Stranger Things recap: Everything you need to know before season 3 premieres

Season 3 of Stranger Things premieres July 4 on Netflix, and it’s easy to get excited about the return of the kids from Hawkins, Indiana, as they face yet another threat from the nightmare dimension known as the Upside Down.

Well over a year has elapsed since the second season debuted on the streaming service, so we figured you might be craving a Stranger Things refresher as you get ready for the next set of episodes to drop. So just sit back, read on, and get yourself all caught up with Stranger Things. (This should come as no surprise, but there are tons of spoilers ahead.)

Season 1

Over the course of the eight-episode season, we learned that scientists at the Hawkins National Laboratory accidentally released a strange, deadly creature while attempting to open a portal to another dimension. The terrifying creature kidnapped 12-year-old Will Byers, as well as a local teenager, Barbara “Barb” Holland, and brought them back to its dimension.

Will’s friends and family discovered what happened to him (and Barb) with the help of Eleven, a young girl with powerful telekinetic and telepathic abilities derived from a secret government experiment dubbed “Project MKUltra.” Eleven revealed that she escaped the laboratory and its manipulative lead scientist, Dr. Martin Brenner, after being forced to use her abilities to open the dimensional rift that brought the creature to Hawkins.

Will was rescued by his mother, Joyce Byers, and the local police chief, Jim Hopper, who ventured into the Upside Down dimension to bring him home. Their mission was assisted by Will’s best friends, Lucas Sinclair, Mike Wheeler, and Dustin Henderson, who found a way to amplify Eleven’s power and used it to locate their friend. Meanwhile, Will’s older brother, Jonathan Byers, was joined by his high-school classmates Nancy Wheeler (Mike’s older sister) and Steve Harrington in setting a trap for the creature, which Will’s Dungeons and Dragons-loving pals dubbed “The Demogorgon.”

Trapped in the local middle school with the Demogorgon and a group of government agents determined to bring Eleven back to the laboratory, Will’s friends managed to evade both threats long enough for Eleven to use her powers to fight off the agents and obliterate the Demogorgon. In the resulting psychic explosion, Eleven vanished along with the creature.

In the aftermath of their encounter with the Demogorgon, Will was reunited with his family and friends, Jim was taken away by mysterious agents, and Nancy rekindled her budding romance with Steve. What Will didn’t reveal, however, is that he began having visions of another monstrous entity, and coughing up strange, slug-like creatures after leaving the Upside Down.

Season 2

New characters introduced in the second season included Max Mayfield, a young girl who gets caught up with Will and his friends’ adventures, as well as her older stepbrother, Billy Hargrove, a vicious bully. The new head scientist at the Hawkins Laboratory, Dr. Sam Owens, was also introduced, as well as Joyce’s new boyfriend, Bob Newby (played to near-universal delight by none other than Samwise/Rudy himself, Sean Astin).

More Stranger Things News

A year after the events of the first season, Will’s friends and family discovered that the massive, tentacled entity he saw in recurring visions — dubbed The Mind Flayer by the kids — had infected him while he was in the Upside Down. They also learned that a network of tentacle-like vines was growing beneath Hawkins, spreading out from the still-open rift between the Upside Down and their own dimension and allowing more creatures to come through.

Having disappeared into the Upside Down at the end of the first season, Eleven used her powers to find a way home to Hawkins, where Sherriff Hopper kept her hidden away and safe. She eventually discovered that there was another girl granted powers by Project MKUltra, and she embarked on a trip to Chicago to meet and train with the girl, Kali.

Back in Hawkins, the slug-like creature Will coughed up in season 1 revealed itself to be a young Demogorgon, and worse, it was not the only one running loose around town.

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The Demogorgons laid siege to the Hawkins Laboratory when Joyce and Dr. Owens attempted to remove the Mind Flayer’s influence from Will, and nearly the entire cast of characters were forced to fight through them to get Will to safety. In order to get everyone out safely, Bob sacrificed himself, becoming one of the season’s most notable character deaths.

The Mind Flayer was eventually purged from Will’s body using extreme heat, Eleven was reunited with everyone in Hawkins, and Steve ventured into the tunnels with Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and new ally Max to draw the Demogorgons away from the laboratory. Jim and Eleven were then able to close the rift under the laboratory, thanks to what Kali taught Elevena bout using her powers.

Once again, life began to return to normal in Hawkins, with the laboratory finally shut down and Jim given the chance to legally adopt Eleven as his daughter. The kids attended a school dance and all appeared well — but in the Upside Down, the Mind Flayer was shown towering over the kids’ school in the dark dimension.

What’s next? We’ll have to wait for Independence Day to find out.

Season 3 of Stranger Things premieres July 4 on Netflix.

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