Warning: this story contains major spoilers from the Stranger Things season 3 finale.
By the time the credits started rolling, Stranger Things season 3 had ended with a satisfying conclusion for each character. They had all suffered losses with Chief Hopper (David Harbour) and Billy (Dacre Montgomery) sacrificing themselves to close the gate to the Upside Down and stop the Mind Flayer’s monster from killing everyone. But there was hope in their grief three months later, as Joyce (Winona Ryder), Will (Noah Schnapp), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) packed up and moved to a new town, hopefully with less Upside Down attacks and mysterious deaths and monsters running around (especially with El no longer having superpowers). Sure, the move complicated a lot of romantic relationships and friendships, but it was something the characters needed for a fresh start. As Peter Gabriel’s cover of “Heroes” played, tearful goodbyes were shared and Joyce literally closed the door on the old Byers home, signaling the end of something big.
But then Stranger Things did something completely new. A post-credits scene treated fans who stuck around, introducing a cliffhanger the promises even more Stranger Things in the future despite that seemingly definitive ending. We were taken to the Russians’ base in Kamchatka, where soldiers have trapped a demogorgon and are feeding it prisoners. While passing by all the cells in the bunker, one of the Russians is told, “Not the American,” and instead they take a Russian prisoner down to be eaten by the demogorgon.
Who is the American? The most obvious theory is that it’s Hopper. It’s unlikely Stranger Things would kill off its most popular and beloved character, and Hopper had been referred to by the Russians all season long as “the American.” Plus, his body is never shown when he “dies” which is classic TV proof that he’s not actually dead. All the Russians near the gate are shown to be turned into dust, but why not show Hopper’s emotional death? Because he either jumped into the Upside Down through the gate before it closed to save his own life (and somehow ended up being captured by the Russians and held in their base three months later) or he somehow survived the explosion, was knocked out and the Russians found him when clearing out of the base, taking him to their new base in Kamchatka.
Even subtle throwaway thoughts from Stranger Things stars like Brown have given us pause in declaring Hopper dead. When speaking with EW, Brown described filming the moment Eleven reads Hopper’s posthumous letter. “The way I reacted was pure devastation and sadness, and a distraught child that just lost her father or so she thinks,” she said. Those last four words are pretty telling! It’s just further proof that Hopper isn’t dead and is just being held in the Russian bunker against his will.
But hear us out: what if the American isn’t Hopper? Take into account his final words in his letter to El: “Keep the door open three inches.” Is he talking about the door to the Upside Down? Is he actually stuck in that dark dimension, and his letter was foreshadowing his fate? And if Hopper is stuck in the Upside Down, who is in that Russian bunker? Let’s take a look at all the theories of who the American could be aside from Hopper.
Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser)
The Hawkins gang sure could have used Dr. Owens a lot sooner than when he showed up at the very end of season 3, after all the action had died down. That military backup would have been extremely useful! He’s presumably there to clean up and help cover up the Starcourt Mall battle aftermath, but what if, when the Russians cleaned out the bunker, they stayed behind to kidnap any US government officials who showed up? Dr. Owens, a high-ranking official, could be great leverage for the Russians to have, since he knows so much about the Upside Down.
Okay yes: in TV rules, we saw Billy’s death and his dead body so that means he really did die. But what if, through whatever the Mind Flayer did to him in season 3, he was able to be resurrected? The Russians’ obsession with the Upside Down and bringing the Mind Flayer into our world would mean that whatever happened to Billy would be of extreme interest to them. Weirder things have happened!
Mayor Larry Kline (Cary Elwes)
The disgraced and corrupt mayor of Hawkins was rightfully booted from office and slapped into handcuffs for working with the Russians. Because of his close ties with the Russians (and presumably the information he had on them), it would make sense for the Russians to want to lock him down and make sure that he was never able to talk again. And instead of feeding him to the demogorgon, they could use him for leverage down the line.
Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman)
At the end of season 3, Murray was clearly shown escaping the bunker with Joyce. But what if the Russians tracked him to his now-exposed hideout and kidnapped him because of how much he knew about their plans, thanks to Alexei (Alec Utgoff)? Murray knows too much, both about the Russians and the Upside Down. He’d be useful in whatever they’re planning next.
Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine)
Another presumed “death” that is easily explained away is that of Dr. Brenner, aka the man responsible for “raising” Eleven through torture. He was attacked by the demogorgon in season 1, but an Easter egg and confirmation in season 2 introduced the idea that Brenner actually survived. Since Brenner knew so much about the Upside Down to the point where he had actually run successful experiments with it, he’d be exactly the kind of asset the Russians would want for their own experiments.
Any psychic numbered sibling
We already met one of Eleven’s psychic siblings back in season 2, and many fans assumed that more would be introduced in season 3. Alas, we didn’t meet any other psychic numbered siblings this season but that doesn’t mean we won’t in the future. Could the Russians have found and kidnapped one of El’s siblings to use for their own purposes? What if this mysterious sibling holds the key to helping El get her own powers back? That would certainly give season 4 a much more personal feel by connecting it back to El’s past and helping her with her future. Or if the Russians’ imprisonment and torture of this sibling turned them dark, that would certainly make for a fascinating villain for El to face.
Stranger Things season 3 is now streaming in full on Netflix.