There’s no point beating around the bush: I’ve spent far too much time thinking about the fourth season of Stranger Things. I blame this obsession on the extra-long, pandemic-forced hiatus, compounded by the trailers that Netflix has been releasing at a snail’s pace.
To make my hours spent scrolling through Reddit threads and watching trailer analyses on YouTube feel somewhat productive, I’ve sifted through the wildest online rumors and arrived at five predictions that I’m (almost) certain will turn out to be true.
1. The Creel House is where the research began
Let’s first address the anomaly in the clues we’ve been given so far: Creel House.
The third teaser for season four seemingly opens in the 1950s, with a typical nuclear family moving into a mansion somewhere in Hawkins. But this picture-perfect scene quickly devolves as the family (the Creels?) start noticing the same flickering lights that the Byers family did back in season one. This can only mean one thing: the inhabitants of the Upside Down are trying to break through.
Later in the trailer, our suspicions are confirmed as we see the clock in the attic transformed into its counterpart from the other dimension.
The show has also released newspaper clippings hinting at a tragedy in the Creel House, where a father killed his entire family. He claimed to have been possessed and was subsequently put into a mental asylum. We know that the Duffer Brothers have been heavily influenced by Stephen King — could this story be a nod to The Shining? If so, the name of the moving company at the start of the Creel House trailer (Mayflower) could be a reference to the European colonization of Native American lands — a theme that also runs through The Shining.
Whatever it is, the story of Creel House looked like it was big news in the region… something that would likely have caught the attention of our old friend Dr. Brenner, aka Papa. And in season one, we learned that the whole project that Dr. Brenner worked on — experimenting on people like Eleven and her mother — began in the 50s. Coincidence? I think not.
Bold prediction: Whatever happened to the Creels was the first recorded manifestation of the Upside Down, and it was what drew Brenner to Hawkins in the first place.
2. “The American” is not who we think he is
At the end of season three, there’s a short teaser in which the Russians feed a prisoner to a Demogorgon — and one of them says, “Not the American.” In the first trailer for season four, it’s revealed that Hopper is in Russia, working in a labor camp. As such, it’d be easy to surmise that Hopper is the aforementioned American.
There’s been a lot of speculation that Hopper is not just a hostage, but also a spy; some say he’s been working for the Soviets all along. The 2020 trailer’s title, “From Russia with Love” — a reference to the 1963 James Bond movie of the same name — is widely considered to confirm this theory. Others say Hopper’s been possessed by the Mind Flayer, like Billy in season three.
But this is all just a tad too easy, and after much thought, I’ve subscribed to the more convoluted theory that it’s actually Brenner who’s “the American”: the hostage and the spy.
Not only has it been confirmed that Brenner is coming back in season four, but there was also foreshadowing and evidence in previous episodes. How else would the Soviets have managed to find the gate to the Upside Down and snuck a whole lab’s worth of personnel into Hawkins in the middle of the Cold War? Brenner is embedded in the US Federal system — he could’ve helped them, and that would’ve made him much more of an asset than Hopper.
Bold prediction: Dr. Brenner is “the American” who’s been working for the Russians and is being held captive by them.
3. Back to the future, gang!
It’s tough to execute this development well, but we could expect a bit of time traveling in season four. Here’s why:
First of all, allusions to time are quite prominent in the promos. There are clocks in almost every trailer for the upcoming season (even an announcement video posted in 2019 featured a blurry clock in it). That’s not to mention that the Creel House clock clearly holds some significance.
Secondly, while all other scenes from the past in these four trailers are filtered so that they look as if El were using her powers to rediscover her memories, those featuring the Creels are not. We watch them move into their new house as if it were present-day. Might that be a sign that some of the characters will go back to the 50s too?
Thirdly, as in any well-written science fiction story, Stranger Things hinted at this development earlier — namely in season three, during which Back to the Future was prominently featured. We all know the importance of cultural references in Stranger Things; time traveling back to the 1950s would be too great of a BTTF homage for the Duffer Brothers to miss.
Finally, the show has spent enough time creating the ominous dark-mirror world of the Upside Down over the past three seasons. The showrunners are no doubt under pressure to introduce a new dimension to this world, and a different era is a very strong contender.
Bold prediction: Some of the characters will travel back in time to the 1950s.
4. Hopper is actually dead
This one is a bit of a leap, and possibly the craziest out of all these bold predictions, given that the trailers confirm that Hopper (or at least David Harbour) is indeed back. But if we allow ourselves to go down the rabbit hole of the time traveling theory, maybe this could work out?
I read somewhere that there’s a “Chekhov’s gun” detail back in season one to reinforce this theory: the fact that Hopper knew where to put out food at the end of season one to find Eleven, even when everyone believed that she had died.
This detail was never really explained in the show (admittedly, a number of other things weren’t either). Maybe the people from Hawkins Lab knew that El had survived and told Hopper — but wouldn’t it be more logical for them to keep that information to themselves given how dangerous she is? At the very least, they’d want to monitor her like they monitored Will in season two.
Hopper could also have learned about the hunters’ sightings of El in the woods, but the timeline doesn’t match up very well if that’s the case. The most logical line of thought is perhaps that Hopper talked to Mike, who held onto hope, and believed him enough to try and find El.
All that said, we’ve also heard David Harbour say in an interview that this season will reveal a lot about the character’s backstory and show “an entire other color of him.” Might his ability to time-travel be a secret that’s been hiding under our nose the whole time? It would certainly line up nicely with prediction #3.
Bold prediction: Hopper is a time traveler, and he did die in Hawkins Lab.
5. The end of Steve or Nancy?
For a high-stakes supernatural show going into its fourth season, Stranger Things has seen remarkably little death within its main cast. Admittedly, Bob (the Superhero) was killed off, but his character was seemingly created for that heroic scene. Meanwhile Hopper and El both had deaths that were soon “undone.”
While that’s all fine and dandy, and the character dynamics have been very well-developed in the past seasons, perhaps it’s time for the writers to ramp up the peril and say goodbye to one of the characters permanently in season four.
So, just for the hell of it, if someone were to die, who would it be? Eleven and the kids seem too essential to the show to be written out of the script. Hopper is either already dead or fake-died; it’ll be trite if he pulls a Loki and reappears all the time. The Byers have gone through enough in the past seasons to deserve a break, and Robin’s only just arrived. That leaves Steve and Nancy.
Both have had such interesting arcs that I’d be genuinely sad to see either of them go. But perhaps that’s why it might happen after all.
Bold prediction: Either Steve or Nancy will sacrifice themselves this season.
And that’s all the food for thought I can offer you! Feel free to join me and sit with these ideas in your head as we (impatiently) wait for season four’s official release date to be announced.
Thao Nguyen is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Thao Nguyen writes about history and diasporic experiences, and enjoys reading nonfiction and listening to audiobooks.