Stranger Things Season 3 ended with a devastating twist for everyone’s favorite dad-bodied police chief, Jim Hopper. Sure, the post-credits scene teases an optimistic outcome, but in the harsh light of Monday morning, it seems more likely that Stranger Things is hinting at the return of a different “American” entirely in Season 4: Dr. Brenner.
Waning: Full spoilers for the end of Stranger Things Season 3 below.
In case you somehow forgot how Stranger Things Season 3 ends, here’s a quick recap: Hopper “dies” in an explosion while destroying the Russian lab that’s drilling a new portal to the Upside Down right under Hawkins, Indiana. Then, a TV news segment confirms that he’s dead. But then, a post-credits scene set in Kamchatka, Russia reveals that the Soviets are keeping some unseen “American” prisoner in the same facility where they’re feeding other people to the Demogorgon.
In the moment it seems pretty clear that Stranger Things is suggesting Jim Hopper somehow survived and made it to Russia. How? We have no idea, though some have speculated that he escaped into the Upside Down and then emerged through another portal in the U.S.S.R. That seems unlikely, but there’s another theory that makes way more sense: the “American” isn’t Hopper at all, it’s Dr. Martin Brenner.
Brenner, in case you forgot, was one of the primary human villains of Stranger Things’ first season. As director of the Hawkins National Laboratory, he raised Eleven (she even called him “Papa”) and forced her to participate in his experiments. This is what created the first portal into the Upside Down and allowed the Demogorgon (and eventually, the Mind Flayer) to enter our world.
At the end of Stranger Things Season 1, it looked like Dr. Brenner died at the hands of the Demogorgon, though his death was never really confirmed onscreen. Then, in Season 2’s controversial bottle episode (“Chapter Seven: The Lost Sister”), another scientist claims Brenner is still alive. He’s never mentioned in Season 3, but Stranger Things definitely seems to be leaving open the possibility that he could return in Season 4 or later.
That brings us back to “the American” locked away in that Soviet prison cell. It’s tempting to think it’s Hopper, but Dr. Brenner makes a lot more sense. If he somehow escaped and made it to Russia, that could explain how the U.S.S.R. found out about the Upside Down in the first place and knew to focus on Hawkins, Indiana specifically. And even if Brenner is working with the Russians, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t keep him locked up just to be safe.
Assuming the Stranger Things Season 3 post-credits is teasing Dr. Brenner’s return, the gang from Hawkins, Indiana could face their biggest threat yet in Season 4. With Hopper gone and Eleven powerless, how will our heroes take on an evil scientist, the Demogorgon, and the U.S.S.R. all at once? We have no idea, but we can’t wait to find out.
*Stranger Things Season 3 is streaming now on Netflix. Season 4 is expected in late 2020.