The Stranger Things Season 3 post-credits scene is a cipher. It successfully teases what Season 4 may focus on and teases the identity of “the American,” a mystery character in Russian custody who may or may not be Jim Hopper. But it’s easy to forget that one thing the Stranger Things post-credits scene doesn’t include is any clues about what point in time the scene is actually occurring, which could be crucial to figuring out will to expect from Season 4’s plot and Hopper’s fate.
Spoilers ahead for Stranger Things Season 3 ahead.
The Season 3 post-credits scene is divorced from any indicators which would help nail down when in time the scene takes place. Instead, it features standard uniforms with no frills, a facility with no advanced technology, and nothing else to place it in the 1980s.
Demogorgons like the one the Russians have in this scene don’t appear in Hawkins until 1983 when Eleven accidentally opens the Upside Down gate. However, there’s enough wiggle room here to argue the Russians may have discovered the Upside Down before Eleven made contact so this post-credits scene could be happening before 1983. If it is a flashback scene, it would explain why the Russians wanted to re-open the Upside Down during Stranger Things Season 3 — and how they got a Demogorgon. Seeing what one Demogorgon can do would certainly ignite a hunt for more of them.
Using a flashback as a post-credits scene is unusual but not exactly illogical in Stranger Things’ case because it helps add some dimension to the story. As for the American’s identity, it could hint that someone we’ve already met in Hawkins was working for the Russians which would definitely up the stakes in Season 4.
But if the post-credits scene is happening sometime after the events of Season 3, it makes revealing the identity of the American in Season 4 even more critical. Hopper is believed to be dead by Eleven, Joyce, and the rest of Hawkins. But we never saw Hopper’s body which means he could have fallen into Russian hands and was taken away to the prison in Kamchatka for further investigation.
It would make the most sense for the post-credits scene to happen in late 1985 from a narrative perspective because it helps tease Season 4 and is tied directly to pressing questions we have about Season 3. If the American is a character that we’ve already met, especially Hopper, then it could set off a search-and-rescue that could figure prominently in the next season.
There is one final option, but prepare yourself because it’s the definition of “wild.” Stranger Things could be pulling a Westworld on us by showing us a scene from the future. The Westworld Season 2 post-credits scene takes place in the far-flung future, which then opens up a huge chunk of time between the end of Season 2 and this scene where events will need to be shown to explain how we got from one time period to another.
The same goes for Stranger Things if this post-credits scene takes place in the far future. Because there are no identifiers about what time period we’re in, it hints at the possibility of a future where the Russians are living in a world where the Upside Down may have won and they need to learn more about the Demogorgon in order to figure out how to beat it. This could set up the American to be either a character we know who is much older or introduce a new American character who becomes an integral part of Season 4.
At this point, just keep a reasonable amount of speculation about how Stranger Things treats time. In a season which referenced Back to the Future and introduced doubts about whether time is linear or time travel can happen, when this post-credits scene takes place could be the key to figuring out Season 4.
Stranger Things Season 3 is now available to stream on Netflix.