I want you to know that I love Stranger Things. Plucky kids uncovering government secrets and fighting monsters from alternate dimensions, all wrapped up in nostalgia? I can not get enough.
Do I have a bone to pick with the end of the show? I think it's time for me to officially pick that bone with Season 4 of the smash hit coming soon. Chief Jim Hopper should have died.
If you will, remember July of 2019. It was a perfect summer binge because of the release of Stranger Things 3. I watched the season unfold with interest and cried when Hopper died under Starcourt Mall.
I was surprised by the post-credits scene. We are in a Russian prison, where guards unleash Demogorgons on prisoners. One of the guards refers to an unseen prisoner known as "the American", a line that quickly led fans to theorize that Hopper wasn't dead.
I thought it was surely not. In the first season of the show, Will died as part of a government cover-up. They kept the fate of Eleven a mystery, but it was clear to the audience that she was alive. There was no way that this trick would be used again in a less interesting way.
There was a nagging feeling that there was a grain of truth to the theories about Hopper. His storylines with Joyce and Eleven felt unfinished.
In February of 2020 a tease confirmed that Hopper was still alive and imprisoned in Russia. The new trailers for the fourth season of Stranger Things show Hopper fighting Demogorgons in a club called the Upside Down fight club, which sounds pretty cool. The fact that Hopper should be dead doesn't change. He was in a massive explosion and couldn't have survived. This choice does disservice to your story.
Hopper returns in "Stranger Things 4." But should he? Credit: Courtesy of Netflix
The aftermath of Hopper's death was upsetting and poignant. The scene in which she read a letter Hopper had left her was crushing. The death of Hopper was the final straw for Joyce, as she had suffered a long string of painful memories related to Hawkins. It was a bold ending that completely changed the course of the series, and I was impressed that the show was willing to take that risk.
The risk I thought was taken by the show was cheapened by faking Hopper's death. The show chose the classic franchise cop-out: Kill a beloved character to elicit an emotional reaction, but don't actually commit hard enough to follow through. Glenn in The Walking Dead, Jon Snow in Game of Throne, and Loki in The Dark World are just some of the examples.
Faking us out with Hopper's death cheapened the risk I thought "Stranger Things" had taken.
The emotional resonance of Hopper's death is undermined by not killing him. Hopper will be in danger in the fourth season of Stranger Things. Why would a fake-murdered character be killed by the show? You want me to believe that they will put us through the whole, and Hopper died again? No way. For the foreseeable future, that man is still alive. If they kill him again, it will not have the same effect as when they killed him the first time. It will feel like another "gotcha" moment, as well as a retread of one of the show's laziest decisions.
Hopper is still alive and well. Not really. I hope the Duffer Brothers are able to correct their mistake after making the sheriff an entitled rage monster for much of Season 3. I was disappointed that the show wouldn't stick to it. I don't want a show that uses cheap tactics, I want a good story with meaningful stakes. It is hoped that the 4th season of Stranger Things will deliver on that front.