Warning: Spoilers for Stranger Things 3 below. Read at your own risk.
It wouldn’t be a season of Stranger Things without a finale that asks heart-wrenching and mind-boggling questions. Are Indiana’s Demogorgons permanently gone? Where is the Byers family moving, and will they come back to Hawkins, IN? Is Hopper dead for real? And, just when it looked like our eight-hour binges were done, Netflix decided to bring us to Kamchatka, Russia for a post-credits scene that made everything even more confusing. Now, fans are speculating that Hopper is actually alive. But...is he?
In the last five minutes of season 3, we see the Soviets torturing prisoners in Russia. After eight episodes of non-stop drama, we now know that the Russians were in control of a secret base in Hawkins, working to reopen the Upside Down. Even though that base was supposedly destroyed, this final glimpse shows us that there’s at least one other, too. This one is hosting Demogorgons and a bunch of prisoners, including one mysteriously dubbed “the American.” The American is spared in the final moments of the clip, with the Soviets opting to feed a different prisoner to a Demogorgon.
Many fans are hoping that the American is Hopper, and the theory definitely carries some weight. During the battle at Starcourt Mall, he appears to die while heroically trying to shut down the Hawkins base. But, he doesn’t die on screen — he just disappears as the portal closing turns all the humans in its path to dust. We all know that Stranger Things doesn’t typically shy away from gory, violent deaths. (R.I.P. Barb.) It makes sense that a mysterious Russian machine might not murder Hopper, but, instead, somehow send him to Kamchatka. Stranger things have definitely happened.
The other plausible possibility is that the American is Dr. Brenner, the evil scientist/Eleven’s “papa” from season one. For the past two seasons, many online fans have speculated that Dr. Brenner likely isn’t gone for good, and in season two, we even saw El team up with her sister Kali/Eight to try to uncover the truth — with Ray Carroll, an old employee of Dr. Brenner’s, telling the two that their “papa” was probably still alive. We didn’t hear anything about Brenner this season, but Stranger Things usually doesn’t leave storylines hanging: it’s likely that, in some shape or form, Dr. Brenner might return.