Everything you need to remember about Stranger Things before watching season 3
Demodogs, shadow monsters, and love triangles… oh my!
When season 3 of Netflix’s hit show Stranger Things debuts July 4, we’ll return once again to the small town of Hawkins, Indiana. This time, it’s 1985 and school is out for the summer. The kids are ready to hang out at the town’s new mall and put the past — and all of its monsters — behind them.
The plot is, of course, being kept mostly under wraps, but the show’s creators, brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, previously teased to EW that the new season would explore “a theme of change.” Puberty, growing pains, and yes, more interdimensional terror, can all be expected.
In preparation for the new season, EW made a handy guide to where all of your favorite characters left off at the end of season 2, which took place in 1984. Read on for the scoop:
The Demogorgon of season 1 looks mild compared to season 2’s big bad, the Mind Flayer (also referred to as the shadow monster). Named by Dustin after the Dungeons and Dragons character of the same name, the mysterious sentient creature who can seemingly control the “hive mind” of the beings from the Upside Down — Demogorgons and their four-legged variation, the demodogs — spends much of season 2 plaguing Will (Noah Schnapp), eventually taking over his body, and wreaking havoc on the town. In the show’s climax, Eleven uses her powers to seal the Mind Flayer behind the Gate of the Upside Down. However, in the season’s final moments, the creature’s massive, tendril-y silhouette can be seen looming over the Upside Down version of the kids’ school, where the Snow Ball is being held.
Stranger Things‘ sophomore season sees Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) go on a bit of a journey of self-discovery. She starts the season living in a cabin in the woods with Hopper (David Harbour), unhappily separated from the town and her friends for her protection. After an argument with Hopper, she finds his research into her biological mother, Terry, and Eleven, who also finds out her real name was Jane, attempts to use her powers to contact her missing mom. Eventually she finds her mother, and uses her powers to tap into her mother’s memories. It’s then that she learns there are others like her, and she seeks them out. The mysterious gang of powered individuals is busy finding and killing the scientists who conducted experiments on them. Eleven tags along, and learns from a scientist that season 1 villain Dr. Brenner (aka Papa) is actually alive, after it was presumed he was dead following a Demogorgon attack at the end of the first season. Just when it looks like Eleven might contemplate staying with her newfound friends, she has a vision that her pals back in Hawkins are in trouble, and she flees to fight with them. Ultimately, Eleven rejoins Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and the gang to help defeat the Mind Flayer by sealing it behind the Gate to the Upside Down. In the season’s final moments, Eleven attends the school dance (referred to as the Snow Ball) and it’s there that she and Mike answer one of the many will-they-or-won’t-they questions of the show, and kiss for the first time.
Dustin, Will, Lucas, and Mike
Creepy monsters and hormones alike plague the boys in season 2. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) battle it out for the affections of new-girl-in-town Max (Sadie Sink), with Lucas ultimately winning out when he and Max kiss at the Snow Ball. Dustin finds a strange slug, which he decides to keep and name D’Artagnen, or Dart for short. Dart ends up being a young Demogorgon (RIP Dustin’s cat), and he later dies when Eleven closes the Gate to the Upside Down. Mike, bereft over Eleven’s absence, continues to try and communicate with her in the pillow fort. Eleven, using her powers, also tried communicating with Mike throughout the season. The two reunite towards the end of the season, and Mike finally gets to fulfill his promise that he would take her to the dance.
Will, meanwhile, can’t catch a break. As if disappearing in the Upside Down in season 1 wasn’t bad enough, in season 2 he is possessed by the Mind Flayer and used for its villainous deeds. However, the possession works both ways, with Will being able to understand what makes the Mind Flayer tick. It’s revealed that it doesn’t like the cold, so eventually, Will’s mom, brother, and Nancy are able to “burn” the creature out of Will.
And, true to the spirit of the show, eventually the kids all team up to defeat the monsters. The group, with the help of Steve, work together to burn out the sprawling underground tunnel system used by the Mind Flayer, distracting it so that Eleven is able to close the Gate.
Nancy, Jonathan, and Steve
Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) spend much of the season getting closer, and eventually romantically involved, on their quest to find out what’s really going on in Hawkins. Their journey takes them to the lab, where they find themselves locked in an interrogation room by the lab’s new Director of Operations, Dr. Owens. Nancy records Dr. Owens admitting the lab’s fault in Barb’s death and some of the weird phenomena happening in the town. The two then set off to find the investigator Barb’s parents hired to look into their daughter’s disappearance. When Jonathan and Nancy find him, he convinces them to water down their evidence in order to make it more believable to the public. The duo agrees, and send the watered down version of events to a newspaper. Later in the season, Jonathan, Nancy, and Joyce help exorcize the Mind Flayer from Will. At the school dance, Nancy encourages the lonely Dustin by dancing with him and giving him advice, while Jonathan helps nearby taking pictures.
With things not looking so hot with Nancy, Steve (Joe Keery) finds himself spending more and more time with the younger kids, frequently looking out for and protecting them, and even offering them advice at times. In particular, he forges a bond with Dustin, leading to arguably the show’s best bromance. The last time we see Steve in season 2, he’s driving Dustin to the Snow Ball. He watches Nancy inside and then drives away.
Chief Hopper, Joyce, and Bob
Things aren’t any easier for the adults of the show.
Because the Upside Down just can’t leave her son, Will, alone, Joyce (Winona Ryder) spends a second season fighting for his safety and health (although, thankfully, this time around people don’t think she’s crazy). Season 2 also brings a new love interest for Joyce in the form of RadioShack manager Bob (Sean Astin). When the Mind Flayer takes over Will’s body, Joyce, Bob, and Hopper take him to the lab to be treated by Dr. Owens. Unfortunately, while there, the Mind Flayer (through Will) unleashes a pack of demodogs. In one of the show’s most heartbreaking moments, Bob offers to fix the power when it goes out at the lab, with demodogs looming nearby. Everyone else manages to escape, but unfortunately, poor Bob isn’t so lucky — he gets attacked and killed by the creatures. After successfully burning the shadow monster out of Will with the help of Jonathan and Nancy, a grieving Joyce is last seen outside the Snow Ball being comforted by Hopper.
Chief Hopper sees himself become a makeshift dad to Eleven when he takes her in and keeps her hidden to start the season. The two frequently butt heads, but it’s clear the two care for each other. When the pumpkin patches in town rot, he discovers the Mind Flayer’s maze of tunnels beneath Hawkins are responsible. He gets trapped down there but is eventually saved by Joyce and Bob. Following the deadly encounter at the labs, Hopper and Eleven team up to close the Upside Down’s gate together. Hopper, with the help of Dr. Owens, officially adopts Eleven, or “Jane Hopper” as the certificate shows, as his daughter.
Billy and Max
Max and her stepbrother Billy (Dacre Montgomery) are the new kids in town in season 2 after their family moved from California to Hawkins. Spirited skateboarder Max spends much of the season trying to find her place among the group while simultaneously dealing with bullying from her abusive stepbrother and the competing affections of Lucas and Dustin. By the end of the season, Max has helped the gang fend of the demodogs and Demogorgons, she’s stood up to Billy by knocking him unconscious with a sedative after he attacks Steve, and she attends the school Snow Ball, where she and Lucas dance and have their first kiss.
Billy, meanwhile, spends much of the season brooding around town and antagonizing his younger stepsister and his rival, Steve. He is not a fan of Max’s budding relationship with Lucas. Things come to a head at the end of the season when his father and stepmom return home to find Max gone. After a violent confrontation with his father, Billy is sent to find Max. Billy gets violent himself when he finally finds Max, and an altercation between Billy and Steve ensues in which Max eventually uses a spare sedative from the lab to knock him out.