‘Stranger Things’ Season 1 Recap: The Origin Story

Let’s go all the way back to the beginning

Season 1 of the Duffer brothers’ “Stranger Things” captured the attention of many when it premiered back in 2016. Drawing on the quintessential 80s films of directors like Steven Spielberg, the story takes place in Hawkins, Indiana and centers around a group of four friends, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin). The boys band together over similar interests like science, physics and Dungeons & Dragons, a fantasy board game that can take hours to play.

With Season 4 dropping very soon (and the kids nearly all grown up), it might be helpful to look back at the plot points of the first season to refresh your memory as we hope to learn more about the Upside Down and what challenges await.

Here’s what happened in “Stranger Things” Season 1:

Will Goes Missing

Season 1 introduces us to Will, Mike, Dustin and Lucas, also known as The Party, who take their Dungeons & Dragons very seriously. Mike is running the campaign from his basement, and he unknowingly introduces the season’s villain: the Demogorgon, and the boys freak out. When curfew hits, Will, Lucas and Dustin board their bicycles to ride home, but Will encounters a creature on his way home that changes his life and many lives he touches. All that remains of Will is his fallen bicycle on the side of the road.

The Search for Will

Once Joyce reports Will missing, large search parties gather to scour the woods for him. His friends go looking for him too, but they find a mysterious girl with a shaved head, wearing what looks like a hospital gown, near where Will went missing. The girl, who the boys name Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) has the number 011 tattooed on her wrist. Mike proposes they shelter her in his basement since people are after her, and she discovers she loves Eggos. Earlier on in the show, Eleven is on the run and appears at Benny’s, a local kitchen/diner in Hawkins, and owner Benny cooks her up some grub which she ferociously eats. The people chasing Eleven track her there, and while she escapes, they kill Benny, but make it look like he killed himself. 

The Older Siblings Get Involved

Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), Mike’s older sister, is dating the coolest guy in school Steve Harrington (Joe Keery). One night, Steve invites her over to his house with some friends, and she brings her friend Barb (Shannon Purser). After jumping in the pool, Steve takes Nancy upstairs for a change of clothes, and they end up fooling around. Barb is left to entertain herself downstairs, and blood dripping from the cut on her finger draws an unseen predator who drags Barb down into the Upside Down’s version of Steve’s pool.

Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) was out in the woods taking film photos when he heard Nancy, Steve and Co., and he captured some admittedly creepy shots of Nancy upstairs in Steve’s room. Later, Steve rips up Jonathan’s photos, but Jonathan and Nancy put them back together once they join forces in looking for Will, and they see the Demogorgon in the corner of one picture.

Joyce Communicates with Will

Joyce gets the brilliant idea to hang Christmas lights up on her wall and paint the alphabet beneath singular bulbs, so that Will can spell things out for her from the Upside Down. When she asks him where he is, he says “Right here” but she doesn’t know how to get to him, and then he tells her to “Run” and the Demogorgon, which Joyce has been seeing try to get through the walls of her house, rips through successfully this time, and she runs away.

Hopper and The Hawkins Lab’s Involvement

Sheriff Hopper (David Harbour) may not look like the most aware person, but he starts to notice some inconsistencies, and with his help, Joyce’s sanity remains intact. When other police officers find a body that looks like Will in the lake of the gorge, his friends think it’s over and that he died. But when Joyce asks to see the body later at the coroner’s office, she is forcefully brought back out of the room saying that it is not her son. Hopper sneaks into the room where the body is being held, and he verifies that it is indeed, not Will (and not even a real human body.) Hopper later investigates the Hawkins Lab itself and slowly discovers what is really going on in relation to Will and people disappearing.

Nancy Experiences the Upside Down

One night out in the woods, Nancy and Jonathan go investigating near Steve’s backyard, and they see a rabbit killed and eaten, disappearing (into the Upside Down). Nancy then finds an entrance into the alternate dimension, where she witnesess the Demogorgon. In a harrowing escape from the Upside Down through a closing gate, Jonathan pulls Nancy close, which doesn’t look too good for Steve.

Dr. Brenner on the Scene

Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) finally shows face since Eleven escaped the lab, and his henchmen lurk around where the kids can be seen in their fake Hawkins power and lighting vans. Once they locate Eleven, they chase after her, but she shows her telekinetic powers and flips a whole van over the heads of her and her friends. Eleven knows Dr. Brenner as “Papa” because he influenced her inclination toward these powers by persuading her mother (Terry Ives) to undergo experiments while she was pregnant, and he raised Eleven in a lab — which explains a lot of her silent, on-edge personality. Later in the season, Eleven remembers that she found the Demogorgon and made contact with it, tearing a hole in between the dimensions which later turned into a gate that the scientists continued to poke, prod and study. 

Balance Restored… For Now

With the help of Eleven’s cross-dimensional tracking powers, with which she locates Will, Joyce and Hopper go into The Upside Down through the crack at the lab to find him, barely alive and being fed on by some sort of tentacle extension of the Upside Down. They cut the tendril loose, and get him out of there. Nancy and Jonathan distract the Demogorgon, luring it to Joyce’s house and burning it. Steve helps with that too. Then the Demogorgon chases the other three boys through Hawkins Middle School, and Eleven has an epic showdown with it, disintegrating it and disappearing in the process. Mike has a crush on Eleven so he is devastated, as it is assumed she died or went back into the Upside Down with the creature.

A month later, it’s Christmastime, and Hopper is spotted stashing treats in some sort of outdoor box, placing Eggos on top of the tupperware. Will gets up to go to the bathroom, where he coughs up the end of the tentacle that was lodged down his throat when Joyce and Hopper found him in the Upside Down.

Here’s everything we know about “Stranger Things” Season 4.