Spoilers for Stranger Things Season 4. Read at your own peril!
Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’re going to do this. We’re going to think out loud some ideas for Stranger Things Season 5. Why? Because regardless of how we like to sell ourselves at Cinematic Doctrine (mature), we’re still a buncha geeky nerds (millennial-infused). When it comes to popular franchises and cool stories that aren’t finished, its fun to theorize what comes next, and since Star Wars isn’t really fun to talk about anymore, and hasn’t been for years, here we are talking about something cooler that cool kids are into because it’s cool. So, let’s stop wasting time and get into it.
Stranger Things Season 4 really brought to head something I felt was missing from the series: fatal consequences. Season 1 is extremely well-made and undeniably creative even with its homages, and part of what makes it work is that it doesn’t need threat. The true crux of Season 1 is the missing person of Will Byers, and every detail moving forward, regardless of which character we follow, feeds that narrative piece. The ‘cost’ is set-backs or emotional hurdles for characters to overcome, which works until it doesn’t. And, it doesn’t by the time Season 2 comes around.
With Season 2, we essentially get a reskin of Season 1, except this time Will Byers is around long enough for Noah Schnapp to perform. This is great for anyone who loves watching people do their job well, because Noah Schnapp kills it. But there really isn’t any looming consequence throughout the season. Although characters are always doing something, a task that’s difficult for even the most seasoned writers, everything they do moves without resistance. Even Eleven is able to visit Chicago without as little as someone going, “Uhhmmm, where’s your parents? I’m not driving you around, you strange little child.”. And while Season Three not only introduces a sense of threat whilst rehabilitating Season Two’s villain, the Mind-Flayer, it isn’t until later in the season that characters are confronted with this revelation. Even if the opening scene of Season Three is Russian scientists being melted by a malfunctioning science-fiction laser, Joyce Byers is still complaining about her magnets, and only her magnets by the time Episode 4 comes around.
This is why Season 4 Episode 1 feels so great to finish. It is such an incredible high to watch Eddie Munson panic as Chrissy stands motionless in his likely hot-boxed trailer. It’s not only terrifying; it’s traumatic. Here’s a show that’s all-grown-up. Closer to 10-years than 5, Stranger Things is finally introducing threat from the start, and that’s without mentioning the opening scene of dead, underaged corpses in the Hawkins laboratory. This ain’t your dad’s Stranger Things!
So, what am I expecting with Season 5? Everything I have to offer is a complete shot in the dark, as even The Duffer Brothers haven’t scripted Season 5 yet (although they have an idea of what they want). Let’s start with the silliest idea first, then finish with what I not only think could happen, but really want from a Season 5 Episode 1:
1. Hawkins is a Post-Apocalyptic, “Escape From New York” Setting
When Vecna shares a vision with Nancy Wheeler, we’re witness to the cataclysmic finale of Season 4. Rifts open up across Hawkins as The Upside-Down becomes the Upside-Out. When this finally happens, we not only learn that these fissures glow, they melt anyone and anything across its fault-line. Alongside this, they bring with it their titular flakey air-space, and it’s safe to assume some other guests have arrived.
While one recurrent criticism a friend of mine has shared is that everyone in Hawkins is either too stupid to realize what’s happening in Hawkins, or The Duffer Brothers are too lenient in not diving into this further, it’s safe to say everyone is going to learn a thing or two about the last 2-3 years of Hawkins modern history. Like I said, it’s the Upside-Out now (let it be known that I, Melvin Benson, have coined this term on Stardate 7/8/22.), and everyone’s going to have questions about this new environment encroaching upon their nice neighborhood.
From a metatextual standpoint, and as Daniel has mentioned in our podcast, Season 5 will likely look like whatever The Duffer Brothers are reading at the time. Season One is a lot like the child-story arc of It, even down to the wrist-rocket. It also pulls from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Carrie, Alien, Poltergeist, and plenty of other material. A lost Stephen King story directed by Stephen Spielberg, as The Duffer Brothers pitched it to Netflix. Season 2 feels a lot like Season 1, but it also features a splash of The Evil Dead alongside Aliens (Again, it’s redundant). Season 3 is a large improvement in setting itself apart, becoming more time-aware than franchise-aware, as it focuses on things like the market-change from small-town to mall-town, but it still nods toward other properties like Starsky and Hutch and The Terminator. And lastly, Season Four is one giant The Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors fanfiction (in the best ways possible).
When it comes to a potential Season 5, I envision an Escape from New York vibe, which would fit comfortably into The Duffer Brothers’ cult-classic nostalgia blend of property. The Upside-Down is was initially pegged to be toxic, at least for its first few seasons until a gang of minors raided it with spiked-baseball bats and held a Metallica concert. There’s no reason to find a plot-excuse as to why those characters survived the dangerous climate of the Upside-Down, while watching it repel all of Hawkins’ residents from its city-line. This would make for a fun, searching-for-supplies style adventure where our heroes must traverse the Upside-Out, complete objectives to protect themselves from gangs, and ultimately fight Vecna and the Mind-Flayer in some sort of hybrid Hawkins/Upside-Down environment. Daniel even proposed on our podcast that gangs might form in this setting, as we jokingly claimed Erica may lead them toward capitalistic patriotism, creating a new rule of law!
Other neat ideas in this fashion could be our heroes having the whole of Hawkins to explore and hide from government agencies that are still trying to find Eleven, which could lead to some excellent action set-pieces where houses are toppled by tanks, or Eleven catches missiles and bullets and returns them with reckless abandon. It would help build up this idea of, “nothing will ever be the same”, which each season seems to avoid. Each season has hints of future misery, but everyone largely returns to ‘normal’. With Season 5, it really feels everything needs to be on the line, including the chance to return to normal.
2. Far, Far More Time in the Upside-Down
As Daniel proposed in our episode on Season 4, He believes we’ll see a further commitment to explore the far reaches of the Upside-Down. To what capacity is a curious question to ponder, as the Hawkins laboratory is a thing of the past, Dr. Brenner is dead in the desert (although Matthew Modine would love to come back, he’s shared), and Dr. Owens is currently under military custody (or, so we assume). The ones who intentionally explored The Upside-Down are all out-of-commission, but it’s easy to see a way in which The Duffer Brothers could coerce these figures into exploring The Upside-Down, discerning its secrets, and exploiting it for profit. If the UAC can exploit hell for fossil fuels in Doom (2016), then the U.S. Military sure can find ways to further exploit the Upside-Down.
More interestingly would be how our teenage cast would investigate the Upside-Down. It’s clear they area aware that Vecna escaped, and through dramatic irony we understand that the Mind-Flayer is still largely the biggest threat to, like, all of creation. With this in mind, would our heroes even want to investigate the Upside-Down on their own? During their last outing, riding inside a camper, they pondered the difference in stakes to this encounter than the last. But, with Eleven by their side, maybe their curiosity will get the better of them?
What would interest me would be more scenes with Vecna traversing or understanding the Upside-Down. One of the most hypnotic scenes of the final episode was Vecna’s monologue about his exile to the Upside-Down, or whatever it was before he likely created it (as we’re still not entirely confident on the origins of this otherworldly environment). Is it possible the eldritch cloud known as the Mind-Flayer communicated something more to Vecna before succumbing to its control? Or, is Vecna just that bad of a guy and he intends to overtake the Mind-Flayer’s puppeteering prowess and become the true villain in the end? At the very least, with the whole cast looking onward toward the Upside-Out fissures of Hawkins, it’s clear they have unfinished business, and we’re surely going to see more of the Upside-Down than ever before.
3. Max Mayfield Becomes a Puppet-Villain with Fatal Consequences
I had this thought almost immediately after finishing the final episode. Max Mayfield is bed-ridden, her last few lines of dialogue being, “I can’t see!” and “I’m not ready to die!”. Real horrible, terrifying, great stuff! Paralyzed and stuck in a hospital, Max is only mostly-dead but not dead-dead. When observing all villainous precedent, both metatextually as the show becomes more consequential, and textually as the Mind-Flayer can control other people, it’s an absolute no-brainer to not only see the opportunity before our eldritch cloud and its writers, The Duffer Brothers.
I will most likely be wrong, but I think it’s safe to assume that Max Mayfield, in some capacity, will become some sort of puppet villain in the final season of Stranger Things. I’m sure others online are thinking the same thing, but I’m claiming first dibs on this idea. and I think I have a great case for it.
First off, in the infamous words of George Lucas, “It’s like poetry. It rhymes.”. Max Mayfield becoming a puppet would be a narrative pairing alongside her brother, Billy. The tragic drama of this event could be deeply engaging and ultimately very satisfying. In addition to this, it would provide a new way of performing from Sadie Sink. I’m a big advocate for watching actors try out new things, and it would be incredibly fun to watch Sadie Sink be villainous and evil, especially if she’s targeting her friends and those she loves. As Vecna/Mind-Flayer control Max, we’d get to see nuanced performances from Sadie Sink as she fully embraces the evil or has to commit evil acts while still have a shred of humanity, thus giving us excellent drama during otherwise horrific scenes.
In addition to this, Season Four sets a precedent for not only the Upside-Down but also a mind-plane in which characters can “piggy-back” off one another. Just as Vecna is in the Upside-Down, and Eleven is in the freezer of a Surfer Boy Pizza, the two can duke it out inside Max Mayfield’s consciousness with fatal consequences. This would give an opportunity for Dacre Montgomery to reprise his role as Billy Mayfield, as Max’s consciousness would no-doubt become a new field for our characters to traverse. Billy would still be dead, but Max’s idealized, or perceived version of Billy would be present. Maybe there’s a sequence where Max is trying to prevent Vecna/Mind-Flayer from causing her body to do something terrible, so Max and this fantasy-Billy complete abstract tasks in her mind to overcome the evil. Since Eleven can enter minds, there’s no reason she couldn’t be there, too.
But the one thing I am pleading to have happen is a classic trope slasher trope that would never fly in the age of franchise IP and fan backlash. I want someone extremely important to the cast to die in the first episode. I’m talking pivotal. I’m talking the equivalent to Friday the 13th Part 2, where our final girl from the previous film is unceremoniously slaughtered in the first ten minutes of the second film.
What I have in mind is a general time-skip, something that allows Max to recuperate, to become “reasonably” healthy, capable of talking or sharing her thoughts or having a whole episode in which she’s awake and aware. Something to reach a tragic, nail-biting, I’ve-got-to-watch-the-next-episode ending.
My idea is that, at the end of Season 5 Episode 1, Max and Lucas finally get their date. Or, something along those lines. And, as they’re spending time alone, just before it’s the credits roll, Max is taken over by Vecna/Mind-Flayer – or was Vecna/Mind-Flayer the whole time – and kills Lucas! It doesn’t even have to be the same, traditional kill we’ve come to see in Vecna. It could be something extremely shocking, maybe even Lucas begging Max to stop only for Max to say something petrifying like, “I’m not Max.” or “Max is gone.”. Anything that kills all hope, but immediately captures the attention of all audience members. It’s devastating, it’s terrifying, it’s sad!
This would allow for some really great sequences later in the show. Maybe nobody knows Lucas was killed? Maybe they think he’s missing, but they also know better, so they prepare for the worst. Maybe it’s revealed later in the season he was killed by Max, but only one character knows, and they have to find out how to tell the rest of the team without tipping off Max. It would also allow for excellent confrontational material for characters as they emotionally wrestle with what’s going on. Eleven travels into Max’s mind and see’s she’s still in there, somewhere, but can’t seem to free her. There’s so much opportunity with this idea.
But it’s just an idea. A theory. I’m just like you, patiently waiting for Season 5. And in the meantime, I suppose I’ll pick up some Stranger Things books and other material to get my fix. Or, like a passerby I met a few days ago, I’ll just restart the show and watch it all over again.
There really are so many directions the show can go with its final season, and that’s without considering its spin-off. Do you have any theories? What do you think is going to happen in Season 5? I’d love to know. Share below and let me know what you think of my ideas. They sure are silly, but I’m locking in the “Max as villain” idea, especially the “Max kills Lucas” one!
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Melvin Benson is the Founder, Editor-In-Chief, and Lead Host of Cinematic Doctrine. He’s written fiction and nonfiction for over a decade with short stories featured on the Creepypasta Wiki and Wattpad. His novelette Ethereal Temptation, a teen drama with a tinge of magical-realism, can be read for free here. His hope is to see King Jesus glorified as far as the east is from the west!