Stranger Things’ season 3 left viewers with even more questions than they already had after two seasons, and among those is how Eleven lost her powers – but the reason might be linked to the fate of two other characters. The Duffer Brothers’ sci-fi series Stranger Things began its run in 2016 and quickly became one of Netflix’s most popular shows, building a loyal fanbase that has been quite vocal about what they like, what they don’t, and what they want to see.
Stranger Things season 3 was set in the summer of 1985, following the characters as they faced a new threat from the Upside Down as well as the discovery of underground Russian experiments, literally underneath the new Starcourt Mall. It built to a dramatic conclusion, which included the apparent death of Jim Hopper, and Eleven losing her powers.
However, both of these crucial events were very much left open: it's been hinted that Hopper survived, while Eleven's loss of power remains unexplained, but they're likely to return. Since Stranger Things didn't explicitly offer a reason, nor provide conclusive evidence that Hopper was dead, then there have been various theories about what happened, but this theory directly connects the two.
How Eleven’s Powers Work
Eleven was born with powers as a result of her mother’s exposure to hallucinogenic drugs during pregnancy and her time as an MKUltra test subject. These powers were most likely enhanced later on as she was the object of many experiments at Hawkins Lab, under the supervision of Dr. Martin Brenner. Her abilities include telekinesis, extrasensory perception, telepathy and psychometry (both linked to ESP), technopathy, portal manipulation, and memory reading (through contact in the Void). Through practice, Eleven has gained full control of most of these skills, although some of them can still be triggered by her emotions – if she’s under too much stress or intense fear or anger, they can be released or get stronger.
Out of all these powers, the ones she uses the most are telekinesis and portal manipulation (which are most likely linked), and ESP, which she has used to find and spy on other people, from Russian agents to Will Byers when he was trapped in the Upside Down. In Stranger Things season 3, Eleven showed that she had mastered her ESP skills and could enter the Void simply by wearing a blindfold, something she could only achieve at first via sensory deprivation. This particular skill is the core of the theory.
Why Eleven Lost Her Powers
The theory (via Reddit) explains that the reason behind Eleven’s powers suddenly vanishing is so she can’t find Hopper. Eleven’s ability to spy on and look for specific people through ESP and the Void is how she found Will in the Upside Down, how she knew Hopper and Mike were in danger in season 2, and how she discovered what Billy was up to in season 3, among many other examples. At the end of season 2, Eleven was legally adopted by Hopper, and their bond grew stronger in between seasons, with the two of them truly having a father-and-daughter dynamic in season 3. Now, Hopper’s “death” at the end of Stranger Things season 3 was pretty mysterious: there was no body or signs of it, not even ashes, which has made many viewers believe that Hopper is still somehow alive.
Given the strong relationship between Eleven and Hopper, and the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death, it would be an obvious move from Eleven to look for him through the Void – but if she did, there would be no mystery to Hopper’s fate, and season 3’s major hook would be over. By removing her powers, the writers of Stranger Things are helping the story move towards the direction they want/need, and it builds not one, not two, but three big mysteries to be solved in season 4 (or beyond, depending on how much they want fans to suffer): what happened to Eleven’s powers, what happened to Hopper, and where has Dr. Brenner been.
What This Means For Stranger Things Season 4
So, Eleven can’t look for Hopper through ESP/the Void because she doesn’t have those skills anymore – the only hope fans have for Hopper’s return now relies on Stranger Things season 3’s mid-credits scene. In it, it’s revealed that the Russians are still experimenting on the Upside Down and opening portals on the other side of the world, and they have an American prisoner. This gave viewers hope of Hopper’s survival, but it might not be him after all – remember Dr. Brenner? He was attacked by the Demogorgon at the end of season 1, but he was later confirmed to be alive. The author of the theory even points out a scene from season 2 where Kali gets in Eleven’s head and makes Brenner “appear”, pointing out that she never looked for him to confirm he’s dead. By making Brenner the American prisoner, Stranger Things would also explain how the Russians knew about the Upside Down and the gates in Hawkins (and why they haven’t killed him).
However, this doesn’t mean that Hopper is dead – he’s trapped in the Upside Down. With seemingly no way out, Hopper’s only hope to survive was to escape through the Upside Down, thus getting trapped there. To support this part of the theory, another Reddit user pointed out that, after Joyce turns the keys to close the gate, right before it cuts to the Russian scientists being killed by the ray, Hopper was not where he was supposed to be, meaning that he did find a way out at the last second, and it was quite possibly through the gate before it was closed. That's why so much focus was made of keeping "the door open three inches", which were his final words to Eleven, because it was really a clue about the gate and his survival.
With Hopper trapped in the Upside Down and Eleven powerless, how could he come back? That’s where it all gets tricky. It seems like the only way to bring Hopper back if he’s in the Upside Down would be through Eleven – after all, she was the one who opened the gate in the first place, so she can easily do that again. But her powers are gone, and it’s unknown how and if she can get them back. This is where Brenner could actually be helpful, if he manages to escape from Russia and go back to Hawkins. Maybe the Russians return to Hawkins to re-open the portal and bring Brenner with them to avoid mistakes and infiltrations like last time, and he somehow contacts Eleven (who moved out of Hawkins with the Byers) as she’s still his main and strongest “weapon”, because he obviously doesn’t know she lost her powers.
It’s also possible that the reason within the series for Eleven’s loss is as simple as exhaustion, as she overused her powers through season 3 (and her last showdown with the Mind Flayer was pretty intense), so they can come back, although slowly, in season 4. Once her powers are back, she can venture back to the Upside Down to rescue Hopper – but because this is Stranger Things, this new portal to the other dimension will bring other consequences, not to mention all the damage Hopper will have after his time there. Perhaps the best part of this theory (besides all the details that support it), is that having Hopper trapped in the Upside Down is the perfect excuse to go back to it in season 4, as there’s still a lot to discover about that obscure dimension.