Netflix's Stranger Things has been one of the most popular shows on Netflix in quite some time, thanks in large part to its '80s nostalgia, as well as how it invokes Lovecraftian horror themes. Set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, it's ultimately a coming-of-age story in the same vein of movies like Stand By Me with a bit of It thrown in for good measure, emphasizing that its creators, the Duffer brothers, really are influenced by Stephen King.
After two commercially successful and critically acclaimed seasons, a third is on the way. With that in mind, here's your primer for when Stranger Things Season 3 premieres on July 4.
The teenage cast of Stranger Things is one of the most endearing parts of the show. It includes Finn Wolfhard's Mike Wheeler, Eleven (played by Millie Bobby Brown) and their gang of Dungeons & Dragon-playing friends -- Gaten Matarazzo's Dustin Henderson, Caleb McLaughlin's Lucas Sinclair, Noah Schnapp's Will Byers and Sadie Sink's Max Mayfield.
The older cast consists primarily of David Harbour's Chief Jim Hopper (Eleven's caretaker), Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers (Will's mom), Charlie Heaton's Jonathan Byers (Will's brother), Natalia Dyer's Nancy Wheeler (Mike's sister), and the latter's ex-boyfriend Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) -- all of whom team up with the kids to battle monsters from the dark dimension known as the Upside Down.
In Season 2, Dacre Montgomery's Billy Hargrove (Max's half-brother) proved to be a teenage antagonist to the group, while Priah Ferguson's Erica Sinclair (Lucas' wisecracking sister) is expected to have a bigger role this season. New additions include Cary Elwes as the corrupt Mayor Kline, Jake Busey as shady journalist Bruce, Maya Hawke's Robin as someone looking for adventure in a quiet podunk town, and Francesca Reale's Heather, the Hawkins Community Pool lifeguard, all of whom don't know the true horror associated with the town.
Season 1 focused on Mike and his geeky gang trying to find Will, who was abducted and taken into the Upside Down by a monster known as the Demogorgon. It turns out, a secret government program/lab called MKUltra was experimenting on kids to boost their military capabilities against global enemies of the state, like the Soviet Union. The main subject, Eleven, was able to open a rift to this mysterious realm. This allowed the Demogorgon to move between both worlds, with Eleven escaping the lab and then working with Mike and Co. With Joyce, Hopper, Steve, Nancy and Jonathan. They came together, and with Eleven's mental abilities, were able to rescue Will and kill the Demogorgon.
However, Season 2 was filled with even more twists and turns. Eleven was found to be alive and in the care of Hopper after everyone thought she perished in the Season 1 finale battling the Demogorgon. The MKUltra program, though, was still operational, with Hopper facing several obstacles in getting them to leave town, as they leveraged Eleven's safety over his head.
The main danger in the season, though, came with Will being possessed Exorcist-style by the Mind Flayer, the giant arachnid-like overlord of the Upside Down. After briefly running away to learn more about her past and mother, Eleven returned to Hawkins, finally understanding that Hopper, Mike, Will etc. were her true family. She managed to seal the rift and break Will's possession, but as expected, there's just no happy ending in Hawkins, as we saw the Mind Flayer still lurking over the town from its dimension.
Season 3's New Direction
This season will be inspired by movies from around 1985, once more combining the series' knack for comedy and horror. With the release of the Season 3 trailer, it's clear there will be a lot more personal drama with the mature teens dating now: Mike/Eleven and Lucas/Max. Despite Max and Eleven apparently becoming besties too, it seems the July 4 celebrations might not be that happy after all, with Mike revealing they're all sadly growing apart.
We're also seeing just as much romantic drama between Joyce and Hopper, while it looks like Nancy and Jonathan will be going through trying times of their own, all as Steve and Dustin's "bromance" seems to be going as strong as ever.
Outside of the human drama, producer Shawn Levy said this will be the darkest season so far and with the new, giant Resident Evil-esque monster emerging at the end of the clip, he hasn't seemingly led us astray. The other potential monsters have been kept secret but we do know the Mind Flayer will return in some form, and teasers have hinted at Driders (spider-esque foot-soldiers).
After enduring two seasons of pain and torture, it's worth noting that Will won't be the focal point, but it does look like an infected Billy and Steve (who's being held hostage and injected by mysterious figures) will be suffering in his place.
It remains to be seen how the town's relationship with the sinister MKUltra and the government has evolved. With sketchy folks like Bruce and Kline in the mix, we may see more conspiracies and politics unfolding with the government and exactly how they plan to keep covering these incidents up.
But most of all, fans will be keeping an eye on Eleven's powers, and if any other test subjects like her pop up, as we saw in Season 2. We've also finally witnessed the heroes holing up in the newly constructed Starcourt Mall, confirming it'll be a major battleground, but with details scarce, all we can do is wait and see how the teens band together for the new threats the Mind Flayer has in store.
Created by the Duffer Brothers, Stranger Things stars Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Natalie Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Joe Keery, Priah Ferguson, Cary Elwes, Jake Busey and Maya Thurman-Hawke. Season 3 will debut on Netflix on July 4, 2019.