Everything That Happened in 'Stranger Things' Season 1 (And What to Expect for Season 2)
The first season of Netflix's Stranger Things was an immersive introduction to a world that defied all previous televisual expectations. Part love letter to 1980s pop culture, part riveting governmental conspiracy theory, the series was instantly iconic and beloved, earning a huge fan base and racking in multiple prestigious awards nominations (and a few wins – we'll never forget that moving SAG speech from David Harbour.) This week, the show returns with another mind-bending season... are you ready?
While immediately accessible, Season 1 was a dense knot of mysteries designed to provoke the theorizing brains of fans and ultimately payoff later in the show's run. That is to say, you need to remember what happened to totally understand what's about to happen. Here's an in-depth examination of what went down in the first eight episodes, remind you where we've been so far, and where we might go as the show kicks into its second act later this week. But first...
The obscenely short version
Stranger Things Season 1 revolves around the disappearance of a young boy named Will Byers, whose abduction by an otherworldly creature sets his loved ones on a path to recover him, and brings up a lot of questions about a local establishment called the Hawkins National Laboratory, revealed to be a top-secret facility with ties to the Department of Energy. Around the same time that Will is kidnapped, a mysterious and mostly mute young girl codenamed Eleven appears in Hawkins. She joins forces with Will's friends and family to help uncover the town's mysteries and bring Will back to our dimension. They do, and in the end, everything seems to right again... except for the fact that Will's spitting up slugs from another dimension.
Now for more pertinent details. To keep things organized, we're breaking it down character-by-character. First up...
Will Byers' disappearance is the driving force behind the entire first season. After a Sunday evening round of Dungeons & Dragons with best friends Mike, Dustin, and Lucas, he was stalked and abducted by the Demogorgon – a D&D name later attributed to the humanoid monster from the Upside Down who haplessly escaped into our dimension. The Demogorgon brought Will back to the Upside Down, an event that crushed his brother Jonathan, spurned his grieving mother, Joyce, into a manic, heartfelt quest to bring him home, and motivated his three best friends to find him at all costs. His "body" was eventually recovered in a quarry, but local police chief Jim Hopper, while performing an investigation, discovered that it was merely a prop packed with stuffing and seemingly replicated to cover up some sort of governmental conspiracy at the Hawkins National Laboratory.
Will made his real presence known by communicating with Joyce through the electricity in their family home -- first over the telephone, and later via Christmas lights. After travailing to the Upside Down, both Joyce and Hopper found Will and brought him home. The season ends at Christmas, with Joyce, Jonathan, and Will all enjoying the holiday together -- until Will escapes to the bathroom and throws up what looks like some sort of slug creature that resembles something from the Upside Down. The episode ends on a cliffhanger, leaving us to wonder what's really happening with Will.
What's next? Will is arguably the biggest question mark for Season 2. Is actor Noah Schnapp -- who barely appeared in Season 1 -- up to the challenge of portraying the youngest Byers kid? And how well will he mesh with the boys who play his best friends? The trailers for Season 2 tease Schnapp's heavy involvement -- he appears to be having fully formed visions of the Upside Down, including what looks like a new, Lovecraftian tentacle monster. Is this an evolution of the Demogorgon, or something entirely new? And are these merely visions, or is Will physically transporting back to the dimension that previously imprisoned him? According to trailer and other behind-the-scenes information, it looks like he's in for a heavy round of probing.
Eighties star Winona Ryder made her first major return to the public conscience as Joyce Byers, mother of Will and Jonathan, in the first season of Stranger Things -- a season that put her through quite the ringer. We meet her as a single mother caring for two sons, and an employee for Melvad's General Store, where she's been a cashier for 10 years. Will's disappearance sends her down a mental health spiral: she's gaslit and otherwise disbelieved despite her motherly inclination that her son is not dead. She starts communicating with Will via Christmas lights she assembles around her house... which also summons the Demogorgon. Her ex-husband, Will's dad Lonnie, briefly reappears to help with the traumatizing situation, but she shoos him away after learning he only reappeared to financially benefit from Will's absence.
Once Chief Hopper is convinced of the mysterious goings on in Hawkins, he teams up with Joyce, and the two eventually negotiate a deal with Hawkins National Laboratory's Dr. Brenner to go into the Upside Down, where they find and retrieve Will. The first season ends on a happy note for Joyce, who, after enduring the rigmarole of a presumably dead son, is finally granted the satisfaction of knowing she was right all along. But, because this is genre fiction, that appeasement can only last so long...
What's next? The trailers show that, given Will's re-introduction with the Upside Down, Joyce is due for another scream season. We also see her cozying up to The Goonies star Sean Astin in some choice promotional photos released by EW. According to Hollywood Life, "We have Sean Astin... he's Winona's new boyfriend... much to the chagrin to the chief of police," according to Hopper actor David Harbour. Does this mean a love triangle is in the works? And what about Lonnie? It looks like Joyce is in for another stressful season.
David Harbour's magnetic Chief Hopper was one of the most salient parts of Stranger Things Season 1. We're introduced to him as a booze and pill-addicted police officer grieving over the loss of his young daughter. Revitalized by the missing Will Byers -- whose tragedy recalls his daughter's death -- Hopper gets caught up in the conspiracy surrounding the Hawkins National Laboratory. Though initially wary, he becomes a key component in uncovering the mystery of Will's disappearance, and eventually travels to the Upside Down, where he revives an unconscious Will while reliving the loss of his own child.
But, suspiciously, the seasons ends on a major cliffhanger with regards to Hopper: After negotiating a deal with government officials to assure the safety of Joyce and Will's friends, Hopper is at their mercy. We see him followed by a mysterious black car, which he later enters, then see him delivering food (including Eggos) to the now-gone Eleven.
What's next? According to Hopper actor David Harbour, much of Season 2 focuses on his relationship with his deceased daughter. "Hopper's daughter will be the primary focus of Season 2, but not in the way that you think it will be," Harbour told TV Guide. We also know, as aforementioned, that he'll be in some sort of love triangle with Joyce and Sean Astin's Bob. And we have to assume that his relationship with Eleven has developed – the very first trailer showed a screaming Eleven in what looks like Hopper's trailer home.
The most iconic and influential character of Stranger Things Season 1 was Mille Bobby Brown's Eleven. As we learn, Eleven was the daughter of a woman named Terry Ives, who participated in a controversial government program known as MKUltra (an actual real-world CIA mind control program). Ives wasn't aware that she was pregnant when she entered the tests, and Eleven -- whom Ives had named "Jane" -- was born sometime in the middle of them.
The experiments going on during her birth gave Eleven pyrotechnic abilities that made her a special specimen in the Hawkins National Laboratory. She was raised and trained by the scientists there, and subjected to many experiments that tested the limitations of her powers. She eventually made contact with the Demogorgon, whom she accidentally summoned to our world, breaking a barrier between the two dimensions. After escaping from the laboratory and Brenner's clutches, she eventually met up with Mike, Dustin, and Lucas. She hid in Mike's basement for several days, and kept the faith of Will's survival alive. Eventually, she helped the boys overcome their bullies by harming them with her abilities. After helping the group locate Will, she was discovered by Brenner; she used her powers to once again summon the Demogorgon, to whom she later sacrificed herself in an effort to save her new friends. The season ends with Eleven trapped in the Upside Down, and Hopper leaving her Eggo Waffles in a concealed box in the woods – presumably some sort of portal between the two worlds.
What's next? We know Eleven returns to Hawkins at some point during Season 2. The trailers – and an exclusive clip – show her re-entering our world through a portal in the school, and multiple photos have shown her with longer, curlier hair. We don't know her exact function in this new season, but it's safe to say she'll continue illuminating the truths of Hawkins' government facility and hopefully have some sort of grand reunion with Mike, who showed a fancy for her in Season 1. We can also assume her and Hopper will have a connection.
The boys (Mike, Dustin, and Lucas)
Will's best friends were our primary storyline in Season 1. After his disappearance, we became well-acquainted with the three of them: good guy Mike Wheeler, funny boy Dustin Henderson, and straight man Lucas Sinclair. They were with Will on the night of his disappearance and were collectively dismayed in his absence. After coming across Eleven in the rainy woods, they took her in, and used her intelligence about the Hawkins National Laboratory to inform their search for their missing friend. With the help of their teacher, Mr. Clarke, they created a sensory deprivation tank for Eleven, which allowed her to mentally re-enter the Upside Down and locate Will. Eleven sacrificed herself to close the portal between both worlds and save her friends, leaving a heartbroken Mike -- with whom she shared a mutual attraction -- and the other boys to feel a grateful sorrow in her absence. But they happily joined Will, who was recovering in a hospital, and were all reunited in the end, sharing in on a new game of Dungeons & Dragons.
What's next? Though Will will happily re-join their friend group in Season 2, Mike will be in mourning for his friend Eleven, according to actor Finn Wolfhard. Dustin and Lucas will also crush on a new girl who enters the friend group: Sadie Sink's Max.
"She's this sort of skater punk girl, and Dustin and Lucas end up kind of falling in love with her. And she sort of gets into the group, and I'm not really happy with it because I'm kind of envious because they're in love and I'm not," Wolfhard toldPeople of new girl Max.
The trailers also indicate that Dustin will acquire some sort of pet from the Upside Down, and will also join forces with Joe Keery's Steve. And given the season's Halloween release date and setting, let's not forget about the team's Ghostbusters costumes, which was the first image released for the upcoming season.
The teens (Jonathan, Nancy, and Steve)
Another memorable element of Season 1 was the enjoyable riff on the John Hughes-esque '80s teen drama. This came via Will's older brother, Jonathan, and Mike's older sister, Nancy -- who shared a mutual attraction despite Nancy's new relationship with bad boy Steve Harrington. Will's abduction is tough on Jonathan, who hides behind his camera as a way of processing his grief. He winds up photographing his crush Nancy, which brings the two together. After Nancy's best friend Barb goes missing, she teams up with Jonathan to investigate the mysteries of Hawkins. During their prodding, she becomes one of the first people to enter the Upside Down, where she briefly encounters the Demogorgon feasting on a deer before re-entering our world. With Steve and Jonathan, Nancy helps lure and injure the monster, before it is eventually defeated by Eleven. By season's end, Nancy is still with Steve, but on good terms with Jonathan, whom she buys a new camera as a Christmas gift to make up for the one Steve previously destroyed.
What's next? Joe Keery's Steve will be a regular in Season 2, which probably indicates a renewed love triangle between him, Nancy, and Jonathan. (In real life, the actors who play Nancy and Jonathan -- Natalia Dyer and Charlie Heaton -- are a couple). Keery has also teased that he'll develop a closer relationship with one of the kids in Season 2; we can assume he's alluding to Dustin, as the two share ample screen time in the latest trailer.
Matthew Modine's Dr. Brenner is Season 1's main antagonist. He was a main force in MKUltra, the CIA-sanctioned research program that was developed to examine mind-control techniques that would help Americans counter the Russians should a new war break out. Through his involvement in MKUltra, he became acquainted with Terry Ives and her daughter, who would eventually be known as Eleven. Eleven would spend her live as a test subject, referring to the sadistic Brenner as "Papa." Brenner and his team tested Eleven to the point that she tore a hole between the two universes. After she escaped their clutches, Brenner helped cover up her disappearance and the abduction of Will Byers, trying to keep hush the Hawkins National Laboratory's extensive and inhumane experiments. He was presumably killed by the Demogorgon before Eleven was able to send it back to the Upside Down, although it remains unclear if he actually died: a newspaper clipping shown on a bulletin board in the Hawkins Police Station mentions that Brenner has "issued no comment," which seems to indicate that he survived the attack.
What's next? It's still unclear if Brenner will appear in Season 2 (Modine doesn't appear in any of the promotional material), though we do know that a new Department of Energy worker will be a focus: Paul Reiser will play Dr. Owens, who is assigned to clean up the disaster Eleven left behind in Season 1.