Warning: Contains spoilers for Stranger Things 3.
One of the key moments of Stranger Things‘ third season came right at the very end. In the crucial post-credits scene, we’re in what looks like a super-secret Russian facility. Two soldiers walk past a cell and one says in Russian, “No, not the American.” They move on to the next door and take a hapless prisoner to visit a Demogorgon that they’ve apparently been keeping on hand. Why? We have no idea. But fans seem to have plenty of ideas about who the mysterious American is.
It’s also not just a throwaway line, according to show creators the Duffer Brothers. “Assuming there’s a season 4, obviously the question of who that American is in that cell and then also what they’re doing with the Demogorgon, that is a tease. We try to tee up some season 4,” Ross Duffer told Entertainment Weekly.
Here’s a round-up of the best theories.
This is fans’ favorite theory. We saw the beloved police chief give Joyce the nod to pull the switches on the huge Russian laser, and the next thing we know, he’s not there. We later see Eleven’s grief that he’s apparently dead, and also a local newspaper headline saying he perished.
But! We never see his body, and lots of viewers think Hopper could still be alive. According to one theory, the explosion of the machine caused a rift to the Upside Down, where he was retrieved by the Russians. Another theory is that he managed to get out of the way before the blast by scrambling through one of the facility’s many long tunnels.
Whether this is true or not remains to be seen, but we sure hope so. Even David Harbour thinks this is the most likely explanation, according to an interview he did with Slashfilm:
I attempted to delicately get around the fate of Jim Hopper. Harbour, however, came right out and gave it to me straight. “This is the question I’m going to have to dance around–” I began, only for Harbour to interrupt me and ask, “The ending?” “Right,” I said. “Is there a way you can talk about the future of Hopper without…” I trailed off here, only for Harbour to ask: “Well, did you see the post-credits scene?”
I had, of course. And so I straight-up asked: is that Hopper behind the door? According to Harbour, that’s the most likely scenario.
It’s Dr. Brenner.
Remember Eleven’s creepy, cruel father figure/torturer? Some fans wondered how the Russians would know so much about the Upside Down, and Brenner would be just the guy, given how much he knows about the alternate universe.
One Redditor, CSENzley, recalled that Brenner is still alive:
It is the Cold War after all so it all leads to Dr. Brenner working (or being forced to work) with the Russians. This alone would explain how they got their start and how they know so much already in a small amount of time.
They then go on to say that Brenner could be in cahoots with the Russians, operating freely.
But what if Brenner is actually their prisoner, working with the Russians against his will? Another Redditor, HouseHeisenb3rg, suggests exactly that—Brenner is the captive American in that scene, while Hopper is still in the Upside Down: “Dr. Brenner is too essential to the story to waste away in a cell for the rest of the series. He will be back.”
It’s another one of Dr. Brenner’s test subjects.
While we’re all hoping that Hopper is alive, some fans have been a bit more skeptical of that theory. But since the Russians are so interested in gaining access to the Upside Down, they would find it useful to have someone on hand who has powers similar to Eleven’s.
Redditor Skeletonabbey put forward the following explanation of why it might be one of her fellow psychic test subjects:
We’re shown at the beginning of season 3 that the Russians CAN’T open a gate over there, hence coming to Hawkins. So how do they have a living Demogorgon if the gate is closed here again? They opened their own gate, and the only way they could do it is with one of the psychics.
I believe they learned about Eleven’s abilities while in Hawkins, and through investigation found the other subjects. They then kidnapped one of them, cut their losses here and went back to open their own gate in Russia. It’s the only explanation that makes any sense.
As much as we want to leave poor Barb in peace, some hopeful fans have wondered whether it’s Barb down there in the cells. This seems unlikely, both because actress Shannon Purser has said many times that Barb is dead. Leave her alone!
Lots of fans took to Twitter to opine that it’s Bob down there in the cells. Look, we all want Joyce to be happy, but we did see Bob being killed in a very gory way by one of the Demogorgons in season 2, so it’s super unlikely.