This started as a post to the following YouTube video, but it got too long so I’m posting it here instead.
It’s my hope that season three starts with a status quo that establishes the crew has gone a year without a peep from The Upside Down. Everything has returned to relative normality. In fact, over the summer the Byers went on a tropical vacation with the Hoppers, with a strategic purpose of being how Chief Hopper explains Jane’s official arrival in Hawkins upon their return. They build up this elaborate back story and cover all their bases and when they arrive, they explain to anyone who will listen that Jim had a cousin who died and Jane is her only daughter and Jim is now Jane’s only living relative so she’s his daughter now and …nobody cares. The running gag of the first episode is that everyone in the town’s okay with the idea that Chief Hopper has a daughter now let’s move on, which kinda frustrates both Jim and Jane cuz they put so much work into how bona fide and convincing their lie is.
While Jane and Jim were on the vacation with Joyce, Jonathan and Will, Jim and Joyce have sorta rekindled their relationship as she’s trying to put Bob’s death behind her. She feels guilty because she admits to Jim she never loved Bob. She liked him a great deal and he was very sweet, but she mostly went along with his interest in her because she wanted a more stable father figure for her boys and Bob was totally on board with that idea. However, it meant he was also being dragged into a family with ties to The Upside Down. So now she’s thinking maybe if she’s gonna get a stable father figure for her boys, it needs to be the one man in her life who’s already hip deep in the crazy with her. However, she honestly doesn’t know if she loves Jim for Jim or for what he can provide her boys. And is that not just making the same mistake she made with Bob?
Will and Jane have become fast friends too, and in some ways are closer than Jane is to Mike. Upon their return from vacation, the first episode reveals that Mike has become jealous of Will’s affinity with Jane. Because of what they’ve both experienced with regards to The Upside Down and other things, they’ve developed a rapport that Mike doesn’t share with El. Also, Mike still catches himself calling her El out of habit. Will calls her Jane, which she prefers. So Mike’s losing street cred with her as Will’s doing better. Jane is completely oblivious by the way. She enjoys the attention from both young gentlemen. She doesn’t understand why she has to choose between Mike or Will. She loves them both equally, for different reasons. This just pisses Mike off even more.
We also see how the other characters are faring. Maxine’s entire family is against her hanging out with Lucas. Naturally this is making their bond even stronger. Lucas is sorta Forbidden Fruit. Just being around him, Max is rebelling, and she likes that. This does stir up trouble early on with Billy and Max’s father. Lucas’ parents aren’t all that keen on Max either. They think she’s a bad influence on their more upstanding son. Dustin’s drifted away from the group early on. He’s found a new group of friends who are popular in school and have money. He’s also volunteering at a local republican politician’s office, which is putting him at odds with his Democrat mother and father. He mostly volunteers cuz it’s a great way to meet girls, but the more conservative philosophies are rather compelling to him. Other members of the AV Club compare him to a pod person and think he’s being brainwashed by Reaganomics. On the surface Dustin looks happy, but the more popular he gets the less he can be himself, and deep down he feels like he’s losing his identity. He’s also not very good at juggling more than one girlfriend at a time. Being popular isn’t as fun as being a nerd. It’s work, without much reward.
Both Steve and Nancy are seeing other people, but they’re just surface relationships. She remains friends with both Steve and Johnathan, but she prefers a social life that keeps her as far away from The Upside Down nonsense as possible. She has developed a taste for journalism however, and has been staying in touch with Murray Bauman, even tho he told her to stay away. They’re involved in a seemingly unrelated research project that on the surface sounds like more conspiracy mumbo jumbo, but Nancy’s learning a lot about investigative journalism and how to write a story that could actually get published in a newspaper. Steve’s on the verge of deciding if he’s going to college or join his father’s firm who is opening an office outside Hawkins. Either way it looks like he’ll be leaving Hawkins in the near future, but there’s a third choice he could make that scares him to think about, and he’s not telling anybody. Meanwhile Jonathan has just been focusing on photography and family life. He doesn’t have any plans for his future, and this is beginning to concern those closest to him.
The first episode is all mushy soap opera status quo. However, the end of the first episode presents the inciting incident: Eight arrives in Hawkins with two or three other gifted young people. They are being controlled remotely. Against her will, Eight is being forced to find Eleven, and make her one of their brood. Are they being controlled by Brenner? By the Shadow Monster? By someone else entirely?
The first few episodes of Stranger Things 3 after the initial episode appear to be an elaborate season arc where Eleven/Jane finds out what happened to The Other Ten. Some are missing presumed dead. Some are controlled by a man who claims to be Brenner but we learn that’s a lie. Eight/Kali does not like being controlled and Jane helps her escape, but the others want to be told what to do. Even after they learn their slave master is not their “Papa,” they still blindly follow. As Eight and Eleven fight Six and Ten, with the help of the rest of the cast, it’s revealed that while One and Two are still MIA, we’ve already met Three.
When Will was under control of an entity from The Upside down that compelled him to say “he likes it cold” Will was talking about Three. Three is essentially the Shadow Monster, and early on the theory is that Three is so powerful he has created The Upside Down. He’s trying to manipulate actual reality into something he finds more palatable: and he’s become a very unpalatable person. Three is also The Hive Mind that was controlling Will and all the creatures from The Upside Down.
FIVE has been trapped in between The Upside Down and The Right Side Up all this time. She used to be Three’s friend, but when Three tried to merge his mind with hers she rejected him, so he banished her to The In Between. where she’s been witnessing our heroes’ adventures these past two years, unable to communicate. All of this is revealed through our heroes. We learn this stuff as they learn it, because Will is still connected to Three, and begins turning his friends to join The Hive Mind. Will and Three are essentially the same person now, and Will goes along with whoever’s the most dominant person in the room. He’s lost himself inside Three. If someone doesn’t join his Hive Mind, or otherwise ticks Will/Three off, they are banished to The In Between where they meet FIVE.
SIX and TEN ask Kali to join forces with them to return to what remains of The Lab and save TWELVE. Kali says no. Six and Ten respond to this by killing a couple people cast members. They then rush off to The Lab (now a military establishment which is way harder to break into or out of), knowing Eight will chase after them. When they arrive, Eight gets with Eleven and her friends and they fight Six and Eight, but after a stalemate is reached, Kali relents and says if they spare her new friends, Kali and Jane will help Six and Ten save Twelve, only to discover later they lied: There is no Twelve. Jane is the last one. Six and Ten were trying to get Eight to help them return to The Lab because they have been taken over by Three’s Hive Mind, and want to help him reopen the portal to turn The Right Side Up, Upside Down.
End of season three is a showdown between Three/Will and Jane with Kali. Meanwhile FIVE helps those banished to The In Between (which by now is everybody who’s not dead yet) back to the real world but it means sacrificing herself. She forces a merge of her mind with Will/Three – essentially giving Three what he had wanted in the first place but she does this while Kali and Jane are fighting him. In the distraction, Jane is able to kill Will’s body, which they think think would kill Three. However, when Will dies, while it does cause everybody who had been stuck In Between to end up in The Right Side Up, Three leaves Will’s dead body and rushes into Joyce, who has fallen into The Upside Down.
Season four starts with Joyce (Winona Ryder) possessed by Three, who also still maintains Will’s memories, and she/they are really pissed off at everybody who is left.