Spoilers follow for Stranger Things follow.
We'd been waiting for three years, but it finally arrived.
On May 27, all seven episodes of Stranger Things season 4, volume 1 finally dropped onto Netflix, leading the legions of fans of the show to take to their couches all weekend to scarf down the latest hijinks from the town of Hawkins.
This first batch of episodes packed in more than anyone expected, with extra-long runtimes and episodes that turned into full-on globe-trotting adventures. And while we've only a month to go until the final two, feature-length episodes of the penultimate season drop on July 1, there are a lot of questions we'd like to see answered.
1. Will we find out what Will is painting?
Early in the season, we see Will working on a painting project but not the completed piece. In a letter to Mike, Eleven says she knows he's working on something secret and hints there may be a girl he likes, implying that Will the Wise has painted a romantic gift. Will carries it everywhere with him – especially once Mike lands in California. This implies it's so important he wants to share it with his best friend. Or, as many have theorized, that it's a present for Mike as a way for Will to express true affection feelings.
But, let's posit this: what if Will's painting has no romantic connotations? Looking back to prior seasons, Will uses art in a therapeutic manner. He scribbles the Mind Flayer. He scratches the tunnels beneath Hawkins. What if he's painting a map of the Upside Down, including a detail we've never seen before? It could be that Will is already aware of Vecna and has potential access to a new gate.
2. Is Will queer?
One of the show's biggest topics of discussion gathers more steam this season. Will's sexuality has been debated since the show began. The series explicitly referenced it in season one when Joyce expresses concern to Hopper about Will being bullied because the kids thought he was gay. Back in season three, as Will tries to corral his friends into playing D&D, Mike snaps at him, "it's not my fault you don't like girls."
Theories about the show dropping hints at Will's sexuality kicked off again in season four. Will's science project on gay code cracker Alan Turing and Will's painting some speculate is a romantic declaration towards Mike certainly stoked the embers.
But the biggest hint comes during a heart-to-heart between the two best friends. “Sometimes, I think it’s just scary, to open up like that, to say how you really feel, especially to people you care about the most," says Will. "Because what if they don’t like the truth?”
It's difficult to imagine he's referring to anything other than coming out. When pushed for details, The Duffer Brothers comments point toward the truth emerging soon: “This is where it gets tricky since we haven’t released the whole season yet,” Matt Duffer, one of the show's creators, told TV Line. “I just want people to watch the final two episodes”
3. Why is the Upside Down stuck in 1983?
Nancy's discovery that the Upside Down is actually frozen in 1983 opens up many story possibilities. But what's interesting is that the Upside Down is frozen on the exact day Will went missing in season one. What exactly caused this? Was it Will being dragged into the alternate dimension, or was it Eleven opening the first gate?
This season's big bad, Vecna, aka Number One, could also be behind this temporal pause. Elements of Vecna's curse on Hawkins are plucked from his former life as a boy named Victor Creel disillusioned with the concept of time. The grandfather clock which inspired his first dabble with time travel appears as a looming omen during his victims' nightmares. He only targets people at a specific point in their lives – teenagers. Could it be that Vecna is controlling the movement of time in the Upside Down?
4. Will Barb return?
With the Upside Down frozen in the past, time travel might now be a real possibility. Since Nancy's eureka moment, there's a chance the Hawkins crew can affect real change.
If the Upside Down is stuck on the day Will went missing, theoretically the 1986 gang could go and find where 1983-Will was trapped in the Upside Down and be saved from extensive trauma. Likewise, Barb might have the chance to be saved from the clutches of the Demogorgon in Steve's pool, as she dies the day after Will goes missing.
What we don't know yet is if it's possible for the 1986 gang to enter the Upside Down into 1983, and then re-enter the real world in 1983. From what we've seen so far, when Robin, Steve, and Eddie jump into the real world, they're met in 1986 by Dustin, Erica and Max.
But if there's another gate with that capability – and Vecna seems like he is just getting started on this kill spree – this is a gamechanger. The show could bring superhero Bob Newby back! If this is possible? Well, we've got one heck of a time paradox on our hands.
5. Is Max free from Vecna's curse?
In episode four, Max fights Vecna's hold when the gang discovers music can be used to anchor Vecna's victims to the real world. That's how Max is able to return from the Upside Down relatively unscathed.
The final moments of the volume one finale show Vecna move onto Nancy's trauma, almost skipping over Max. But is she truly free? Nancy doesn't see the grandfather clock, a signifier of death at Vecna's hands, which hints at a change in the way he stalks his victims. Theories that Vecna spied Eleven in Max's memories and that's why he allowed her to run free, make sense. But what if he's not finished with her?
Remember Will escaped the Upside Down but still had the Mind Flayer inside of him. Eleven was bitten by the Mind Flayer at the end of season three and experienced the same. What if Max is going to be an instrument of Vecna's in the final showdown?
6. How the heck is Dr. Brenner STILL ALIVE?
It's been long considered that Dr. Brenner died in the Demogorgon attack in Hawkins Lab at the end of season one. Even though Eleven learns he's still alive in season two, context clues suggest this may have been a lie.
But no, he's back.
His re-appearance in season four – not just in the flashback 1979 opening, but in the 1986 present – is mind-boggling. How did he somehow get away when everyone else suffered a hideous mauling? Was there perhaps a gate involved? What else is being hidden? We need to know!
7. Will Steve die of his demo-bat wounds?
Steve Harrington's arc from jock asshole to all-around stand-up guy points to one inevitable conclusion. The evidence points to it. His redemption arc midway through season one right up to season four is proof that Steve's gonna die. In this latest season's episode six "The Dive '' his most heroic turn yet is when he swims to the bottom of Lover's Lake to find a gate. His reward? He's mauled by demo-bats. While he's not offed right away, by the time Robin, Eddie, and Nancy get there to help, he's been picked over like a buffet.
Throw in his rekindling romance with Nancy – Team Steve! - and all signs point towards his end. The Duffer Brothers even hinted at the death of a major character in this back two episodes; "I would be concerned about the characters going into Volume 2," Ross Duffer tells Variety, "Everybody is in danger."
8. How do the Russians have a demogorgon?
These two questions could easily be connected if we look at the evidence. In the brief teaser for volume two, Hopper and Murray explore a lab with echoes to the cloning experiment in Alien Resurrection. We know the show homages the first three Alien movies, so it's not out of the question for the series to reference the fourth outing.
But how did they get any demogorgon matter? The beginning of season three shows the Russians failure to maintain a stable, open gate. There's nothing to say a demogorgon or demodog didn't escape during that brief period, much like season one's monster did, and get subsequently captured. Later that season, Erica notices a cage in the Soviet bunker beneath Starcourt Mall, and asks Dustin "how big did you say that demogorgon was?" This strongly implies the Russians already have one in their possession.
Another possibility is that the Russian demogorgon is the one Eleven destroys in season one. How so? Two things. Following the climactic season one finale battle, we learn Eleven is alive and well in the Upside Down. In this latest season, during a flashback we see Eleven destroy Number One into pieces much like the demogorgon and send him… into the Upside Down. What if the original Demogorgon was transported to the Upside Down and the Russians captured it during season three?
9. Where is the Mind Flayer?
In the Upside Down, as Steve, Nancy, Eddie, and Robin explore, we see tentacles slithering across the time-frozen Hawkins, implying the hive mind is active. So the Mind Flayer's tools are at least still in place.
As the gang discover Vecna's ability to create gates, Dustin ponders where the Mind Flayer is in all of this. He theorizes that Vecna is the Mind Flayer's "five star general", a henchman, compared to the footsoldier-type status of the demogorgon. So where is the big smoke?
The volume two teaser includes a glimpse at the arachnid-like baddie imprisoned. It could be the reason we've not seen the Mind Flayer is because it's trapped in a Russian lab. It makes sense for it to be dormant. Surely Will would have sensed it by now?
10. Why has Vecna waited so long to open gates?
A delightful embellishment to Stranger Things lore is Vecna's gates. Whenever he kills someone in the real world, the psychic energy generated by their demise shreds a hole between the worlds. These "snack-sized gates", as Steve calls them, are what allows the Hawkins gang to sneak into the Upside Down.
But why haven't we seen Vecna before? He's been in the Upside Down for seven years. Why the wait to start killing Hawkins teens? This ties directly into the Mind Flayer. Could it be that the Mind Flayer and Vecna are in fact, not working together, but enemies with designs to control the dark dimension? If the Mind Flayer's absence is due to its capture by the Russians, it makes sense that Vecna has taken this moment to step up and seize power of the Upside Down.
11. Does Eleven have her powers back?
The Nina Project finds Eleven in another sensory-deprivation tank at the hands of Dr. Brenner and Dr. Owens. In the hopes of restoring the powers she lost during her tussle with the Mind Flayer in season three, she's guided through a series of memory experiments where both she and the audience learn the truth behind her origins. She discovers whilst under that she's not responsible for the opening massacre. In fact, she puts a stop to it. She is the one who created Vecna by blasting Number One into the Upside Down.
It's the first time we see Eleven's process in harnessing telekinetic power. Unlike Number One, who channels hurt to create change, Eleven taps into love to fully utilize her powers. This all happens in a memory state, which is where the volume finale ends. Will we see Eleven's powers restored in the real world?
You can read our full review of Stranger Things' Season Four, Volume 1 here.