El and her friends battle the Mind Flayer in Starcourt Mall in "Stranger Things" season 3

After a long hiatus, fans of the hit Netflix show "Stranger Things" can finally get ready to return to the Upside Down. Over the course of three seasons, we have seen the disappearance of middle-schooler Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) lead to the discovery of this mysterious alternate dimension that seems hellbent on infiltrating the real world and destroying it. Filled with monsters looking to break free into our world, the task of keeping the Upside Down at bay falls on a ragtag group of unlikely individuals in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana.

Over the years, fans have fallen in love with the show’s eclectic mix of characters — I myself am a diehard Steve/Dustin fan. Farrah Fawcett, forever! — and those who love the show are no doubt excited to see all of their favorites return in this long-awaited fourth season set to premiere its first half on Netflix on May 27. Still, because of the pandemic, a lot of time has passed since we were able to sit down for some good old-fashioned D&D with Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and his party, so we may need a little refresher on the rules. Take a minute to grab some Eggos and get comfortable because here are all the things you need to remember before you dive into season 4.

Romance in Hawkins

El and Mike pretend like nothing is going on

At the start of season 3, Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) has just returned from summer camp where he claims he found a girlfriend named Suzie (Gabriella Pizzolo). Everyone is skeptical, having seen no proof of her existence, but Dustin proves them wrong later by calling on her for help at a pivotal live-or-die moment. Mike Wheeler and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) are finally in a nauseatingly inseparable relationship, and this budding romance tests the patience of El’s adoptive father, Jim Hopper (David Harbour), who constantly tries to keep them in line by insisting the door must always remain open three inches when they are hanging out.

Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) and Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) are still going strong while Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin), who shared their first kiss at the Snow Ball at the end of season 2, are also continuing to navigate the ups and downs of young love. Meanwhile, Max and El are bonding over the shared cluelessness of the boys in their lives.

Other members of the group are not so lucky in love, however. Will does not seem to have any interest in girls — a fact that Mike harshly points out during a heated moment between the two — leading many in the fandom to believe that it’s possible he’s gay. And just when Hopper and Joyce Wheeler (Winona Ryder) finally begin toying with the idea of going on a real date, the two are forced to choose between their potential romance or saving the world. Yikes.

One might think the romance gets in the way of the season’s larger plot, but really, the addition of these on-screen relationships only adds to the show’s charm. We see how these characters love one another so that when the season ends and many of them are forced to go their separate ways, the breaking up of this makeshift Hawkins family is all the more heartbreaking. Some couples want to try long-distance (El and Mike, Jonathan and Nancy), while others are just left heartbroken and alone (Joyce). Hopefully, season 4 will see some of these flames rekindled and reunited, but we’ll just have to wait and see!

It’s all about the Russians

Alexei drinks a slushie in "Stranger Things" season 3

The major plot point to remember about season 3 is that everything is happening because of the Russians. The characters all split up into their own groups, but they unanimously come to the conclusion that something is still wrong in Hawkins, despite the fact that El closed the gate to the Upside Down at the end of season 2. Joyce first notices something weird when she realizes that none of her magnets are sticking to her fridge anymore. Sensing danger, she does some research and enlists the help of the boy’s science teacher, Scott Clarke (Randy Havens), who tells her that there must be a very large opposing force nearby to cause all of the magnets in Hawkins to simultaneously stop working.

Certain this has something to do with the Upside Down, Joyce and Hopper get back to investigating the strange occurrences in the town, and after kidnapping a Russian scientist (R.I.P. Alexei, played by Alec Utgoff) and bribing him with slushies and junk food, they discover that the Russians are trying to re-open the gate to the Upside Down underneath the newly built Starcourt Mall. But Joyce and Hopper aren’t the only ones who have a run-in with the Russians. Dustin, Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), and Steve’s new friend Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke) are also able to piece together key information in order to infiltrate the Russian base and stop the gate from being opened again.

The scoop from Scoops Ahoy

Steve, Dustin, and Robin try to bribe Erica to help them in "Stranger Things" season 3

Arguably many people’s favorite storyline from season 3 is that of Steve and his friend Robin who he meets at his new job working at Scoop’s Ahoy, the ice cream shop in the newly built mall. Not only do Steve and Robin have to dress in ridiculously adorable and embarrassing sailor costumes in order to sell ice cream, but they also accidentally wind up involved in a Russian plot to re-open the Upside Down.

Dustin, who has developed a wonderful friendship with Steve in season 2, visits his pal at Scoops Ahoy regularly, and one day he shares information about a secret Russian code he accidentally picked up while trying to communicate with Suzie over his radio. Robin, who is conveniently good at learning languages, is able to help the two decipher the secret message which they first believe is nothing but gibberish. However, after giving it some thought, Robin realizes that the symbols in the message all correspond to shops in the mall, allowing the group to figure out how to infiltrate the Russian base that is located right beneath their feet.

With the help of Lucas’s little sister, Erica (Priah Ferguson), the four unlikely heroes manage to sneak into the base and gather important information about what the Russians are planning. Naturally, they are almost caught and killed but manage to escape just in time to join the rest of their friends in yet another mission to save Hawkins from total destruction.

I’m truly hoping that season 4 has a lot more Robin/Erica/Dustin/Steve action in store for us because they made for a great team and great television. This is possible since both Steve and Robin are seen working at the same video store at the end of season 3, so that probably means we’re in for more witty banter … just sans the ice cream.

Bad boy Billy and his rats

Billy reporting for lifeguard duty in "Stranger Things" season 3

Perhaps the second biggest plot point of season 3 to keep in mind is the existence and evolution of the infamous Mind Flayer. The creature seems to have been destroyed at the end of season 2, however, we know better, and nothing that dies is ever really, truly gone. After using Will’s body as its host in season 2, the Mind Flayer is back and looking for a new body to control. What better person for the job than Max’s abusive and very angry older step-brother, Billy?

Billy is, to be frank, a total heartthrob. He works as a lifeguard at the local pool where everyone — including Mike’s mother, Karen (Cara Buono), who almost has an affair with him — swoons over him. One night, while Billy is on his way to meet Karen, he crashes his car outside a local mill which also happens to be housing a regenerating Mind Flayer. Sensing Billy as the perfect new host, the Mind Flayer drags him into the mill where he hijacks his mind and turns him into an even crazier and angrier machine. Before Billy, the Mind Flayer had been feeding on the bodies of rats it lured inside the mill. But now, with Billy’s help luring the people of Hawkins to the Mind Flayer, it finally has the strength it needs to launch a full attack.

Ultimately, El is able to telepathically locate Billy and recognizes that he is possessed by the Mind Flayer. After a brief showdown at Hopper’s cabin, the final battle with the Mind Flayer makes its way to Starcourt Mall. Here, after being shown positive memories from his childhood by El, Billy is able to take back control of himself, choosing to sacrifice himself in order to save his friends and family and the people of Hawkins. Max watches her step-brother die in horror, but she knows he at least died a hero.

El’s powers

El using her powers in "Stranger Things" season 3

During the battle with the Mind Flayer, El is attacked and implanted with an illithid tadpole. Possessing her is the Mind Flayer’s main goal, but thankfully that never happens. However, the tiny Flayer tadpole that managed to latch onto El’s body has enough power to completely rid her of her mind control abilities.

Even though El is able to remove the mini Mind Flayer from her body, she is unable to get the use of her powers back. At the end of the season, her powers are still gone, leaving her frustrated and forlorn. Who is she if she is without this one special gift? If the trailer for season 4 tells us anything, I think it’s safe to assume that season 4 will start with El still struggling to regain her powers, and it will be interesting to see just how she manages to get them back. After all, what is "Stranger Things" without at least one good car flip from El?

Hopper’s non-death

Hopper in Russia in a trailer for "Stranger Things" season 4

In order to save Hawkins (and the world), Joyce and Hopper must make a choice to close the gate to the Upside Down themselves. However, in the final moments before doing so, they realize that anyone who is in the same room as the opened gate will be completely incinerated as soon as Joyce triggers an explosion that will close the gate for good. It becomes clear to them both that Hopper will not be able to make it out of the room in time for Joyce to blow it up, so he silently gives her permission to close the gate anyway, accepting his fate. She obliges, though it pains her, and the audience is led to believe Hopper has died. But is that true?

In the show’s post-credit scene, we are treated to footage from a Russian prison. Here, we see Russian soldiers choosing a prisoner to take from their cell. One guard specifically tells the other to not take "the American" before treating us to a scene where we watch them feed the prisoner to a lovely Demogorgon (nostalgia trip!). Clearly, "the American" must be Hopper, meaning that he is alive and somewhere in Russia. This theory has been confirmed through Netflix’s teasers of the fourth season, and it’s a relief to know that Hopper is not down for the count yet.

The only question now is how will he get back to his crew? Perhaps El will finally get her powers back and be able to locate him in her mind?

Goodbye for now

Max levitates at Billy's grave in the trailer for "Stranger Things" season 4

Season 3 ends on a pretty sad note. Though the gate to the Upside Down has been closed again, Hopper is believed to be dead, leaving El all alone. Fed up with the drama, stress, and danger of living in Hawkins, Joyce decides to finally move her and her family far away from this cursed town … which, I mean, she probably should have done years ago, honestly. El, who still has not recovered her powers, is going with them. She and Mike share a sorrowful goodbye, and so do Jonathan and Nancy, both unsure when they will get to see one another again.

There are no happy endings for anyone in season 3. All of the characters are left broken and deeply changed, making a return to normalcy almost impossible. Still, even though El and the Byers have gone, the rest of the gang must do their best to get back to living their daily lives. If the trailer for season 4 has told us anything, that may be next to impossible.