonathan are gearing up to lure the monster to them (if Jonathan can get out of the police station after being arrested); and Michael, Dustin, and Eleven have renewed their search for Will. With only two episodes left, the search for Will Byers is really heating up.
NEXT: Chapters Seven and Eight
“Chapter Seven: The Bathtub”
With Eleven reunited with Mike and Dustin, the search for Will is in high gear. At the beginning of “Chapter Seven: The Bathtub,” Mike, Eleven, and Dustin are on the run after Lucas uses his walkie-talkie to tell them the “bad men” are coming. Sure enough, those worker vans pull up outside Mike’s house. The three of them take off and meet up with Lucas on his bike, narrowly escaping Brenner and his men when Eleven flips a van and blocks their way.
When Mike’s bully ends up telling Hopper about Eleven and her powers, he knows he needs to get in touch with Mike. He gathers Nancy, Jonathan, and Joyce, and they all use a walkie-talkie to reach out. They find out where the boys are hiding and Hopper gets there just in time to knock out a few government agents and bring the gang back to Joyce’s house.
From there, Eleven tells them she can’t seem to find/contact Will or Barb, but that she could do so with “a bathtub.” That’s her term for the sensory-deprivation chamber used in the Hawkins laboratory. After a call to Mr. Clark, who’s always willing to talk science, the whole gang gets together to build a makeshift chamber in the Hawkins Middle School gym. That means a kiddie pool, lots of water, and 1,500 pounds of salt.
Sure enough, the chamber works and Eleven is able to get to the other side. Barb is dead from the looks of it, a gross, slimy bug-thing crawling out of her mouth. Eleven does find Will — huddled inside the “upside-down” version of Castle Byers, his hideout in the woods — and tells him to hang on. What’s really touching about this whole scene is the way Joyce comforts and guides Eleven, making her feel safe and loved. She’s the polar opposite of Brenner.
Now that they know Will is alive and the gate to the “upside down” is a gross wall inside the Hawkins laboratory, Joyce and Hopper head there to break in. They’re captured as soon as they arrive, but that doesn’t mean the mission’s a failure. Nancy and Jonathan go to the police station and steal back the supplies they bought to kill the monster. A big confrontation is on the way in the season finale.
“Chapter Eight: The Upside Down”
Things aren’t looking so good at the start of “Chapter Eight: The Upside Down.” Brenner is trying to manipulate Joyce into thinking he’s a good guy, while his men taser the hell out of Hopper. Eventually, Hopper cuts a deal with them, and it involves never talking about what happened to them ever again, in exchange for the chance to go look for Will. It can’t be that simple, can it? Well, not exactly.
Meanwhile, at the Byers house, Jonathan and Nancy are preparing to take down the monster. They’re going full Home Alone and booby-trapping the whole house before cutting their palms, using the blood to draw the monster to them. When Steven shows up at the door at the last minute, he’s in for one hell of a surprise. The monster comes through the roof and goes after them.
Back in the Upside Down, Hopper and Joyce find Alien-esque eggs and a destroyed Castle Byers. Things aren’t looking good for Will. But after a lot of searching, and after it’s made clear that the line between their dimension and the one where Jonathan, Nancy, and Steven are fighting the monster is very thin, they find him. Hopper pulls a gross tentacle/alien breathing thing out of the kid’s mouth and begins CPR, bringing on flashbacks of doctors trying to resuscitate his daughter in the hospital years ago. David Harbour is incredible here, and throughout the series. His pained cries of “c’mon, kid!” when he’s giving CPR just killed me.
Thankfully, Will lives. Unfortunately, so does the monster it seems, as the trap Jonathan and Nancy set works, but the flames don’t seem to destroy the inter-dimensional demon.
The whole inter-dimensional conflict comes to a head at the middle school. Brenner and his men corner Eleven and the boys in a hallway, but Eleven manages to take down a bunch of them, making them bleed from the eyes and ears before dropping them. Then, just as Brenner is regrouping and about to take Eleven away, the monster shows up and Brenner’s men have bigger problems to deal with.
That allows Eleven and the boys to get away from Brenner, but the monster comes for them. Lucas tries his best to take it down with his Wrist Rocket, but it’s not working. The only person who can kill it is Eleven. She uses her powers to slam it up against a wall and trap it. Then, there’s only one outcome, and it slowly dawns on the boys. Eleven is going to have to use all her powers to kill the monster, but it’ll likely kill her in the process. “Goodbye Mike,” she says as she uses her mind to destroy the monster, and herself. Tears. Nothing but tears. They were supposed to go to the Snowball dance together!
Flash forward to one month later. Everyone seems happy. The boys are back to playing Dungeons and Dragons, Nancy and Steven are dating but she seems to have a thing for Jonathan, and Will is at home having Christmas dinner with his whole family.
But not everything is exactly as it seems. Is Eleven alive? Maybe. Hopper is seen putting Eggos and some leftover police station food in a box in the woods. More than that though, the threat of the Upside Down might not be gone for good. Right before dinner Will goes into the bathroom and coughs up an alien slug. The lights flicker and Will catches a glimpse of the Upside Down. Then he heads back to the table as if everything’s normal.
Here’s hoping there’s a second season, because Stranger Things has certainly set itself up for another great ride.
Netflix’s hit sci-fi series follows a group of kids in the '80s battling supernatural forces in Hawkins, Ind.