'Stranger Things': What's Next After That Deadly Season 3 Cliff-Hanger

Hard-hitting Hawkins police chief Hopper stands at the heart of a tragic new mystery.
Courtesy of Netflix

[This story contains massive spoilers for the season three finale of Netflix's Stranger Things.]

Justice for Barb. Justice for Bob. Hope for Hopper?

For the Stranger Things faithful, it may prove difficult finding any scraps of optimism for the fate of David Harbour's Jim Hopper, season three's biggest casualty — assuming he's truly gone. After slugging it out against a Terminator inspired Russian operative all season long, Hopper beats his nemesis in a brawl, only to lose the greater war for his life when he's apparently vaporized when Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) destroys the Russian lab built on the gateway into the Upside Down.

It's important to lean on the word "apparently," because, let's face it: Jim Hopper isn't dead. Sure, the world at large believes Hawkins' chief of police died in an "accident" at the now shuttered Starcourt Mall — and yes, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), Joyce and all the others in the extended party believe Hopper died in the lab's destruction. But there are reasons to remain hopeful for Hopper's return when Stranger Things inevitably comes back for another season. For one, there's the classic rule: if you didn't see the death, it didn't happen — and while Hopper was right there at the site of the destruction, we didn't see what happened to his body. Beyond that? The series itself has laid track for the never-say-die hero to defy death one more time.

Before getting into some of the possibilities, consider Hopper's final words in season three, which he meant to offer up to Eleven earlier in the season, when he was unamused by her growing closeness with Mike (Finn Wolfhard). Rather than speak the words out loud, Hopper wrote down his feelings, only for Eleven to find them months later. The speech, in full:

"Feelings. Jesus. The truth is, for so long, I'd forgotten what those even were. I'd been stuck in one place. In a cave, you might say. A deep, dark cave. And then I left some Eggos out in the woods and you came into my life. For the first time in a long time, I started to feel things again. I started to feel happy. Lately, I guess I've been feeling distant from you. Like you're pulling away from me or something. I miss playing board games every night, making Triple Decker Eggo Extravaganzas at sunrise, watching Westerns together before we doze off. 

"But I know you're getting older, growing, changing. I guess, if I'm being really honest, that's what scares me. I don't want things to change. So I think that's maybe why I came in here, to stop that change. To turn back the clock. To make things go back to how they were. But I know that's naive. That's just now how life works. It's moving, always moving, whether you like it or not. And yeah, sometimes that's painful. Sometimes it's sad. And sometimes, it's surprising, happy. 

"So, you know what? Keep on growing up, kid. Don't let me stop you. Make mistakes. Learn from them. When life hurts you, because it will, remember the hurt. The hurt is good. It means you're out of that cave. But please — if you don't mind, for the sake of your poor, old dad — keep the door open three inches."

Good speech! And potentially, an instructive one, too. Let's hop into some highlights, shall we?

• "I'd been stuck in one place." Season three contains a post-credits scene, set in a Russian prison, where the whole season began. Here, it's revealed that the Russians possess a Demogorgon, setting the series up for a future throwback to its season one roots. Somewhere in the prison, there's a captive known to us only as "the American." Hopper, anyone? It feels extremely likely that he's stuck in Russia, somehow recovered from the lab's destruction site. Then again, it feels like an obvious attempt to set up false expectations; perhaps the American is someone we haven't even met before, or maybe it's someone we're not readily considering. (Early call: Matthew Modine's Martin Brenner is somehow still alive, and stuck in Russian captivity.) If Hopper isn't in Russia, and if he isn't dead, then where is he?

• "I'd been stuck in…a cave." In season one, Eleven stood up to the Demogorgon and disappeared in the blink of an eye. It appeared that she had died. In truth, she slipped into the Upside Down, where she quickly found her way back into reality. Could the same thing have happened to Hopper? Is it possible he didn't die in the blast, and instead somehow infiltrated the shadow world — and he's either still stuck there, or he somehow came out on another side and into the Russians' possession? If he's stranded in the Upside Down, what chances does he have of survival? Think back to season two, and specifically…

• "A deep, dark cave." In season two, Hopper investigates disturbances in Hawkins and winds up breathing in some nasty spores from the Upside Down. Through season three, we haven't seen any tangible impact from Hopper's brush with the spores. But what if it somehow inoculated himself against the effects of the Upside Down? If he winds up stranded in that dimension, is it possible he could withstand the harsh conditions better than others? If so, then it's both exciting and terrifying news for Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), who also came into contact with spores in season two. The NeverEnding Story singer might be the perfect candidate for another round of Operation Child Endangerment, this time with an eye toward saving Hopper.

• "I came in here…to turn back the clock." Since we know so little about the Upside Down, fans have theorized wildly about the dimension's true nature, with some going so far as to speculate it represents our own desolate future. If that's the case, is Hopper somehow lost in time? If so, season three built some track toward a possible time-travel storyline, what with the Back to the Future sequences, the fact that Hopper's speech plays with Peter Gabriel's 2010 cover of David Bowie's Heroes in the background (a rare glimpse of a modern music performance in the drama's 1980s setting), and that when his speech is finished, the finale circles back to show the Byers family moving — even though we have already seen them move. We know there are other people like Eleven with powers of their own; could a time-traveler help bring Hopper back into the action, or is it way too much of a stretch, even for the show's heightened universe?

• "Keep the door open three inches." It's not just a plea for hope, but also a possible call to action. When Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) and his team arrive at the gate to the Upside Down, the key has been destroyed, but the gate itself remains an orange sliver in the earth. Clearly, Hawkins still holds the way into Upside Down — and as long as Eleven and friends can keep the door open, then perhaps there's still hope to rescue Hopper. Then again, whoever said Hopper needs rescuing? The Demogorgon is formidable, the Mind Flayer is even worse, but you know what they say: You don't mess around with Jim.

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