Stranger Things 4 planning session

Our Theories as to Why the Upside Down in ‘Stranger Things’ Is Stuck in 1983

It's theory time!
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*** Spoilers for the finale of Stranger Things 4. Be warned. ***

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Raise your hand if you’re still reeling from the Stranger Things Season 4 finale. Whether you enjoyed it or not, I think we can all agree that it packed a massive punch—and that those final minutes really shot the stakes for Season 5 sky-high. As if they weren’t already—what with Season 5 being confirmed as the final season and all.

Amongst the many revelations and twists—like how Vecna is Henry Creel who is 001 in Doctor Brenner’s program and it was he who created the Mind Flayer, as well as Eddie’s absolutely legendary cover of “Master of Puppets”—there’s one nugget of information that might have gone a bit unnoticed, but that is definitely equally as important. 

Eddie babe you’ll always be famous for this (Netflix)

The Upside Down is stuck in 1983.

In fact, the Duffer Bros themselves confirmed that the Upside Down being stuck in 1983 will be one of the main propelling forces behind Season 5. In a Deadline interview, Ross Duffer says that “that’s something we don’t answer in volume two, and that is really the key plot point, the key question that is going to drive our final season as we try to wrap up this story and give the rest of the answers out.”

And another interview that the Duffers had with Collider confirmed that Season 5 will all revolve around the Upside Down. They said that while all the major reveals of Season 4  were about Vecna, the focus will shift in Season 5. “The big reveals that are coming in Season 5 are really about the Upside Down itself, which we only start to hint at. There is that moment where we realize in episode seven this year that it’s frozen in time.”

So, let’s unpack this.

The revelation that the Upside Down is stuck at a precise moment in time arrives in episode 7, titled “Chapter Seven: The Massacre at Hawkins Lab”—the one that closed off Volume 1. Nancy, Robin, Steve and Eddie headed to the Upside Down version of the Wheeler house to get a hold of Nancy’s secret stash of weapons—only to find that the guns are not there since she bought and hid them after 1983. Her diary, which as Nancy herself says “should be full of entries,” stops on November 6th, 1983.

They also discovered yet another way to communicate from the Upside Down via light (Netflix)

And that isn’t just any ordinary day—November 6th, 1983 is the day Eleven first makes contact with a “monster” with her powers, upon the request of Dr. Martin Brenner, also known as Papa, also known as you-got-a-death-scene-that-was-longer-than-Boromir’s-but-I-could-not-care-less-about-you-horrible-man. That contact created the first gate between the Upside Down and Hawkins, and it allowed the Demogorgon to walk out—and then right back in, bringing Will “Does Not Deserve Any Of This” Byers with it. 

One theory…

One explanation for why time in the Upside Down is frozen, rather than flowing ahead to 1986 like in the real world, could be the impact of Eleven opening that first gate. The outburst of power she used and the deep emotions that were running through her were enough to shock the Upside Down into time standing still.


But this leads us to another equally important question:

Why is the Upside Down stuck in 1983 and not 1979?

So, 1979 is when Eleven confronted 001 a.k.a. Henry Creel in the Rainbow Room and sent him through to the Upside Down, turning him into Vecna in the process—and effectively putting in motion all the events of the seasons we’ve seen so far, from the Mind Flayer of Season 3 to the four murders of Season 4.

Jamie Bower you really went that hard, huh (Netflix)

So, if the cause of the Upside Down’s time-freeze is Eleven’s power, why didn’t that first outburst of it have the same effect as in 1983?

One theory floating around the Internet is that Eleven didn’t technically open a gate in 1979—more like a window. While a gate implies that travel is possible from both directions—as demonstrated by the Demogorgon roaming Hawkings and various members of the gang entering the Upside Down—what happened in the Rainbow Room felt more like Eleven shoving Henry through a very small crack—one that shut off immediately after, leaving not enough space for a full-contact to be established.

Finally, there’s the question of what the Upside Down looked like in 1979 versus in 1983. 

When Vecna is telling Eleven how he survived her shove into the Upside Down, he describes a world “unspoiled by mankind.” And in truth, the place we see in his flashbacks is nothing like Hawkins—more like a primordial landscape of lava and mountains, with Demogorgons roaming around and lighting barreling down. So, did the Upside Down take the shape of Hawkins when Eleven made contact in 1983? That could be one possibility.

Did he create all of it? (Netflix)

Another one, though, hinges on a small sentence Vecna says to Nancy, also in Episode 7—that he had been meaning to check in on his father, Victor, over the years, but he had been busy. “So very busy,” he adds. 

Could that hint that the Hawkins-shaped Upside Down we have come to know was Vecna’s work? That he bent and reformed this primordial world he had been thrown into according to his will—much like he did with the Mind Flayer? In that case, the reason the Upside Down hasn’t progressed past 1983 could be that, since he had been searching for Eleven ever since their confrontation in the Rainbow Room, the second she made contact he immediately moved his focus to her and abandoned all the work he was doing up until that moment.

This would explain, for instance, the vines that are everywhere to be found in the Upside Down—massive extensions of the tentacles that are connected to him when he makes his kills—and it would also somehow integrate within his masterplan—bleed the Upside Down into the real world to create a reality where his power and his concept of reality reign absolute, without being subjected to the imperfect creatures that are humans.

It does make sense, but if there’s one thing we know is that Stranger Things will always do its best to surprise us all. So what do you think? What are your theories on what will happen in the upcoming Season 5?

(via: We Got This Covered; featured image: Netflix)

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Benedetta Geddo
Benedetta (she/her) lives in Italy and has been writing about pop culture and entertainment since 2015. She has considered being in fandom a defining character trait since she was in middle school and wasn't old enough to read the fanfiction she was definitely reading and loves dragons, complex magic systems, unhinged female characters, tragic villains and good queer representation. You’ll find her covering everything genre fiction, especially if it’s fantasy-adjacent and even more especially if it’s about ASOIAF. In this Bangtan Sonyeondan sh*t for life.