[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Stranger Things 2.]
When Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) disappeared in a super-powered showdown with the Demogorgon at the end of Stranger Things' first season, we wouldn't have been surprised had we never seen her again. Luckily, the showrunners had other plans. But where has Eleven been during the year that passed between the last time the town of Hawkins found itself up against the Upside Down and now?
Not in another dimension, that's for sure.
As it turns out, Eleven found her way out of the Upside Down back at the school pretty soon after defeating the Demogorgon. She even made her way back to Mike's (Finn Wolfhard) house! Unfortunately, she realized that hiding there was no longer an option since it would put him and his family in danger if the men at Hawkins Lab ever tracked her down.
And thus began Eleven's life as a homeless nomad, hiding in the woods and stealing food where she could — that is, when she wasn't nomming on the Eggos Hopper (David Harbour) was leaving her in that box. Eventually, she learned to trust Hopper enough to go with him, making his cabin in the woods her home... and her prison.
To keep her safe, Hopper kept her a secret from the rest of the town, including her friends. For an entire year, Eleven was been unable to see, speak to, or interact with anyone other than her surrogate dad. That kind of isolation can mess with the best of us, but the reason it was truly heartbreaking is so much more layered than that.
Eleven went from being a hostage of Brenner's lab to a hostage of Hopper's protective instincts. Hopper already lost one daughter and there was no way he was going to lose this one too. That volatile combination of Hopper's paranoia and what's surely some PTSD for Eleven lead to some pretty explosive fights in Stranger Things 2, but ultimately, it was worth it because it gave these two characters the family they both were searching for.
Stranger Things 2 is now streaming on Netflix.