Stranger Things recap: Everything you need to know from season 1 and 2

Strap on your scrunchies for a gander at every key moment before the next season kicks off July 4 on Netflix.

Jennifer Bisset Former Senior Editor / Culture
Jennifer Bisset was a senior editor for CNET. She covered film and TV news and reviews. The movie that inspired her to want a career in film is Lost in Translation. She won Best New Journalist in 2019 at the Australian IT Journalism Awards.
Expertise Film and TV Credentials
  • Best New Journalist 2019 Australian IT Journalism Awards
Jennifer Bisset
6 min read

Stranger Things introduced Eleven, our very cosplayable hero.


Stranger Things is back. It's so close to being actually back. If you planned ahead, you might have already done a cheeky rewatch of the show, but let's be real here: who has time for that. Good news is we have you covered with a neat and tidy recap of absolutely everything you need to know in the lead up to Season 3.

When does it start? Head here to figure out when the show drops in your timezone.

Keen to know if Season 3 is actually going to be good? We have a full review here.

Now for the recap!

Season 1


Lucas, Dustin, Mike and El. But no Will.


Will disappears

Cast your mind back to the very first episode, when we first heard Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein's swirling synth soundtrack and met the aforementioned Dungeons & Dragons-playing best friends. The nerdy but cool Mike, Will, Dustin and Lucas slay imaginary monsters from a saturated brown basement in '80s-set Hawkins, Indiana.

However, one night, when the crew part ways, the smallest, Will, is attacked by a shadowy monster that's far worse than those found in their dice-rolling game. Will's disappearance kicks off the odd events that leave the small town battered and bruised for years to come.

Meet Eleven

While a town-wide search for Will ensues, we meet a young, near-mute girl with an unmissable shaved head, hospital gown and, oh yes, the ability to move objects with her mind. Using that power to evade capture by generic government agents, she ends up meeting the boys mid-search for Will in the woods. They nickname her Eleven or El, after the number mysteriously tattooed on her arm, and Will secretly provides her sanctuary in his parents' basement.


Poor Barb.


A second victim

While a frantic Will's mom and the Hawkins Police Department Chief Jim Hopper -- who himself suffered the bereavement of his daughter to cancer -- lead the search for Will, Nancy Wheeler, Mike's older sister, and her best friend Barb nip out to a pool party at Nancy's boyfriend's house. Occupied by Steve Harrington and his immaculate quiff, Nancy fails to notice her best friend's violent abduction by what is dubbed a Demogorgon, essentially a Guillermo del Toro Pale Man with a venus flytrap for a head. It drags Barb away to the Upside Down, a frightening alternate dimension steeped in constant midnight hues.

Will communicates from the Upside Down

Christmas lights have never been more essential than when Will uses them to somehow communicate from the Upside Down with Joyce Byers, his ever-crazed-seeming mom. He flicks the Christmas decorations on and off to correspond with letters Joyce has etched onto their living room wall, cementing in her mind that he's still alive.

Watch this: Stranger Things season 3: Everything to know

'Will' is found

The town's search leads to the local reservoir, where state troopers rescue a child's body from the water. It's upsetting, to say the least, for the boys, but they, like Hopper, suspect foul play. Swiftly following up on the mysterious body, Hopper exposes it to be a dummy.


Government agents go after El

With the conspiracy in full swing, government agents get a whiff that El, or Jane as her real name is revealed to be, is living with Mike. They and their fleet of white vans go after the friends, but before they can kidnap El again -- she was taken as a baby by the evil Dr. Brenner from her now near-brain-dead birth mother, Terry Ives -- El uses her superpowered mind to spectacularly flip one of the vans, allowing the friends to escape and find a hiding place at Hawkins Middle School.

El finds Will

The boys, with the help of Hopper and their baffled science teacher, utilize a paddle pool, goggles and duct tape to build a way for El to amplify her powers to search the Upside Down for Will. But first, the bad news. Barb, El discovers, didn't make it, and justice for her death will have to wait for season 2. The good news is that El finds Will, unconscious, but still alive. All Hopper and Joyce have to do now is race over to Hawkins Lab and through the entrance to the Upside Down.


Good riddance.


Battle with the Demogorgon

With Hopper and Joyce preoccupied with safely rescuing Will, the government agents, working with Hawkins Lab, swarm the school. Blood is spilled, attracting the Demogorgon, who's immune to Lucas' slingshotted rocks, but not to the fierce El, who disintegrates the monster, but heartbreakingly is nowhere to be seen in the ensuing cloud of debris.

The aftermath

It's several months later and Will is returned to his family, though the effects of his trauma remain. This is no clearer than when he burps up a black slug -- not ideal after everything he's already been through. There is a positive, however, when it comes to El. Hopper, trekking alone through the woods, deposits her favorite food -- Eggos -- in a drop box, leaving us more than hopeful we'll see our small but mighty hero once again.

Season 2


There's Will, having fun on the left.


Another, bigger monster

One year later, everything is seemingly back to arcade games, bike riding and plentiful use of the word "dingus." However, poor Will, still not out of the goo-encrusted woods, is struck by a vision of a behemoth spider-like shadow monster looming over the town.

New faces

Two new transfer students zoom in from California: the Camaro-driving Billy and skateboard-riding Maxine or Max. He's the mullet-rocking bad boy and she's "Madmax," hijacker of high scores at the local arcade. Meanwhile, Joyce is dating the nerdy but sweet Bob, a guy she knew from school and who manages the local radio shack.

Rotting pumpkins

The vegetable mystery is not the Halloween farmer-wars Hopper first suspects. He's called out to investigate a pumpkin patch, where every single one has inexplicably rotted black. After further investigation, he discovers the problem stems from, unsurprisingly, the ever-troublesome Hawkins Lab.


El's alive

After finding herself in the Upside Down as a result of her battle with the Demogorgon, she tears open a door to return to Hawkins. Then, surviving in the woods off eating squirrels and swiping a stranger's coat, she discovers Hopper's drop box food gifts and the two end up living together in a secluded cabin. Despite TV access, the need to stay hidden from relentless government agents and a supply of Eggos, El suffers extreme cabin fever and won't last being away from Mike for long.

The monster hates heat

Joyce and Hopper face the troubling prospect of Will's new art hobby: using up all the black pencils to draw the shadow monster from the Upside Down. Hopper, figuring out the map hidden in the drawings, digs into one of the desiccated pumpkin patches and uncovers the monster's tunnels. Taking no notice of the danger, Hopper jumps in only to be knocked out by toxic gas. Joyce and Bob rescue him just in time from Hawkins Lab, whose hazmat-suited employees set out to burn the monster's heat-hating tunnels.

Trouble for Will

Meanwhile, Will, who's clearly been inhabited by the monster, convulses in shared pain. The monster, dubbed the Mind Flayer, calls all its quadruped lizard-dog mashups dubbed the Demo-Dogs, from around Hawkins to the hospital holding Will.

El's field trip

Unaware of these goings on, El nips out to visit her mom, then ends up getting swept up in the activities of a gang of masked misfit kids. One of them bares a tattoo like El's, except hers says "008." It turns out she too was tortured in the same lab as El, but after further developing her powers, El must say no to her sister's vendetta against killing those responsible.


Bob! You didn't suck. You ruled.


Bob's death

Scientists and soldiers are strewn in a bloodbath at the hospital. Bob, the hero we all knew he was, sneaks through the carnage into the security room and successfully opens a path for Joyce, Hopper, Mike, Will and Dr. Owens, Will's PTSD doctor, to escape. However, in doing so, Bob is set upon by the Demo-Dogs, his body gruesomely ripped apart. Poor Bob.

Will's exorcism

Using the one thing they know hurts the shadow monster, Joyce, Jonathan and Nancy hit the possessed Will with a red-hot fireplace poker and send the monster tornadoing out of his body, freeing him at last.


What an image.


El closes the gate

Meanwhile, El and Hopper descend into Hawkins Lab, finding the sinewy, glowing gate to the Upside Down. El, blood streaming from her nose, uses her powers to seal the gate shut while a Rambo-channeling Hopper shoots down attacking Demo-Dogs.

Justice for Bob and Barb

In the aftermath a month later, our departed heroes see the justice they deserve. The government is forced to admit its role in the death of Barb and Bob, and Hawkins Lab is shut down for good.


A happy ending... for now.


Sealed with a kiss

At the school's "Snowball," relationships bloom, starting with the newest couple Lucas and Max, and then Mike and El, who share their first kiss. Yet that adorable sweetness is swiftly cancelled out by a final ominous image of the massive Mind Flayer looming over the Upside Down version of the town.

That's it! You're up to speed for the next Summer-filled, '80s-mining bonanza that is Stranger Things, season 3, out on Netflix July 4.

See all the Stranger Things season 3 photos

See all photos

Originally published July 1.