Trying to remember what the hell happened on Stranger Things before the third season returns on July 4? We don’t blame you: It’s tough to recall binge shows in detail. Now, there’s no need to comb through episode recaps or season reviews for the main points. Here’s a post and video guide to all the things you need to know before the return of Stranger Things.

The series starts in 1983 in the town of Hawkins, Indiana. It’s a little town with a very big problem (hint: it has to do with a parallel universe). You’ve got your four main characters: Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), and Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). In season two they’re also joined by Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink), the new girl in school. You’ve also got Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer), her friend Barb (Shannon Purser), Will’s older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), and Nancy’s shitty boyfriend-turned-everybody’s favorite haircut Steve Harrington (Joe Keery). Dang, that’s a lot of people.

Then, of course, there’s Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), arguably the most important character on the show. We’ll get to her in a minute.

Will spends most of the first season…gone. Don’t worry, he’s rescued and comes back just a little different. In the first episode of the series, Will is attacked by a mysterious creature, which the boys name the Demogorgon after the Dungeons & Dragons creature. He ends up in a parallel world called the Upside Down. The Upside Down is dark, gross, and very creepy. Lots of dead bodies. Including, eventually, Barb’s.

Justice for Barb.

In typical ‘80s fashion, everyone thinks Will was kidnapped…or ran off. But the boys know something’s wrong, and his mom, Joyce (Winona Ryder), does too—especially since Will finds a way to communicate through the lights in their house. Dad bod Sheriff Hopper (David Harbour) figures it out too, it just takes him a little longer. All the other parents are totally in the dark.

Things get spooky once the boys meet Eleven (real name: Jane), a young girl who escaped from a secret government facility run by her creepy fake-father figure. Eleven likes Eggo waffles and has awesome mental powers. It’s kind of her thing. She was taken from her birth mother by the government to be part of an experiment called Project MK (named after Project MK-Ultra), which was using kids like Eleven to contact the Upside Down and do all sorts of weird stuff. It was because of this government project that the veil between our world and the Upside Down tore open—letting the Demogorgon, and all sorts of other creatures, loose.

What can Eleven do? I think the easier question is what can’t she do. She shows signs of extreme preternatural abilities, and the limits of her powers haven’t begun to be explored yet. We even saw her go on a side quest into the city to gain more information about her powers. Here’s a handy list of some powers she’s demonstrated so far:

  • Telekinesis: the ability to move, change, or reform inanimate objects. For example, she levitates a van and a Millennium Falcon model. Also shows signs of biokinesis, in her ability to hurt or kill other people and creatures using her mind.
  • Levitation: the ability to float above the ground, which she does while closing the Gate at the end of season two.
  • Extrasensory Perception (ESP): the ability to gain knowledge or information through the mind, which she uses to find Will in the Upside Down and communicate with him. Examples of this include telepathy, remote viewing, and “token object reading,” like when she was able to identify Will’s D&D figure before having met him.
  • Portal Creation and Manipulation: the ability to open a portal into the Upside Down and travel into it, this is what causes the veil between the two worlds to open.

At the end of the first season, Eleven banished the Demogorgon, seemingly destroying herself in the process. Spoiler: She didn’t. She’s now living with Hopper, and doing side quests with other Project MK kids to expand her powers to fight—both government agents and monsters alike.

How many creatures have we seen so far? Of course, there’s the Demogorgon, as well as the baby and teenage versions: Dustin’s tiny slug friend D’Artagnan, or Dart, and Demo-dogs, which ate Joyce’s boyfriend Bob (Sean Astin).

Justice for Bob.

There’s also the vines, which spread throughout a bunch of tunnels in Hawkins, and seem to have a mind of their own. Or do they? Because finally, there’s the Mind Flayer. The big boss.

When Will was rescued at the end of season one, he came back with a souvenir. He was possessed by the Mind Flayer, a powerful creature that infected his body like a virus. Hurting the vines and tunnels would, in turn, hurt him. It was up to Will’s family, friends, and the now-likable Steve to get the virus out, and close the gate to the Upside Down, to stop the Mind Flayer from crossing over into our world. Which they did, thanks to a surprise arrival from the superpowered goth celebrity Eleven.

The second season ended with all the kids at the school dance. Eleven’s been adopted by Hopper and is dating Mike. Lucas and Max share a kiss. Will’s…he’s...he’s doing just fine, you guys. But outside, a threat looms. The Mind Flayer is back, and this time it’s not playing around.

Let’s see: What else did we miss? Oh yeah, Lucas’s sister Erica (Priah Ferguson)! She’s there to kick ass and call people nerds. I’m sure there’s a bunch of other details I’m missing. Like Nancy and Jonathan’s side trip to visit a conspiracy theorist in season two, along with Max’s problems with her abusive older brother, Billy (Dacre Montgomery)—who looks to be playing a huge part in the third season. It kind of shows how it’s hard to remember all the little details from binge shows. They come so fast, you don’t have time to remember the specifics. Just the bigger picture.

Upside Down bad. Squad good. Steve and his haircut, best. 

It would be nice if you could step back and watch shows like this one piece at a time. But then, you risk missing out on the conversation. Hopefully we got you caught up! Stranger Things returns with season three on July 4, where we’ll see what everyone gets up to in a Hawkins summer.


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About the author

Germain Lussier

Entertainment Reporter for io9/Gizmodo

Beth Elderkin

Video Editor and Staff Writer at io9. My doppelganger is that rebelling greeting card from Futurama.

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