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The Most Paused Moments In Stranger Things

Netflix's science fiction/horror series Stranger Things took audiences by storm in the summer of 2016 with its mix of 1980s nostalgia, an endearing ensemble cast, and an engrossing mystery within a small Indiana town turned upside down. Writer-directors the Duffer brothers created the series as a "love letter" to the genre stories of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, and Stephen King — but as critics noted, this entertaining show wasn't "just another example of dutiful, uninspired imitation run amok." 

Like the alternate dimension unleashed upon the fictional town of Hawkins, Stranger Things had more in mind than simply plotting out the next jump scare, even with monsters as riveting as the petal-headed Demogorgon. "[I]t is primarily interested in watching believably flawed people wrestle with the idea that some things are unknowable, and that having 'answers' doesn't necessarily prevent the arrival of pain and confusion," as Variety wrote. Rather, "hard-won connections with other human beings can be a balm in a sea of confusion." 

Through three seasons, the show has become a pop culture phenomenon inspiring everything from Halloween costumes to ice cream -– and raking in awards for its ensemble cast, music, and editing. The American Film Institute in 2018 named it one of the Television Programs of the Year. Although this series is eminently binge-worthy, there are some moments we watch and pause more than others, usually related to characters that audiences have grown to love. Here are our picks for the most paused moments in Stranger Things.

Eleven in the rain

Stranger Things wouldn't work as well as it does without its young actors and their "winning blend of innocence, camaraderie, sarcasm, and fear." Viewers saw their chemistry in the pilot, "Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers," as Will (Noah Schnapp), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Mike (Finn Wolfhard) met in Mike's basement to talk middle-school smack and geek trivia over Dungeons & Dragons. As they encounter the game's Demogorgon, Mike's mother tells them to wrap it up, sending the friends home on their bicycles. Will pedals ahead, but a figure in the road causes him to crash his bike, and within moments, the boy disappears. 

Unknown to the community, experiments at the Hawkins National Laboratory have unleashed a creature from an alternate dimension that audiences will soon know as the Upside Down. While Will's mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Police Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) search for Will, strange things start to happen, like Joyce receiving phone calls and hearing nothing but static. During a rainstorm, Mike, Dustin, and Lucas form their own search party and scour the woods with flashlights. Instead of their friend, they find a young girl with a buzz cut (Millie Bobby Brown) who appears to be Will's age. She has a tattoo reading "011" inside her forearm, and it turns out she's escaped from the lab, too.

Run, Mama, Run

Joyce Byers may be a frazzled single mom working for minimum wage, but she's sharp enough to figure out that the electrical flickers and other oddities around her house are Will trying to communicate with her. Disbelief and appearances be damned, Joyce turns as resourceful as the 1980s TV hero MacGyver and rigs up her own supernatural Speak 'n Spell. She scrawls the alphabet on her living room wall and hangs Christmas lights above the letters so that she can talk to her boy again. "Where are you?" she asks in season 1's "Chapter Three: Holly Jolly." "Right here," Will spells in reply. At this point, Joyce has no inkling of the alternate dimension, so she's understandably confused. "What should I do? How do I get to you?" Joyce begs –- but Will has no time to explain. The creature that snatched him is on his mom's trail. Will spells "R-U-N" seconds before the wallpaper behind Joyce bulges from the Demogorgon ripping through it from the other side. A horrified Joyce manages to heed Will's warning and flees.

Mike goes over the edge

The Hawkins National Laboratory was supposedly connected to the U.S. Department of Energy, but that's just a front. The Duffer brothers said in their pitch for Stranger Things (originally titled Montauk) that they took inspiration from theories in the 1980s about the federal government's experiments in psychological warfare

In the show, the girl the boys find in the woods and nickname Eleven, after her tattoo, is one such test subject — but she only wants to fight whoever messes with her new friends. Eleven, or "El," for short, has psychokinetic abilities that she uses toward locating and rescuing Will. The boys sneak her into school in a blonde wig one day so she can try to talk to Will in the other dimension through a radio signal. But things become complicated, and in season 1's "Chapter Six The Monster," two bullies confront Mike and Dustin at a quarry, forcing Mike off the edge at knifepoint. Eleven suspends him in midair, sets him safely on the ground, then breaks a bully's arm. She also breaks down crying, feeling guilty about accidentally creating the dimensional rift during an experiment. "The gate... I opened it... I'm the monster," she says. Mike and Dustin will have none of that. "No, El," Mike says. "You saved me. Do you understand? You saved me." He hugs her, and Dustin hugs them both.

A kiss before fighting

In middle school, asking a girl or a boy to the dance can feel like a matter of life and death, at least socially. So it seems fitting that as Eleven and the boys prepare to make a stand against the Demogorgon in season 1's "Chapter Eight: The Upside Down," Mike asks Eleven to the Snow Ball, their school's sweetheart dance. 

It all happens as Hopper and Joyce revive Will in the Upside Down. The kids fortify their weapons, like Lucas's slingshot, then their strength with the cafeteria's stash of chocolate pudding. But Mike also bolsters his and Eleven's spirits with talk of what they'll do when this is all over. She won't have to hide in his family's basement anymore, for starters. "Maybe we could go to the Snow Ball together," he says. "It's this cheesy school dance where you go to the gym and dance to music and stuff. I've never been, but I know you're not supposed to go with your sister." Having been raised in a lab, Eleven doesn't understand the concept, let alone what he's trying to say. "I mean, you can, but it'd be really weird. You go to school dances with someone that... someone that, you know... someone that you... like," Mike explains, stumbling over himself before leaning in to give her a quick kiss.

Eleven's alive! Hopper's waffles work

When Eleven disintegrated the Demogorgon in season 1's finale, "Chapter Eight: The Upside Down," she vanished too, leaving her friends to assume that she died. But Hopper, like everyone else who had grown attached to her, didn't give up hope. Toward the end of that episode, he left a box of food in the woods, including Eggo waffles, Eleven's favorite meal since Mike served her one for breakfast. Viewers learn toward the end of the season 2 opener, "Chapter One: MADMAX," that Eleven is alive — and secretly living with Hopper in a cabin in the woods. The show soon explains in season 2's "Chapter Three: The Pollywog" how Eleven's powers blasted her into the alternate dimension while defeating the Demogorgon. Once she clawed her way out, she found the stash of waffles and other food that Hopper had left for her, and he invited her to live at his grandfather's old cabin.

Steve, the pinch hitter

As likable as the young stars of Stranger Things are, the show also has an entertaining balance of adult characters like Joyce and Hopper, as well as older teens. In season 1, viewers met Will's older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton); Mike's older sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer); and Nancy's boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery). The Duffer brothers had planned to make Steve a jerk, but Keery was so charming, they had a change of heart. 

Steve stepped up to the plate to help Nancy and Jonathan fend off a Demogorgon attack in season 1, and even though he and Nancy split up, he proved in season 2 that he's still a good guy to know in a pinch. That starts in season 2's "Chapter Five: Dig Dug," after Dustin discovers that the odd slug that he found on Halloween and named Dart has grown into a Demodog. Desperate, he asks Steve for help. Given what he saw in the previous season, Steve doesn't need a long explanation before grabbing the nail-studded baseball bat that he keeps in his car trunk. He and Dustin have a surprisingly warm heart to heart while searching the woods for Dart, and in "Chapter Six: The Spy," Steve is armed and ready to school a pack of Demodogs who trap Dustin, Lucas, and their new friend Max (Sadie Sink) inside a bus at the junkyard.

Eleven's bitchin' reunion

After finding Hopper's research into her biological mother, Terry Ives, Eleven runs away from the cabin to learn more about her past. She tracks down her mother, who reveals through her own psychic powers how she tried to rescue her daughter but received shock therapy that damaged her brain. Terry also shares that there was another girl trained like her daughter, an older teen named Kali whom Eleven finds living with a street gang in Chicago. 

Like a sister, Kali helps Eleven hone her abilities and gives her a tough new look with slicked-back hair, darker clothes, and slang. But Eleven's not ready to leave her Hawkins friends behind, especially after she has a vision of Mike and Hopper in trouble. Right at the end of season 2's "Chapter Eight: The Mind Flayer," she flings a Demodog through the window of the Byers house as it tries to attack her friends. At the start of the season finale, "Chapter Nine: The Gate," the Hawkins pals have a brief but mostly warm reunion, with Mike angry at Hopper for hiding Eleven but delighted to see that she's alive. Hopper is glad she's okay, too, although he's both perplexed and amused that she looks like "some kind of an MTV punk." Her response? "Bitchin.'"

RIP, Bob Newby and Dart

Stranger Things stays fresh by adding new characters to its ensemble, and in season 2, viewers lost two of them one after the other. First, there was Bob Newby, Radio Shack manager, self-deprecating "superhero," and Joyce's old high school classmate turned boyfriend. Fans who imagined Hopper and Joyce winding up together were a little put off at first, but Sean Astin's portrayal won them over, showing Bob as a decent and funny guy who genuinely cared for Joyce and her sons. That made his death in "Chapter Eight: The Mind Flayer" all the more devastating, especially because he sacrificed himself so Joyce and others could get to safety. 

The other loss came in "Chapter Nine: The Gate," after Mike, Dustin, Lucas, Max, and Steve headed into a network of tunnels beneath Hawkins. The teens planned to distract the Mind Flayer, the boss in the other dimension, so Eleven and Hopper could seal the opening to that world. But a Demodog cornered them. Fortunately for them, it was Dart, the creature Dustin had brought home on Halloween and named after D'Artagnan, one of the Three Musketeers (and the creature's favorite candy bar). Dart remembered Dustin and let the friends sneak past him as Dustin shared nougat with him one last time.

Snow Ball sweetness

The heroes of Stranger Things spend a lot of time creeping around with flashlights and fleeing from creatures that want to rip them to shreds, so when they have a good time doing anything ordinary, viewers are happy, too. The Snow Ball that Mike mentioned to Eleven at the end of the first season is a showcase of sweet character moments at the end of "Chapter Nine: The Gate." First, Steve drops off Dustin — sporting a new hairstyle courtesy of Steve's secret hairspray — at the dance like a dutiful dad. Lucas asks Max to dance ("You want to, like ... you know?"), and Max kisses him. A girl asks Will to dance (even though she calls him "Zombie Boy"). Chaperone Nancy gets Dustin onto the dance floor after other girls turn him down. Hopper and Joyce, mourning Bob, share a cigarette and a hug in the parking lot. And just when Mike thinks Eleven isn't coming, she enters in a blue dress. Hopper has legally adopted her. She has a new name –- Jane –- and she's wearing a bracelet made from the hair tie from the young daughter that Hopper lost to cancer. She and Mike have their second kiss on the dance floor. It's enough to make anyone forget about the Mind Flayer for a while... at least until season 3.

Girls' day out

Eleven and Mike are a cute couple, but their relationship at the beginning of season 3 was a little cloying, as teen love so often is. Mike loved spending time with her, but they couldn't go many places because Hopper wanted her to keep a low profile. So it was a treat to see Eleven's willfulness appear when Max suggested they go shopping in "Chapter Two: The Mall Rats." Eleven had been cold to Max in season 2, jealous about Max talking to Mike while she'd had to hide out at the cabin. But here, she clearly warmed up to another girl her age among their group of friends. Eleven found some colorful '80s clothes she liked instead of plaid button-down shirts, giggled over using her powers on unsuspecting diners at the food court, and posed with Max like a model in a photo booth. In addition to showing Eleven's lighter side, the shopping montage was an effervescent introduction to the Starcourt Mall, a new location with dark secrets.

Steve supports Robin

Among season 3's new characters, Robin (Maya Hawke), Steve's co-worker at the Scoops Ahoy ice cream parlor, quickly emerged as a fan favorite. Steve initially isn't sure how to take her acerbic sense of humor ("Your children are here," she'd say when Dustin and friends would show up), but her sass and unflappable exterior become invaluable when things at the mall turn a Hawkins level of strange. 

Fluent in several languages, she helps Steve and Dustin decode a Russian radio message they've intercepted. This leads her and Steve to a secret base of Soviet scientists beneath the mall, trying to open a new portal to the Upside Down. The Russians drug and torture the two, but in "Chapter Seven: The Bite," they manage to escape and hide out in a mall restroom, where they have a touchingly candid conversation. Steve says he should've hung out with this smart, hilarious girl back in high school; Robin hesitantly confides that she didn't like him much back then... because the girl she liked at the time had a crush on him. It takes Steve a second to catch on, but once he does, he makes Robin laugh in such a way that there's no doubt these two will stay amazing friends.

The never-ending duet

Season 3 of Stranger Things saw the original tweens in the cast hitting their teens and dealing with relationships (except for Will, who wasn't ready to leave the regular D&D gatherings behind). In the season premiere, "Chapter One: Suzie, Do You Copy?", Dustin talks about his girlfriend, Suzie, whom he'd met at summer science camp. He even builds a radio tower to talk to her in Utah. Mike, Eleven, Lucas, Max, and Steve are initially skeptical that Suzie is real. But in "Chapter Eight: The Battle of Starcourt," the brainy girl responds to Dustin's call in the nick of time. 

Joyce and Hopper are inside the Russian base, trying to turn off the machine that will open the new portal. They need a certain code, which Dustin figures out is based on Planck's constant, but he can't think of the full number. So he reaches out to Suzie, who at long last answers his radio call and is thrilled to hear from her "Dusty-bun." Before she supplies the answer, though, she wants a song. While the others listen, stunned and exasperated, Dustin and Suzie sing the theme song to the 1984 film The NeverEnding StoryWith the Mind Flayer's minions on the move, their timing could have been better, but it's cute that Dustin has someone who misses him "more than all the stars in our galaxy."

Hopper's up-in-the-air fate

During the teens' showdown at the mall with the Mind Flayer, Hopper and Joyce reach the controls for the dimensional portal inside the Russian base. But at a crucial moment in "Chapter Eight: The Battle of Starcourt," the two become separated. Hopper nods at Joyce to shut down the machine, saving everyone they love — but apparently disintegrating him in the process. A distraught Joyce comforts Eleven, who a few months later agrees to move out of town with Joyce's family and make a new start. 

Toward the end of the episode, Joyce gives her a letter that Hopper had written to collect his thoughts, back when Mike and Eleven's relationship was stressing him out. He shared how he missed their playing board games, watching Westerns, and "making triple-decker Eggo extravaganzas at sunrise." He couldn't turn back the clock, her adoptive dad wrote, but he realized that life keeps moving -– and she should, too, even if that means growing up and getting hurt sometimes. Viewers were left teary, wondering where Eleven and her new family would land and. They were also left wondering whether Hopper was really dead, thanks to a mid-credits scene taking place somewhere in Russia where guards feed a prisoner to a caged Demogorgon after instructions not to touch "the American."