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Warning: GIGANTIC SPOILERS AHEAD for Stranger Things Season 3 on Netflix. If you haven't caught the season yet and don't want to know how it ends, turn back now. Otherwise, proceed into the Upside Down world of post-season analysis!
Stranger Things finally debuted its third season, and it was a wild ride from start to finish. For binge-watchers, however, Season 3 was over almost as soon as it began, and the time has come to start analyzing what happened and what it means for next season. Season 3 ended by serving up something the first two seasons did not: a post-credits sequence. How Marvel-ous!
The unexpected two-minute post-credits sequence delivered a cliffhanger even more mysterious and confounding than Eleven's disappearance in Season 1 and the Mind Flayer looming over Upside Down Hawkins Middle in Season 2, and it sets the stage for Season 4 in some almost frustratingly intriguing ways. So, now that we're back into a hiatus, read on for an explanation of the post-credits sequence and what it means moving forward!
What Happened In The Post-Credits Sequence
The post-credits sequence picks up after the ending that was surprisingly neat and tidy, by Stranger Things standards. The monster was defeated due to a breakthrough from Billy, the Soviet attempt to get through to the Upside Down in Hawkins was thwarted, Hopper had been killed, and the Byers were moving out of Hawkins with Eleven in tow as the newest member of the family. Instead of the season ending on the bittersweet note, the final two minutes revealed nefarious things are still afoot.
The final scene opens in Kamchatka, Russia in what seems to be a secret Soviet base. Snow is flying, which could indicate a time jump, or could just indicate Russia. Two Soviet guards in military uniform walk through the base -- which is decidedly grungier than good old Hawkins Lab ever was -- and one of them stops to open a cell, but the other stops him. "No. Not the American," says the second guard. Dun dun dun!
Guard #1 moves on to another cell, which he opens to reveal a terrified prisoner who begs them not to take him, but they forcibly drag him down flight after flight of stairs. (At least Hawkins Lab had an elevator.) They fling him into what looks like a cage match cage more than anything else and shut the gate behind him. The prisoner continues to beg for his life and declares that he's "innocent." Paying no mind, a guard turns a wheel that lifts a door to let something out. And what is that something?
A Demogorgon! Complete with the creepy Season 1 score and the flashing lights. The Demogorgon stands up tall and looms over the very frightened man, jaws opened wide to screech horrifyingly at him. The scene ends before the prisoner can be chomped or mauled to death or whisked off to the Upside Down, but it's clear enough that nothing good is happening to him. And then, the rest of the credits roll and hiatus begins.
Now, let's jump into what all of this means for Season 4.
The post-credits scene may have only featured a couple of guards, a terrified prisoner, and a monster from the Upside Down, but the mention of "the American" might be the biggest deal. Obviously the mention could have been a misdirect on the part of the Duffer brothers and it'll turn out to be somebody unexpected, but the most likely candidate for the person in the cell is a non-dead Hopper, with or without the mustache.
Hopper died -- or "died," as the case may be -- as part of the desperate mission to destroy the key and stop the Soviets from breaking through to the Upside Down in Hawkins. He and Joyce intended to use a pair of keys to blow up the device, which would vaporize anybody in the room.
Unfortunately, a Soviet who looked for all the world like a Stranger Things Terminator caught up to them and attacked. The battle was practically ripped from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Hopper was victorious when he flung his opponent into the machine, killing him. This damaged the machine, however, and Hopper couldn't get out. Meanwhile, Joyce used her belt to rig a way to turn both keys at once, allowing her to destroy the machine without Hopper.
When she tearfully turned the keys, all the Russians in the room were vaporized, which totally meant that Hopper was gone too, right? Joyce certainly thought so, and the music was mournful enough that Hop seemed pretty definitively dead. Then again, the Season 3 finale also showed Hopper getting a good look at the rift the Russians had created to the Upside Down. It wasn't quite as large as the gate in Season 1 or Season 2, and it looked more like the gap that Eleven used to escape the Upside Down into Hawkins Middle in Season 2.
Hopper saw the hole, and he gave Joyce a nod of approval to turn the keys, meaning he knew he would die if he was in the room when the device blew. Could Hopper have desperately jumped through the rift into the Upside Down to try and survive?
In the very quick but clear shot of the room before the device blew, Hopper was nowhere to be seen, and he wouldn't have been vaporized yet. There was nowhere good for him to go thanks to the malfunctioning machine. If he was going to have a shot at surviving, he needed to get out of that room, and his only option seemed to be the Upside Down.
Joyce also shut her eyes when she turned the keys. She wouldn't have seen him jump through to the Upside Down. Hopper could be alive, having entered the Upside Down and then gotten pulled out later by the Soviets. Eleven wouldn't be able to find him, considering what happened to her. Besides, who else would "the American" be? And what are the Soviets keeping this person alive for?
The Soviets Made It Through To The Upside Down
The Demogorgon couldn't have been left over from Season 2, as all the demo-dogs died when Eleven slammed the gate on most of the Mind Flayer, and the Demogorgon from Season 1 was ripped apart by Eleven. So, the appearance of a Demogorgon in the post-credits sequence is proof that the Soviets did indeed make it through to the Upside Down and brought something back. Or at least, something got in. The question is: where did the Soviets get through?
The machine in Hawkins was still working on punching a hole through to the Upside Down, although it's not inconceivable that the Soviets could have gone through and/or pulled something out through the relatively small gap. As mentioned, the Hawkins rift looked an awful lot like the one Eleven forced her way through in Season 2, and if a 12-year-old girl on the verge of collapse had the strength to do it, Soviet soldiers and monsters would have no trouble.
Season 1 proved that gates to the Upside Down can seal themselves even after being used as well. It's possible the Soviets pulled this Demogorgon from the hole in Hawkins, which would arguably be the best case scenario. By turning the keys and destroying the device, Joyce closed the gap and stopped the Soviets from starting the machine up again. The Soviets would only have whatever they already pulled out, if the Demogorgon came from Hawkins.
If the Demogorgon came from a different rift that the Soviets created -- which is what I'm leaning towards at the moment -- then there's the potential for a whole lot more to come through and a gate the size of the one in Season 2 to open all over again. That would also explain how Hopper could have saved himself by diving into the Upside Down but ended up a Soviet prisoner. Considering what happened to Eleven, this is very bad.
Eleven lost her powers in Season 3 after using them to pull a piece of the monster out of her own leg, in a scene that had Millie Bobby Brown shrieking in all-too-believable agony. The world would have ended back in Season 2 if she hadn't used her powers to shut the gate; if she doesn't get her powers back (and the Soviets keep its actions secret), then there may be no stopping the Mind Flayer this time.
The Soviets Are Experimenting
The Soviets actually seem to have a better handle on the Upside Down at this point than the Americans did back in Season 1. For all that Hawkins Lab had the best technology and funding that 1983 had to offer, and for all that the Soviet base looks like it was rusted through several generations ago and everybody is one knee scrape away from tetanus, the Soviets captured at least one creature from the Upside Down and don't have a superpowered little girl running amok.
They're also clearly experimenting with whatever they brought back from the Upside Down, although I'm not sure what exactly they hope to accomplish by throwing prisoners to the Demogorgon. It seems unlikely that they're just using the Demogorgon has a means of execution.
Are they trying to figure out what it eats? How it kills? If it's intelligent or just driven by hunger? If it can be weaponized? Or are they, like Dr. Brenner, too curious about what they can do to stop and consider if they should do it? Soldiers rather than scientists were the ones who left the prisoner to the Demogorgon's mercy.
That the post-credits sequence was set entirely in Russia, may have revealed Hopper alive in Soviet custody, confirmed the Soviets have had access to the Upside Down, and followed the Byers family and Eleven moving away suggests that Season 4 could be on a much larger scale than just the goings-on in Hawkins, Indiana.
Will Season 4 be global rather than regional? If so, what does that mean for most of the cast? The high schoolers presumably won't be traveling to the Soviet Union to battle bad guys, even if Eleven does get her powers back, and the Scoops Troop aren't exactly qualified to combat an international threat.
Hopefully the hiatus between Seasons 3 and 4 will be a lot shorter than between Seasons 2 and 3, but we'll have to wait and see. For now, you can watch and rewatch the first three seasons of Stranger Things to your heart's delight on Netflix, and be sure to check back with CinemaBlend for more Stranger Things coverage moving forward.