The ending of Stranger Things 2 explained

Before we start, you can definitely expect a lot of spoilers here. If you haven't finished watching Stranger Things 2, you might want to take care of that first!

The second season of Stranger Things wrapped about as neatly as you could hope for what's essentially a nine-hour movie. Hawkins, Indiana is once again safe from the threat of the Upside Down, and Mike and Eleven finally got that dance. We're still hurting inside for Bob, but the rest of the cast made it through the season with nothing worse than a broken nose and a few bruised egos. Still, those last few episodes came and went like a lightning strike, so let's take a moment to slow it down and look at some of the finer points of what happened at the end of Stranger Things 2.

Looming shadow

Let's start with the interdimensional elephant in the room—the Shadow Monster, a.k.a. the Mind Flayer. The final frames of the last episode essentially act as a promise for Season 3, reminding us that even though the immediate threat from the Shadow Monster was stopped when Eleven closed the gate, he's still out there in the Upside Down, looming over Hawkins. It wasn't quite the cliffhanger we got in the first season, with a freshly rescued Will still tormented by visions and coughing slugs into the sink, but it proves that the Mind Flayer isn't quite finished with our heroes.

As showrunner Ross Duffer explained it: "They've shut the door on the Mind Flayer, but not only is it still there in the Upside Down, it's very much aware of the kids, and particularly Eleven. It had not encountered her and her powers until that final episode. Now, it knows that she's out there."

So he may have been contained, but he's far from defeated. And if he found a way into our world once, chances are he'll be able to do it again, gate or no gate. As we saw several times in Season 1—such as when the demogorgon broke through the wall of the school—the membrane between the worlds isn't particularly strong.

We can probably expect a big portion of Season 3 to deal with the Shadow Monster, and hopefully we'll finally get some answers at the same time. Like, what the heck is it?

Closing the gate

Thanks to Eleven, the gate between Hawkins and the Upside Down is definitively closed…or at least as definitively as anything can be in Stranger Things. We also got our clearest glimpse of the Shadow Monster when Eleven directly held back one of itss tentacles as it pushed through the gate. With the gate closed, all of the Shadow Monster's influence over our world is apparently cut off as well. We see the demodogs go limp and drop down the tunnel, lifeless, and the vines in the tunnel shrivel up like a freshly pruned cucumber. Like we mentioned, that doesn't necessarily mean the Shadow Monster can't find a way back in, although it's possible that the barrier between the worlds is back to its normal strength without the influence of the main gate. 

Super Eleven

Closing the gate is, without a doubt, the most powerful act Eleven has pulled off so far. Over the course of two seasons, we've seen her abilities grow steadily, and it's also apparent that she's much more comfortable with the humdrum, everyday acts of telekinesis—she doesn't get a nosebleed anymore with every little door she slams shut, for example. But closing the gate clearly pushed Eleven to her limits—and revealed some more of her true power. She caused the power to surge all over Hawkins, not just in her immediate vicinity. Also, there's that whole floating thing.

What's unclear—and potentially extremely important—is whether Eleven is channeling her rage or exorcising it in that moment. Through the use of flash cuts, we know that she's focusing on some of the darkest moments from her past, and earlier in the season Kali tried to get her to use her anger as the source of her power. Is that what she's doing when she fights back the Shadow Monster? Or is she releasing all that rage once and for all? We think it's the latter, but we'll have to wait until Season 3 to know for sure.

Broken hive mind

Whatever the Shadow Monster is, it's probably safe to think of it as the queen bee in a hive, albeit on a much more sophisticated level. The Monster controls everything around it through a collective consciousness, from the demodogs to the vines spreading out underneath Hawkins. Presumably, this guy had control of the demogorgon in Season 1 as well, even though it wasn't introduced until this season.

It's a pretty scary setup, as we see near the end of the season. At a moment's notice, the Shadow Monster can send an army of killer demodogs anywhere in Hawkins to eviscerate anyone. But we're also led to believe that it doesn't have perfect control over its minions, either. When Dustin runs into his pet demodog, Dart, in the tunnels, Dart lets the kids pass, proving it can break the Shadow Monster's control if it wants to. That's an important detail that may very well come into play in the third season. Hopefully, the kids will have plenty of candy bars handy.

Cooking the virus

While Hopper and Eleven head to the Hawkins lab to shut the gate, Joyce, Jonathan, and Nancy go to Hopper's cabin with a comatose Will and turn up the heat on the thing living inside him—literally. It all goes back to "Chapter 4: Will the Wise," when the "virus" in Will won't let him get into a warm bath because, as Will explains, "He likes it cold."

"He" is the Shadow Monster, or at least the part of it that got all up inside Will in Chapter 3. By using all those heaters, Joyce, Jonathan, and Nancy are trying to sweat it out of Will like a fever. But they're also saving Will's life. If that thing was still inside Will when Eleven shut the gate, there's a good chance Will would have died along with the rest of the Shadow Monster's hive mind. We know Hopper was waiting for Jonathan's signal to prevent exactly that, but would he have waited forever?

Tunnel distraction

Of course, the rest of the kids—Mike, Dustin, Lucas, Max, and Steve—aren't idle during the climax. Instead of waiting at the Byers house as ordered, they head out to the pumpkin patch to distract the Shadow Monster while Eleven and Hopper work their way toward the gate in Hawkins Lab. Their plan: just set a bunch of stuff on fire and hope the Shadow Monster sends all the demodogs their way. Yeah, not exactly the best plan in the world, but it works—maybe even better than they expected. The timing could have been a total coincidence—we'll grant that—but the moment they set the tunnels on fire just happens to be the same moment the Shadow Monster finally leaves Will.

The truth is out...sort of

During the epilogue, set one month after the events of the climax, we see a string of government trucks leaving a now-locked Hawkins Lab, while a news anchor voiceover explains that the government admitted to killing Barbara in Season 1. Outside the lab compound, a gleeful Murray Bauman (the conspiracy guy) waves goodbye to the military trucks.

So Jonathan and Nancy's plan worked—they got the truth about Hawkins Lab out to the public. And also like they planned, it wasn't the whole truth. Not by a long shot. Instead of announcing that Barbara was killed by a monster that came through an interdimensional rift at the lab, the news claims she was accidentally poisoned by an "experimental chemical asphyxiant." Because as Bauman explained in Chapter 5, sometimes you have to water down the truth to make people believe it.

The upshot is the same, however: by all appearances, Hawkins Lab is closed for good. Finally, the citizens of Hawkins get go about their lives without the government spying on everything they do