[This article contains SPOILERS for Stranger Things season 1.]
Netflix's recent foray into '80s nostalgia-fueled sci-fi horror, the Duffer Brothers' Stranger Things, is eight episodes of "really dark Amblin" with inspiration from Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, and Stephen King. The series follows residents of a small Indiana town who investigate the disappearance of a young boy. Stranger Things kicks off with the mystery of what happened to Will Byer (Noah Schnapp), but as the season goes along, it becomes clear the answer to that particular puzzle is darker and more complicated than anyone in Hawkins, Indiana expected -- least of all Will's three best friends Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) who discover a girl named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) in the middle of the woods.
In the season 1 finale, 'Chapter Eight: The Upside Down,' Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) and Chief Hopper (David Harbour) travel into the Upside Down through the Hawkins National Laboratory in their search to find Will and bring him home. Plus, Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), and Steve (Joe Keery) attempt to take down the Demogorgon, while Eleven and the boys make their final stand against Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine). The episode ends with a sequence picking up one month after Will is rescued and the Demogorgon is defeated, with certain loose ends being tied up and others left hanging.
Now, if you're not quite sure what to make of the Stranger Things season 1 finale, we break down the Demogorgon, Eleven, the Upside Down, and the epilogue of 'Chapter Eight: The Upside Down,' as well as what it could mean for the show's, as of yet unannounced, second season.
Eleven's Final Stand
The story behind Eleven and her involvement with Dr. Brenner as well as the Hawkins Lab unfolded slowly over the course of Stranger Things' first season, with it being revealed that she possessed powerful telekinetic powers. The extent of El's powers was also a gradual reveal, building up to her final showdown with first a hallway full of Dr. Brenner's people -- who she killed through the same means as the lab assistants earlier in the season -- then with the Demogorgon in order to save her friends.
In Eleven's final stand against the Demogorgon, she's in a weakened state given her time in the homemade sensory deprivation tank searching for Will's location (which occurs during the penultimate episode, 'Chapter Seven: The Bathtub') and her attack on Brenner's associates. Then, when Eleven destroys the Demogorgon -- breaking the beast down into particles of matter -- she's enveloped in the destruction and disappears. It's unclear what happens to El, whether she was destroyed along with the Demogorgon or if she was transported elsewhere, such as another dimension.
It was established throughout season 1 that El's powers weaken her, causing some kind of physical damage to her brain as evidenced by her nosebleeds and the blood coming out of her ears during her stand against the Demogorgon. So, it's possible her use of her powers to defeat the Demogorgon caused her body irreparable damage. Certainly, considering Eleven turns back to her friends and specifically says goodbye to Mike, she believes in that scene she plans to push the limits of her telekinetic powers potentially to the point of death in order to defeat the beast.
That said, it's more likely Eleven was transported to another dimension through or with the Demogorgon. We know the creature retreats to the Upside Down when it's injured since that's what it did following Nancy, Jonathan, and Steve's attack. But, we don't know what happens to a Demogorgon when it dies. Eleven's powers target a living being from the inside (the bully's broken bone, the brains of Brenner's people), but the Demogorgon reacted differently by disintegrating into the particles of matter -- and there's no precedence within Stranger Things for what those particles are or a Demogorgon on the brink of death is capable of. Perhaps it returned to the Upside Down, or it traveled to an entirely new dimension, and carried El along with it -- this seems the most likely since the cloud of Demogorgon particles envelop El prior to her disappearance.
After searching the entire season for Will, Joyce and Hopper head into the Upside Down, where they know the child to be, using protective biohazard suits from the Hawkins Lab. Although Will's rescue seems straightforward enough -- and the emotional weight of the scene draws upon Joyce's season-long arc as well as Hopper's flashbacks throughout the episode -- this is the viewers' longest look at the Upside Down in season 1. By the end of 'Chapter Eight,' Will is one of four characters who have traveled to the Upside Down and returned to their home dimension -- with the others being Joyce, Hopper, and Nancy.
Additionally, though the Upside Down is explained through the boys' knowledge of Dungeons & Dragons and its Shadow Realm, there is still plenty we don't know about it. Particularly, we don't know what the growths on the walls and streets are, what they were doing with Will, or whether they were controlled by the Demogorgon. Since Stranger Things largely explores the Upside Down through the main characters, and they know very little about the dimension, viewers are left with more questions than answers about this particular aspect of the show.
That being said, there is one scene in Hopper and Joyce's trek through the Upside Down that offers a specific tease: Hopper investigating what appears to be a hatched egg. It's unclear if the egg is where the Demogorgon came from -- though that seems unlikely since El faced the Demogorgon prior to opening the gate to the Upside Down and it would be strange to show viewers the egg at this point in time if it's simply to explain that the beast came from an egg. But, if the egg isn't where the Demogorgon came from, then that begs the question of what exactly hatched from it. It could be another Demogorgon or another creature entirely.
The final sequence of 'Chapter Eight' features a time jump that sees the boys back to leading a Dungeons & Dragons campaign -- this time with Lucas, Will, and Dustin on the same page about throwing a fireball. A brief shot of the bulletin board in the police station wraps up Will's disappearance through a series of newspaper clippings with the headlines: "The Boy Who Came Back to Life," "Hawkins Lab Blocks Inquiry," "More Heads Roll in Ongoing State Trooper Scandal," and "Coroner Arrested For Falsifying Autopsy."
All in all, the epilogue returns Stranger Things back to a status quo of Hawkins, Indiana: Nancy is with Steve, though they give Jonathan a replacement camera; the Byers return to life as usual in their now-fixed home; Hopper is still gruff and teasing with his coworkers. However, there are two brief glimpses outside the status quo: Hopper leaving a container of food in the forest along with some Eggo waffles, as well as Will coughing up a slug and having a vision of the Upside Down.
Since Hopper leaves a couple Eggo waffles in what appears to be the type of box used by campers to protect food from animals, it would seem he either knows Eleven is still out there somewhere, or he believes/hopes she is. Prior to the time jump, Hopper is seen getting into a car with some of the Hawkins Lab employees. Though it's unclear what that was in regard to, it may be that he worked out some kind of new deal with them (aside from the deal that they let him and Joyce go after Will in return for their silence). Still, this scene offers hope that Eleven is still alive.
As for Will's vision, it would seem that his time in the Upside Down -- which was roughly a week -- has affected him. Of all the characters that traveled to the dimension and returned home, he spent the most time there and since the Hawkins Lab technicians told Joyce and Hopper that the air their is toxic, it's clear there will be lasting effects on the boy. Still, between the slug he coughed up and the vision, it remains to be seen how exactly those effects will alter Will going forward -- with the effects get worse or better over time?
Looking Ahead to Season 2
Although season 1 of Stranger Things wrapped up its overarching mystery -- the disappearance of Will -- and the Demogorgon monster was defeated, the main characters (and, by extension, the viewers) still don't have very much knowledge about the Upside Down, the creature, or the extent of Eleven's powers. As a result, though we may have the answer to one question, 'Chapter Eight' leaves plenty more to be explored in season 2. In fact, in an interview with Variety, the Duffer Brothers revealed that was the point to the finale: "By the end of the show they don’t know or understand everything. That is purposeful."
So, the Stranger Things finale purposefully left viewers with questions, but the showrunners are planning to explore those questions in upcoming seasons. Additionally, the showrunners have said there will be a time jump between seasons 1 and 2 (that is, if Netflix renews the show, though it seems incredibly likely the streaming service will do so). Viewers will return to the characters roughly a year after the events of season 1.
The time jump will allow Stranger Things to pick up with somewhat of a blank slate since it will have been so long since Will's disappearance and return. But, considering the conflict with Hawkins Lab, the whereabouts of Eleven, and the existence of the Upside Down still have yet to be resolved, it's likely the show will explore these sci-fi aspects going forward -- and hopefully provide another season of compelling and entertaining TV in the process.
Stranger Things season 1 is currently streaming on Netflix.