Stranger Things shook up the formula at the end of Season 3 with the unthinkable: The Byers family, and Eleven, picked up and left Hawkins, Indiana. For three seasons, the town of Hawkins has been an unspoken lead character; leaving it behind was as if Downton Abbey had the Crawley family move to London permanently. But it seems like this move won't even be the biggest change going into Season 4 — at least, if this theory that Hopper will be a villain in Stranger Things 4 comes true.
In Season 1 of Stranger Things, the monster was technically the Upside Down itself, though the kids specifically focused on the creature that came out of it, the Demogorgon. However, the real antagonist was Dr. Brenner, who experimented on kids like Eleven and opened up the Rift with little concern for the consequences.
This is one of the reasons Strangers Things fans perennially theorize Brenner will return. Without him, the series has struggled to find a villain who sticks. Upside Down monsters like the Mind Flayer have sometimes done the trick; Season 2's possession storyline with Will worked better than Season 3's possession of Billy, for example. But the show has been lacking a real human "bad guy" to fight.
That's why moving Hopper from Hawkins to Russia could be the key to next season's drama. Speaking to Deadline, David Harbour, who plays Hopper, revealed the show will explore a "new side" of Hopper in Season 4:
Each season, we get to see a different side of him, and last season it was sort of wacky. I loved playing that, [but] now I think he's painted in a bit of a darker palette and he's able to express these really deep things about him that we haven't really known yet. It's been hinted at, but we don't really know.
This has sent fans into a tizzy. So far, the show has done several science fiction tropes from the 1980s era, but there's one it hasn't hit yet: brainwashing.
Taking Hopper and turning him into a variation on The Manchurian Candidate would be a new twist for the show to explore. Hopper's always had it in him to be a ticking time bomb; turning him into one sent home by the Soviets to be their double agent could be a brilliant premise. It would also explain why this season will delve into Hopper's memories of New York, Vietnam, and his father, which fans have definitely been looking forward to.
Stranger Things Season 4 is expected to premiere sometime in 2021.