When all else fails and the apocalypse descends, sometimes the only recourse is to turn back the clock. Every superhero franchise has dabbled in this in some capacity, be it X-Men, the Avengers, or even Umbrella Academy. Why would Stranger Things be any different? Based on some truly legitimate evidence in Season 4, the show’s final season could see Eleven wield the power of time travel in the series’ final act — but only after Vecna succeeds in destroying the world.
The Theory — We first noticed the theory on TikTok from user weej_lr. Recall that Volume 2 picks up with Vecna inside Nancy Wheeler’s mind. He torments her with memories before showing her a vision of future events. “Tell Eleven everything you see,” he says to Nancy. She sees the completion of Vecna’s ritual that creates a massive gate to the Upside Down in Hawkins. But at the very end, we see a clock face with the hands rolling backward.
It’s the same ubiquitous grandfather clock from the Creel home we’ve seen all season. Now, in the previous episode in which we learn the truth about the Hawkins Lab massacre, an adult Henry delivers an ominous speech about his disgust at the work-eat-sleep mentality of petty, regular humans — namely his poor parents.
“I could not close off my mind and join in the madness,” he says. “I could not pretend. And then I realized ... I didn’t have to. I could make my own rules. I could restore balance to a broken world.”
Just as Henry talks about making his own rules, we see a flashback to young Henry using his powers to rewind that same clock. “The fact that that happened last in that sequence of events to come,” this TikTok user theorizes. “I think it means it ties to something we haven't see yet — like time travel in Season 5.”
Does it, though?
The Further Evidence — You could easily argue that a telekinetic boy using his mind to rewind a clock has nothing to do with time itself, but the show has offered plenty of coy hints at time travel over the years.
Season 3 put Back to the Future on full display at the Hawkins mall, which is perhaps the most obvious time travel reference imaginable. But Henry’s sister is also named Alice, and his first kill is a rabbit. TikTok user weej_lr points out that this could be a sly reference to Alice in Wonderland with the rabbit as a nod to the anxious White Rabbit who is paranoid about time in general.
The strongest reference, however, is right at the start of Season 4 in Eleven’s letter to Mike:
“Dear Mike, Today is day 185. Feels more like 10 years. Joyce says time is funny like that. Emotions can make it speed up or slow down. We are all time travelers if you think about it...”
So emotions affect how we perceive the flow of time, which is something we can all relate to. You know what they also affect? Superpowers.
“He found his strength in a memory that made him sad, but also angry,” Henry said to Eleven back when we thought he was a regular orderly. “Do you maybe have a memory like that?” If Season 4 has taught us anything, it’s that strong emotions directly influence Eleven’s powers. Rather than something sad or angry, however, it’s Eleven’s memory of her own birth that helps her defeat Henry after the massacre at Hawkins lab. And her love for Mike helps her control Vecna’s tentacles and win the “mind fight” in the finale — even without using her hand to channel her power.
Who’s to say what even more intense emotions can do? What about time travel?
The Inverse Analysis — As it stands now, Hawkins is on the cusp of a full-on invasion from the Upside Down, and the odds are insurmountable, particularly because Vecna seems almost unkillable. Max is in a coma. Eddie is dead. Mike’s skin is crawling. Even poor Dustin is limping around on a busted ankle.
It seems totally plausible that Season 5 might wind up feeling a lot like X-Men: Days of Future Past or the end of Umbrella Academy Season 1 where the apocalypse is unavoidable, and the only way to avoid certain doom is to rewind time. Eleven actress Millie Bobby Brown referred to series co-creators as “sensitive Sallies” because they haven’t killed off any major characters. But what if the Duffer Brothers about to kill everyone off the show?
That would leave room for a final time travel twist powered by grief and love, one that could feel similar to Donnie Darko’s ending if Eleven’s only option is to rewind time to potentially end her own existence. It would be grim indeed, but it may be the only way for our hero to prevent the inevitable.