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The Entire Stranger Things Timeline Explained

In 2016, a TV series arrived that managed to harness our cravings for 1980s nostalgia and elaborate science fiction continuity at the same time. Stranger Things is an intoxicating mix of the familiar and the new, giving us equal parts Steven Spielberg blockbuster adventure and 21st century meta-textual pop culture fun at the same time. It's also, over the course of three seasons, become a show with an elaborate in-story universe that, at this point, spans nearly two decades. 

Whether you're a devoted fan of the show just looking for a refresher, or a casual fan looking for a point of reference, we're taking some time to dig into the whole complex history of the town of Hawkins, Indiana's association with the dark dimension known as the Upside Down, from the first experiments conducted at Hawkins Lab to the Battle of Starcourt and beyond. This is the entire Stranger Things timeline explained. SPOILERS AHEAD for all three seasons of Stranger Things!

The experiment begins

The chain of events that kicked off what we know as Stranger Things actually began more than a decade before the series itself, according to the tie-in novel Suspicious Minds. In 1969, Dr. Martin Brenner arrives at Hawkins National Laboratory in Hawkins, Indiana with a little girl he designated 008. The girl, whose real name was Kali, had been taken from her home after she showed the potential to manifest extraordinary abilities, namely the ability to alter the perception of those around her. 

Dr. Brenner comes to Hawkins to oversee the MKUltra program, which dosed test subjects with hallucinogenic drugs in an effort to manifest superhuman abilities. Upon his arrival in Hawkins, Dr. Brenner overhauls the program completely, dismissing the test subjects already at the laboratory and implementing a new, more stringent screening process for future candidates. 

It's through this new screening process that he eventually meets Terry Ives, who took part in MKUltra trials at Hawkins in the early 1970s. Though she apparently didn't know it at the time, Terry was pregnant when the trials began. When he discovers this, Dr. Brenner hatches a plan to take control of Terry's eventual baby at all costs.

A desperate mother

After undergoing MKUltra trials that included hallucinogenic dosing and time in a sensory deprivation tank, Terry Ives gives birth to a daughter she would have called Jane. Brenner immediately orchestrates a coverup, claiming that Terry had actually miscarried late in her third trimester before she was eventually discharged from the trials. Terry is convinced that she'd had a baby and Brenner is keeping it secret, though even her sister Becky doesn't believe her. Terry files lawsuits in an attempt to get information, but her efforts fail.

Around 1974, Terry attempts to infiltrate Hawkins Lab, using her knowledge of its layout from previous time spent there, and steal her baby back. She's apprehended and, in an effort to keep her baby secret, Brenner subjects her to intense electro-convulsive therapy before releasing her back to her sister in a vegetative state. For the rest of her life Terry can only repeat the sequence of events leading up to her capture on an endless loop. 

With Terry out of the way and his coverup seemingly secure, Brenner continues to groom her daughter, who he dubs 011, by forming a father-daughter bond with her and urging her to call him "Papa." At some point in the 1970s, Kali manages to escape Hawkins Lab and flee to Chicago, where she forms a chosen family of misfits and sets out to exact vengeance on anyone tied to the MKUltra program.

An opportunity

In the years after her birth, as the '70s turn into the '80s, Brenner continues frequent testing of 011's abilities, which ultimately include both telekinesis and telepathy. He starts small, asking her to use her mind to crush a can of Coca-Cola, which she's able to do with the only apparent side effect being a small nosebleed. He attempts to push her further by asking her to use the same ability on a living cat, and when she refuses he attempts to confine her to a locked cell. When she resists, Eleven accidentally kills two guards with her mind, inadvertently granting Brenner a successful test of her telekinesis on living tissue. 

Next come more advanced tests of her telepathy, which begin by asking Eleven to listen to the thoughts of a man elsewhere in the lab. She's able to not only hear him, but to broadcast what he's saying over the lab loudspeakers. Brenner then pushes further, putting Eleven in a sensory deprivation tank to test the limits of her eavesdropping ability. With this method she's able to see and hear a Russian soldier in the black void she saw in her mind while in isolation. When pushed even further, she makes contact with a strange monster, apparently from another world. Brenner, intrigued by this, wants to dig deeper.

The vanishing of Will Byers

On November 6, 1983, Eleven is tasked with making contact with the monster again. The mission goes wrong, and Eleven accidentally opens a gate between dimensions, allowing the creature to break loose and kill scientists within Hawkins Lab before escaping. In the chaos, Eleven also manages to flee the lab and seeks shelter at a local diner, triggering a wide search for her during which government agents are constantly covering their tracks, on Brenner's orders. 

The monster, later dubbed the Demogorgon, flees into the woods around Hawkins, and ultimately abducts a young boy, Will Byers, who's on his way home after a game of Dungeons & Dragons with his friends Mike Wheeler, Dustin Henderson, and Lucas Sinclair. The Hawkins community begins an intensive search for Will, but it is ultimately his mother, Joyce, who discovers he's seemingly in another dimension after noticing he can seemingly manipulate electronics and lights in her house. As the search for Will begins, another local, Barbara "Barb" Holland, is abducted by the Demogorgon during a party at another home near the woods. 

Will and Barb are both taken to the Demogorgon's home dimension, a dark place that the Hawkins kids will later dub "The Upside Down." Meanwhile, the hunt for Eleven continues, as government agents ruthlessly search for her, killing witnesses to tie up loose ends, including the kindly owner of a local diner who gave her food and tried to call Child Protective Services.

New friends

The murder in the diner combined with Will Byers' disappearance leads the local police chief, Jim Hopper, to begin investigating in earnest. Eleven, still on the run, meets up with Mike, Dustin, and Lucas, and is ultimately able to convince them that she can help find Will. 

Brenner and his government cronies, hoping to continue to engineer a dramatic cover-up as they search for Eleven, fake Will's death by planting a dummy body in a local reservoir. Everyone believes it's really Will except for Joyce and Eleven. Eleven succeeds in convincing Mike by using her eavesdropping powers to project his voice from the Upside Down, while Hopper follows Joyce's suspicion to the morgue and discovers the body is full of cotton. He decides to infiltrate the Hawkins Lab to find out what's really going on, and briefly glimpses the gate before he's knocked unconscious and returned to his home under government surveillance in the form of a hidden microphone which he tears the house apart to find. 

Hopper researches the lab and finds evidence of Terry Ives and the MKUltra trials. He and Joyce travel to meet Terry and are told by her sister Becky that Terry always believed she had a secret daughter. Meanwhile, Barb's friend Nancy (Mike's sister) and Will's brother Jonathan have come to believe that a monster (the Demogorgon) is responsible for Barb's disappearance, and Nancy briefly enters the Upside Down while searching for it.

Beating the monster

In an effort to amplify her eavesdropping powers, the boys build a sensory deprivation tank for Eleven at Hawkins Middle School so she can contact and locate the missing kids. She discovers Barb died, but Will is alive, being pursued by the Demogorgon as it hops dimensions. Joyce and Hopper return to Hawkins Lab to confront Brenner, who reveals he'd like Joyce's help in understanding the Demogorgon, because he and his men are unable to control it. Hopper and Joyce don protective gear and enter the gate to search for Will.

Meanwhile, Nancy and Jonathan return to the Byers house and set traps for the Demogorgon, where Joyce has repeatedly seen both it and Will in the walls. With the help of Nancy's boyfriend Steve they fight it, but it flees. 

In the Upside Down, Joyce and Hopper locate Will, now pinned down and intertwined with a large alien tendril. They free him, and Hopper performs CPR until he's breathing again. They return to Hawkins. At the school, Brenner and his agents converge on Eleven when the Demogorgon suddenly appears. Eleven confronts it directly and uses her power to apparently disintegrate it, but in the process she herself vanishes.

A looming threat

A month after the Demogorgon is defeated, in December 1983, almost everyone is trying to get on with their lives, but there are still echoes of what came before. Brenner was attacked by the Demogorgon, and then seemed to disappear from Hawkins as the lab came under new management. Mike misses Eleven, and in the days after her disappearance he begins regular attempts to make contact with her on his radio. Hopper, who received some mysterious information from someone in a car at the end of the first season, begins leaving food out in the woods for Eleven to find, hoping to lure her back. We later learn that Eleven's efforts sent her into the Upside Down, and at some point in November 1983 she broke free and began hiding in the woods before later revealing herself to Hopper. He takes her in and keeps her return a secret. 

The threat of the Upside Down is not over. One night in December, Will goes into a bathroom alone and coughs up a black slug, signaling some presence from the other side is still working in his body. Months later, in June of 1984, Russian scientists attempt to use a machine called the Key to access the Upside Down. They fail, and new plans are made to try to access the dark dimension from another location via covert land purchases in Hawkins, Indiana.

A growing problem

In October of 1984, everyone's just trying to move on from the events of the Upside Down, but more trouble is brewing. Having been kept secret in Hopper's cabin for months, Eleven is beginning to grow restless, and starts using her powers to explore the possibility of contacting Mike again, even as Mike continues to try to contact her. 

Out in Hawkins proper, Hopper is bothered by a new problem: Complaints of crop deterioration around the area, including the local pumpkin patch. A pattern seems to be forming, but he can't quite figure out what it is. Meanwhile, Nancy and Jonathan learn that Barb's parents have convinced private investigator Murray Bauman to look into what happened to their daughter.

The most prominent problem, though, is brewing within Will Byers. Ever since he came back from the Upside Down, he's been experiencing symptoms connected to it, and now those symptoms include visions of the other world intruding on his daily life. Shortly before Halloween this takes the form of a massive, spider-like creature towering over the horizon. Finally, on Halloween night, Will has another vision and tells Mike that he's been seeing things — while urging Mike to keep what he's just said a secret. After a night spent trick-or-treating, more Upside Down intrusion into our world is discovered when Dustin comes across a strange lizard-like creature in the trashcan behind his house.

A new monster

The creature, which Dustin dubs D'Artagnan or "Dart" for short, is initially small enough to fit into a terrarium, but soon begins to molt and grow rapidly until it's the size of a dog, leading Dustin to eventually designate it a Demodog. Soon, the Hawkins gang comes to discover there are more of them, and that they've invaded Hawkins via new entrances to the Upside Down.

These new entrances are tunnels burrowed into the earth around Hawkins caused by the continued spread of material from the Upside Down into the surrounding area, despite frequent efforts to control and contain the spread by the Lab's new administrator, Sam Owens. As Will Byers opens up to his mother about his visions, which ultimately turn into seizures, he begins scribbling out drawings to explain his psychic and physical links to a new creature, the Mind Flayer. These drawings form a map that corresponds to the crop blight Hopper's been seeing. When he investigates these things directly, he falls into the tunnels, revealing just how far the contamination has spread. 

Meanwhile, Eleven has begun digging through Hopper's old evidence files for information about her mother. She hitchhikes out of Hawkins and eventually reconnects with Terry through a psychic link, uncovering Terry's failed attempt to save her baby.

The lost sister

As she probes her mother's mind, Eleven is shown a vision of a little girl she used to play with in the lab, and with the help of old photos Becky provides her, she comes up with a location and heads for Chicago. There, Eleven meets Kali, who's been in hiding after her time in the lab for years, using her perception-altering powers to survive while nurturing a group of misfits. 

Kali helps Eleven to realize the full extent of her gifts, and helps her to feel as though she isn't alone in the world. She also lets Eleven in on her mission: Finding and killing those who were responsible for ripping them from their families and experimenting on them. Eleven is, at first, eager to exact vengeance on bad people who harmed her and her mother, but when she realizes Kali is asking her to purposefully and mercilessly kill people in cold blood, she ultimately declines to be part of it, and after seeing a vision of Mike and Hopper in danger in Hawkins as a result of the escalating activity of the Mind Flayer, she decides to go home.

A dangerous plan

Will's increasing physical deterioration at the hands of the Mind Flayer, coupled with the increased presence and violence of the Demodogs, all suggest some sort of hive mind is at work. Will is the host for the Mind Flayer, establishing a psychic connection that works two ways, and the Mind Flayer is also controlling the dogs and directing them to kill humans. This all leads to a showdown in Hawkins Lab in which numerous people, including Joyce's boyfriend Bob, are killed. 

All of this, from the tunnels to the Mind Flayer, leads to a scenario in which the gang must either stop the spread or submit to it, with Will's life hanging in the balance. Their struggle is helped along by the return of Eleven, and a plan is hatched: To keep the Mind Flayer blind and distracted, Joyce, Jonathan and Nancy will take a sedated Will to Hopper's cabin and try to use intense heat to drive the Flayer out. Meanwhile Mike, Dustin, Lucas, Steve, and their new friend Max will set fire to the tunnels as a distraction, and Eleven and Hopper will sneak back into the lab, where Eleven will use her powers to close the gate she inadvertently opened a year earlier.

Closing the gate

The plan ultimately works. The Mind Flayer is forced out of Will, Eleven closes the gate, and the kids all escape the tunnels alive, with the threats from the Upside Down apparently at an end. Due to evidence they gathered throughout the season, curated with the help of Murray Bauman, Hawkins Lab is shut down after a public outcry, and Barb is given a proper funeral. Hopper meets with Sam Owens, who grants him legal custody of Eleven through a forged birth certificate, cementing their father-daughter relationship. 

As the season ends in December of 1984, all the kids get together for the annual Snow Ball dance, during which Eleven and Mike finally become a couple, and Max and Lucas also get together. As they celebrate, it's revealed that the Mind Flayer is still very much alive, and is watching them all from the Upside Down, signaling that it's not done with its attempt to conquer just yet. 

In the early months of 1985, Russian scientists move into a clandestine facility beneath Hawkins, on land purchased through deals made with Mayor Larry Kline, and construct a new version of the key, which marks the beginning of a new connection between our world and the Upside Down.

The return

The first indications to the outside world that the Mind Flayer is finding a way to return from the Upside Down begin on June 28, 1984, when a blackout hits Hawkins and rats in the area begin flocking to the old Brimborn Steelworks on the edge of town for unknown reasons. A woman named Mrs. Driscoll reports to Nancy (now working at the local paper) that the rats in her basement are behaving strangely. 

This all escalates when Billy Hargrove, Max's older stepbrother, crashes his car near the Steelworks on the night of June 29. In a daze, Billy is swept into the Steelworks by a force revealed to be the Mind Flayer, and possessed by it. The Mind Flayer has found a way to re-establish its hivemind in Hawkins thanks to the Gate slowly reopening, but it needs raw material to "build" with, and begins by breaking down rat bodies and pressing their flesh together to make itself a body on our plane. 

Meanwhile on a hilltop outside of town, Dustin sets up a radio antenna he built while at summer camp in an effort to communicate with his girlfriend over long distances. He's unable to reach her, but he does pick up a strange message in Russian, which he records and takes to Steve, who now works at the local mall. Steve's coworker, Robin, believes she can decipher the code with the help of a Russian dictionary.

New evidence

The now-possessed Billy abducts his co-worker at the local pool, Heather, and exposes her to the Mind Flayer's possession as well. They plot to subject Heather's parents to the same fate, but as part of a sleepover prank gone wrong, Eleven eavesdrops on Billy's mind and suspects something is amiss. Eleven and Max begin to investigate, while Jonathan and Nancy investigate a strangely behaving rat in Mrs. Driscoll's basement. June has now turned into July. 

Meanwhile Joyce, noticing strange magnetic activity around town, alerts Hopper and asks him to take her back to the Lab. While there, Hopper is attacked by a mysterious man, Grigori, he recently saw outside Mayor Kline's office. They begin investigating, while Robin, Steve, and Dustin come to suspect the Russian message is a code related to the mall, which they apparently confirm when they spot armed guards at the mall's loading dock. 

Joyce and Hopper intimidate Kline, who comes clean about his ties to secret land purchases around town. They visit one of the properties, a farm house, and discover Russians at work in the basement, confirming a Soviet presence in town even as the Scoops Troop at the mall is also uncovering similar details. Meanwhile, Will tells his friends that he can sense the Mind Flayer's presence. This, coupled with Billy's behavior, leads them to hatch a plan to see if the Flayer is back.

A bigger threat

The kids trap Billy in the sauna at the pool and he and Mrs. Driscoll, who is now hospitalized, simultaneously react to the extreme heat, confirming the presence of the Mind Flayer and its hivemind, which has now infected the residents of Hawkins. 

As the kids try to figure out what to do about the Mind Flayer, Dustin, Robin, Steve, and Lucas' little sister Erica have infiltrated a Russian facility beneath the mall, where they find armed men and a mysterious liquid, though they don't yet know what it's for. That piece of the puzzle is uncovered by Joyce and Hopper, who take Alexei, a Russian scientist they managed to capture, to Murray Bauman to get him to translate. Alexei explains the entire plot to use the key to open the gate to the Upside Down again in Hawkins, where the barrier between worlds is already weakened. Hopper places a call to Owens and asks the government to intervene. 

Meanwhile, back in Hawkins, the Mind Flayer is now aware that the kids are onto it, and begins sending possessed people to attempt to kill or convert them. As Robin and Steve are captured in the facility and Erica and Dustin hide, Eleven goes into the Void to eavesdrop on Billy, and discovers the Mind Flayer — who reveals to her its plan to convert all of Hawkins to its cause, growing it until it breaks out of the Steelworks.

The Battle of Starcourt

On the night of July 4, 1985, all of the major players in Hawkins converge on Starcourt Mall, as the kids head there after Eleven sees Dustin in the void and Dustin, Erica, Steve, and Robin all manage to escape the underground facility. The Mind Flayer pursues them, hoping to possess or destroy Eleven once and for all, while Joyce and Hopper head into the facility to destroy the key and close the gate once again. 

A battle ensues, as the kids all throw fireworks at the Mind Flayer in the middle of the mall to distract it long enough to get the gate closed, with a little help from Dustin's girlfriend Suzie, who provides Planck's Constant via the radio to help them gain access. 

Billy appears to stop Eleven, but Eleven is able to use memories of his childhood that she saw in the Void to get through to him. Billy remembers who he really is and sacrifices himself to save Eleven. At the same time, Hopper battles Grigori near the key, then — sensing time is short — tells Joyce to shut the machine down, knowing it might explode. The key explodes, the Gate closes, the Mind Flayer is destroyed, and Hopper is apparently killed in the blast. Outside, Sam Owens and a squadron of government agents arrives.

Hope and fear in Russia

In October of 1985, three months after the battle of Starcourt, the Byers family — now including Eleven as Joyce's adopted daughter — plan to move away from Hawkins. Mayor Kline has been arrested, the Russian plot discovered, and Hawkins has become something of a conspiracy theorist's dream town, because no one outside of the people who lived through it seems to really know everything that happened. The biggest change of all, though, seems to be that Eleven no longer has her powers. The night of the battle she thought she'd just been drained by the strain and expected to recharge, but it still hasn't happened. She and Mike make a pact to see each other again for the holidays, and the Byers drive away, but not before Eleven reads a speech Hopper had written down and always intended to give her about what he wanted for her future. 

At an unknown date sometime later, in Kamchatka, Russia, soldiers are shown feeding an unnamed man to a captive Demogorgon. Before they do, though, they mention "The American" in another cell. The American is not named, but it's implied that it could be Jim Hopper, still alive.