Ending Explained is a recurring series in which we explore the finales, secrets, and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old. In this entry, we talk about what’s going on with the ending of Stranger Things Season 3.
Saving the world is great and all, but lives are often lost in the process. The people of Hawkins, Indiana, know this feeling all too well. Stranger Things’ third season finale is an emotional roller coaster ride, to say the least, with tears shed by those of us who’ve grown attached to these characters.
The final episode, “The Battle of Starcourt,” sees our heroes — Max (Sadie Sink), Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Will (Noah Schnapp), Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Steve (Joe Keery), Erica (Priah Ferguson), Robin (Maya Hawke), Hopper (David Harbour), Joyce (Winona Ryder), and Murray (Brett Gelman) — reunite after spending most of the season apart.
Unfortunately, it’s not a fun social gathering for the gang. Terrifying events have led them to the mall and now they must come up with a plan to defeat the Mind Flayer, which has possessed Billy (Dacre Montgomery), as well as the Russians.
Hopper thinks that he, Joyce, and Murray can navigate the mall and shut down the gate to the Upside Down. Should they be successful, the Mind Flayer will lose its power and the townsfolk of Hawkins will return to normal, right?
Of course, the monster decides to make an appearance at the mall and disrupt their plans while causing further destruction in its wake. Eleven, who lost her telekinetic powers after being bitten in the leg by the creature in an earlier episode, is effectively useless in the fight, and subsequently ends up in the beast’s clutches, on the verge of death.
However, as her end approaches, she’s able to communicate with the real Billy and remind him of his childhood and his mother’s kindness. These words are all he needs to overcome the creature’s hold on him and regain his autonomy. He then manages to turn on the monster long enough for Eleven and the others to escape — at the expense of his own life.
Elsewhere, Hopper, Joyce, and Murray must dispose of the Russians who seek to thwart their plans. Eventually, Hopper and Joyce reach their destination, but just as they’re about to trigger the blast that will close the gate to the Upside Down, Hopper gets into a fight with a Soviet assassin, which prohibits his escape to safety. With the children’s lives at stake, Joyce has no choice but to sacrifice Hopper before it’s too late.
The Mind Flayer is defeated. The downside: Hopper dies as well — or does he? More on that later.
Fast forward three months later, and the residents of Hawkins are dealing with the aftermath of the events. Robin and Steve get jobs at a video store. As for Joyce, Eleven, Will, and Jonathan, they say goodbye to their friends before leaving town to start over somewhere fresh. The end.
A mid-credits scene transports us to a top-secret facility in Kamchatka, Russia. There, some guards discuss a prisoner they refer to simply as “The American.” The soldiers plan to leave him in his cell for now, but the same can’t be said for another captive, who is dragged to an underground cage and fed to a Demogorgon.
The big question is: who is the mysterious “American” hostage? Since we don’t actually see Hopper die, is it possible that he survived the blast and ended up in the facility? And why is there a Demogorgon at this place, or in the real world at all? There are so many questions to be answered in future episodes.
The only thing we know for sure is that remnants from the Upside Down remain in the human realm and will undoubtedly spiral out of control in Season 4. That said, what can we expect from the next series?
It’s highly possible that Hopper is alive. Prior to the explosion, he was right next to a portal to the Upside Down. Chances are he entered it and was captured by the Russians afterward. Or perhaps he’s stuck in the terrifying realm trying to find a way out and the American prisoner is someone else entirely.
Another theory worth considering is that the prisoner is Dr. Martin Benner (Matthew Modine), an evil scientist and the main baddie in Season 1. After being snatched up by a Demogorgon, his death seemed inevitable. But it didn’t take place on screen, leaving his fate up in the air. Furthermore, in the Season 2 episode “The Lost Sister,” a scientist says he’s still alive.
My guess is that the Benner is being forced to do the Russians’ bidding and Hopper is out there in the dark, trying to find his way back home. We can only speculate at this point, but the finale of Season 3 is bound to inspire some interesting theories until the fourth installment airs some time, hopefully in the near future.