By the time we finished watching the third season of “Stranger Things” way back in 2019, we were left scratching our heads about a few major questions. For instance, why have Eleven’s powers forsaken her? Are there any rats left in Hawkins? And how is Max going to explain Billy’s bizarre death to her parents?! But above all those was a much more devastating question: is Jim Hopper dead?
Fortunately, on Feb. 14, Netflix finally answered that question once and for all with an intense teaser that revealed that Jim is, in fact, alive. (TBH, we always figured he wasn’t dead. The real shock was that he’s now bald.) The quick clip shows him in Russia, working with fellow prisoners while armed authorities oversee them.
The first half of season four, which was released on May 27, follows Hopper as he struggles to survive in a Russian prison, and his survival and escape attempts is a major storyline. For anyone who needs a refresher on how Hopper wound up imprisoned by the Russians in the first place, let’s review what initially led Hopper to his big life-or-death moment and eventual capture.
Season three sees our heroes split into four separate groups: Will, Eleven, Max, Lucas, and Mike; Steve, Dustin, Robin, and Erica; Nancy and Jonathan; and Hopper and Joyce. The latter duo decide to figure out why the magnets on Joyce’s fridge have suddenly stopped working. By the end of the season, all the groups finally reunite and relay their individual discoveries and are able to piece everything together. Essentially, evil Russians have been trying to reopen the gate to the Upside Down in a secret lab beneath the new mall in Hawkins. Yes, it’s a lot.
Hopper, Joyce, and Murray the conspiracy theorist decide to go down to the lab to shut off the big laser beam that’s opening the gate themselves. Just as Hopper and Joyce are about to turn the two keys that are required to shut off the laser, an Arnold Schwarzenegger-like super-soldier arrives and starts beating the sh*t out of everybody’s favorite police chief. Even though Hopper bests the goon, it’s too late — the laser is about to open up the Upside Down, and Joyce has to make the decision to turn the keys, even though she believes it’ll vaporize Hop in the process. Cue all the tears.
The next thing we know, it’s three months later and Joyce is moving her sons (and Eleven!) to a brand-new town for a fresh start. Hopper is presumed dead, thought to have been turned to dust, since his remains were never found. Still, the show never actually showed Hopper’s death, since Joyce turns away at the last second and the explosion blocks our view. So, despite that incredibly heartfelt tribute to Hop in the final episode, many fans believed he was still alive.
Plus, the postcredits scene in episode eight all but confirmed that Chief Hopper was still kicking. The footage drops us into a prison in a very snowy Russia (the same place we see in the season four teaser), where two soldiers walk down a line of cell doors looking for a certain prisoner. One of them goes to open a door, and his partner says, “No, not the American,” then gestures to the next in line. They proceed to drag that poor prisoner down to the basement, where they lock him in a cage with the OG Demogorgon. Brutal.
What’s most important about this scene, of course, is the mention of “the American.” Sure, technically any old American citizen could be locked away in there. But throughout season three, the show makes a point of highlighting that the aforementioned Russian super-soldier always refers to Hop as “the American” — never as his actual name or “the chief” or any other identifier. So Hop’s survival was always pretty much assumed — but now we’ll have to see if he can make it out of Russia in the final two episodes of season four.
Needless to say, the conclusion of season four can’t come soon enough.