Toward the end of Stranger Things 2, all seemed quiet on the Hawkins front. Mike and Eleven got their kiss, Dustin and Steve had a budding bromance, Lucas and Max were experiencing some tween-age feels, and after a year-plus of visions, mind control, and coughing up slimy alien bits, Will was finally monster-free. Then, in true Stranger Things fashion, all that optimism vanished in a matter of seconds.
This is the closing shot of Season 2, an image of the Mind Flayer—a giant tarantula-like specimen the kids named after a Dungeons & Dragons character—looming over Hawkins Middle School in the Upside Down. This creature (also called the Shadow Monster) unveiled itself as the show’s Big Bad last season, as it controlled all the demogorgons and demodogs and spread tentacle-like tunnels throughout the town. It’s also the monster that pulled Will over to the dark side and used him as a spy on our side of the world.
Needless to say, it was a relief when Joyce and Jonathan Byers—Will’s mom and brother—sweat-lodged the Mind Flayer out of Will in the season’s final episode, and when Eleven sealed off the portal to the Upside Down. But it turns out that that was just the beginning. “Eleven closed the gate, but the Mind Flayer is still alive in the Upside Down,” Matt Duffer, one of the show’s cocreators, told EW this spring.
Matt’s brother Ross Duffer, the show’s other cocreator, also said after Season 2 that, “They shut the door on this thing but it’s still out there. And it wasn’t aware of Eleven [before], and now it very much is.”
Last Thursday, Netflix dropped its third and final trailer for Stranger Things Season 3, which comes out July 4. And while the previous teasers largely left out any references to the Mind Flayer, this one made it clear that the creature has returned to Hawkins -- if it ever really even left? Now that we know the Mind Flayer will play a pivotal role in this season, two major questions loom: What does it want? And how does that relate to Eleven?
The first question is probably the more difficult one to answer, given that we don’t know much about the science behind the Upside Down. But the third trailer includes some dialogue that, though the means of transmission aren’t clear, must be coming from the Mind Flayer. (Here is where I would like to shout out the Duffer brothers for learning from Game of Thrones’ mistakes and giving their Big Bad some lines! Your fave Night King could never!) In the middle of the trailer, as shots of the original gang, Hopper and Joyce, and families at a carnival whip by, a voice-over says, “We’re going to end you; we’re going to end your friends. Then, we’re going to end everyone.”
I’m just assuming the Mind Flayer is using the royal “we” (which is a nice touch) because the creature doesn’t seem like one that’s willing to share control. So basically it’s out for blood, and it seems that Billy—with his endless swagger reserves, sweet mullet, and side glances that send Mike’s mom into fits—will serve as the monster’s next host. In the first trailer, we see Billy look at his arm in the shower and notice a developing rash; the third trailer, meanwhile, flashes to Billy standing in what seems to be an abandoned warehouse, as Will says the monster is looking for someone new to inhabit.
(Please allow me to pause briefly and throw on my tinfoil cap: This season Billy is working as a lifeguard at the Hawkins pool, extremely shirtless—thank you, Duffer brothers, sincerely—and we see his rash first start to develop in the shower. So, is the pool how he gets infected by the Mind Flayer? Is there some sort of aquatic connection between the real world and the Upside Down?? And if there is—COULD WE GET BARB BACK??? OK, OK, it’s a stretch, but unlike Nancy, I’ll never leave Barb behind.)
So we know that the monster is looking to destroy humanity. Its motive—if there is one—isn’t clear, but it seems like a natural endgame for a creature the kids named after, as the Dungeons & Dragons wiki puts it, “alien humanoid-looking beings [that] sought to expand their dominion over all other creatures, controlling their minds to use them as hopeless slaves and devouring their brains for sustenance.” Which brings us to our second question: How does all of this relate to Eleven?
Even in the first trailer, it’s clear something was coming for Eleven. In a shot of her standing alone on a beach—which, we must be going on vacation this season, because I’m pretty sure there aren’t beaches in Indiana—there’s red lightning in the air, similar to the charges that surrounded the Mind Flayer at the end of Season 2.
Then, the third trailer opens with dubbed-over dialogue, which presumably comes from the Shadow Monster: “You let us in. And now you are going to have to let us stay.”
Both Ross Duffer and Stranger Things producer Shawn Levy have either said outright or alluded to the fact that there’s a connection between the Mind Flayer and Eleven. She was the only person who could stop the monster at the end of Season 2 (though I guess that didn’t actually work out), and now it knows who it’s dealing with. She seems to be the key once again for Season 3, as she’s pictured squaring off with other monsters, sinking into her black mind void, and talking with Hopper about fighting. Can she take down the Mind Flayer without the element of surprise this time? Is there another, even deeper connection between the two?
There’s a lot we still don’t know ahead of this season, but we do know this: After the mall antics, carnival plots, and teenage hormones subside, the crux of this summertime adventure in Hawkins will revolve around Eleven vs. the Mind Flayer. And that’s a title fight I’m looking forward to.