[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Stranger Things 3. Read at your own risk!]
By the time we've made it to the end of Stranger Things Season 3, the status quo of the series has completely changed. Police Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is apparently dead, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) has lost her powers, Joyce (Winona Ryder) has decided to move her family elsewhere — and is taking Eleven with her — and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) has a girlfriend. OK, the last one doesn't really factor into the series all that much, but still, the times they are a-changing in Hawkins, Indiana.
Time also might be where the future of Stranger Things lies. The show has given us monsters, mad scientists, alternate dimensions, and exploding rats and the next frontier Stranger Things tackles might be time travel.
It's not a crazy thing to suggest considering everything else up to this point — Eleven can travel through space, and even into the past to see visions, via her mind. So the idea that the actual people in this show might soon find themselves in another year isn't completely farfetched. In fact, from the very beginning the series has hinted that time travel could eventually become a factor for the series, and there are many signs that point it's going to happen soon.
But first, why time travel in the first place? Well, to address the giant Code Red in the room, Hopper is dead. But is he really? We don't actually see him die, nor do we see his body after Joyce goes to investigate the area, and those are two things audiences need to see to actually, fully believe he's dead. So, let's just assume he's not and that he's "somewhere else." But where? Obviously, one answer could be the Upside Down. Another answer could be that when he was zapped by the exploding machine he was pushed or pulled through time and is now somewhere else entirely. Season 4 of the series might be about the kids having to venture through time to find him.
This is supported by the allusions to 1985's Back to the Future. It's the movie Steve (Joe Keery), Robin (Maya Hawke), Dustin, and Erica (Priah Ferguson) watch after they've escaped the underground Soviet facility. Then — while still high off of the drugs — Steve and Robin joke about the plot of the movie and how Marty's mom is hitting on him in the past. I would pay an absurd amount of money to watch Steve go back in time and try to avoid advances from his (still unseen) mother. At the end of the season, when Steve goes for a job at the video store, he's also kind of dressed like Marty McFly. It's nothing major, but the influence is there.
However, Back to the Future aside, the foundation for time travel has been part of the show since the very beginning. Originally, the show was conceived as an anthology series and one of the aspects of the show was that the characters would travel through time. We have one reason at the ready as to why they would do this (to save Hopper), but what happens if they do it to actually stop the events in Hawkins from ever happening in the first place?
In traveling through time, back to the past, they could prevent Hopper's and Billy's (Dacre Montgomery) deaths, stop Will (Noah Schnapp) from being taken to the Upside Down, save Barb (remember Barb??) and Bob Newby, and essentially cease all operations out of the Hawkins Lab, which started this whole thing, in the process. If all goes according to plan, the kids could essentially undo everything that's been done via a quick trip through time — or they could mess everything up even further, but we'll have to wait and see exactly what happens.
Of course, how are they going to do this? There are two possible ways they could travel through time. One, they build a time machine! Dustin has already proven himself to be quite the builder and inventor, and I wouldn't put it past him to get his hands on some plutonium and actually construct something (that would also certainly really impress Suzie).
Or two, there's already a time-traveling portal in Hawkins and the kids just haven't found it yet. This is honestly the more plausible option of the two, since we already know there are gates in Hawkins — what's to say they're not just to the Upside Down, but also different points in time? That sounds like exactly the wrong thing the likes of Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) should stumble upon, which would make it all the more enjoyable to watch.
The end of Season 3 feels like a major turning point in the show as our heroes have been scattered, and there's no telling where (or when) they'll pick up again. It also feels like they've gone through enough big bad monsters that doing the same thing in Season 4 will really make it feel like a Monster of the Season thing. That's certainly enough to keep us coming back for more, but it's time to heighten the story. Move it to a different decade. Put the kids in unfamiliar surroundings. See how they deal and work together in a new setting to save the day — and then how they figure out how to get back to the future.
Stranger Things Season 3 is now streaming on Netflix.