This Stranger Things Season 1 recap contains major spoilers for the first season of Netflix’s Stranger Things. You can check out all of our coverage on the show by clicking these words.
Stranger Things Season 4 is right around the corner, and in the six(!) years since it debuted, an awful lot has happened. With such a hefty gap between seasons, and a plot already shrouded in mystery anyway, there’s a good chance that even die-hard fans will have a hard time remembering what’s what. For the benefit of those who don’t have time to re-watch all three previous seasons, or even for those who haven’t watched them at all, here’s the first of our story recaps giving you a rundown of everything you need to know.
Needless to say, and as stated above, major spoilers for Stranger Things Season 1 follow.
Stranger Things Season 1 recap
We begin – and indeed remain – in the town of Hawkins, Indiana, a kind of monument to small-town ennui and 80s nostalgia. The first thing we see is a scientist in a laboratory being attacked by an unseen creature, and pretty promptly after, see one of our protagonists, 12-year-old Will Byers, get a glimpse of said creature and disappear.
What happened to Will? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?
Will’s pals, Mike, Dustin, and Lucas are similarly aged Dungeons and Dragons fanatics who take the disappearance of their friend as an excuse for the beginning of their own real-life campaign. Will’s frantic mother Joyce also begins searching for him and indeed communicating with him through various household electronics.
Will’s disappearance coincides with the sudden appearance of Eleven, a young girl with a shaved head who creeps into town in a hospital gown and is quickly revealed to be the quarry of killers, one of whom kills Benny, the proprietor of the diner where Eleven – so-called because of the tattoo on her arm – takes temporary shelter.
Of course, the other kids quickly run into Eleven, who kick-starts puberty for them, and they hide her in Mike’s house like E.T. Eleven reveals herself to be telekinetic, which only further excites the boys. Their fanciful imaginations, and Joyce’s relative instability in her grief, cast a lot of doubts over their theories.
An older, more rational contingent is represented by Mike’s older sister Nancy, her boyfriend Steve, and Will’s older brother Jonathan. Nancy’s friend Barb soon disappears in exactly the same manner as Will, which brings the older kids into the plot more consistently. Nancy begins to look for Barb, and her investigation reveals photos Jonathan took while searching the woods and hearing the nearby revelry. One of the photos he took of Barb shows a figure standing behind her.
Meanwhile, Joyce begins communicating with Will via Christmas lights she has strung up around the house, which he can indirectly flick on and off. He claims to be alive, but evidence – including a body found in the local quarry – seems to suggest otherwise.
Sheriff Hopper, who is also searching for Will, finds similarly curious leads and begins looking into the Hawkins Lab. The director of the facility is Dr. Martin Brenner, who, in flashbacks, we learn was Eleven’s father, or at least father figure. She was locked up as a test subject in the lab.
Through further communication with Will using a walkie-talkie and the school’s A/V equipment, the kids and Eleven learn that he’s trapped in an alternate dimension that they nickname “The Upside Down”, guarded by a monster they call the “Demogorgon”, a Dungeons and Dragons beast. As if to prove this seemingly childish theory correct, Nancy finds a path to the Upside Down in the woods and is attacked by the Demogorgon, only narrowly managing to escape.
Sheriff Hopper also finds an entrance to the Upside Down in the Hawkins Lab, but he’s knocked out and removed from the premises. From discovering his apartment has been bugged, to finding a connection with a woman named Terry Ives and her missing daughter (who is presumed to be Eleven), to the involvement of government agents poking around and asking questions, this is where the first season’s stakes begin to rise considerably.
The heroes assemble for the big finale. We have Eleven and the boys, Joyce and Sheriff Hopper, and Nancy and Jonathan. Eleven, using a salt bath to isolate her powers, is able to venture into the Upside Down telekinetically and discover that Barb is dead and Will isn’t far behind. Joyce and Hopper head to the Hawkins Lab, giving up Eleven’s location to gain access, while Nancy and Jonathan attempt to trap and kill the Demogorgon.
While Joyce and Hopper find the Demogorgon’s nest and free Will from it, the Demogorgon itself, wounded by Nancy and Jonathan, turns up at the school, where an exhausted Eleven has already used most of her energy to kill the attacking government agents. Still, she’s able to destroy the Demogorgon when it finds her and the other kids, though in doing so causes herself to vanish.
The first season of Stranger Things ends on two pretty major cliffhangers. The first is that Will, one month after being rescued and seemingly well, vomits up a slug and sees a vision of the Upside Down. The second is that Hopper is leaving boxes of food out in the woods – presumably for the still-missing Eleven.
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