With the re-opening of the gate, the return of the Mind Flayer and a secret Communist base hidden underneath the mall, Stranger Things 3 certainly didn’t make July’s festivities easy for Joyce, Hopper and the kids.
In a place like Hawkins, Indiana, it doesn’t seem as though life will ever slow down. Mystery, terror, and corruption constantly wreak havoc across Hawkins, but Stranger Things 3 still manages to remind us that human nature always prevails over everything in the town that never sleeps. In this season it is undeniably the relationship between Chief Hopper and his daughter El that most vividly shows us this.
Hopper and El’s relationship seems strained in the season’s opening episode “Chapter One: Suzie, Do You Copy?”. The Chief takes on the stereotypical over-protective father role, arguing with El over how often she is seeing Mike, trying to force El to keep her door open when she’s with Mike with the ‘three-inch rule’ and scaring Mike into keeping his distance from El.
As Stranger Things 3 progresses, Hopper continues this somewhat controlling and aggressive streak. Joyce, Murray and Alexei ‘Smirnoff’ the Russian all have to face the Chief’s anger and bitterness, even though they are only trying to protect Hawkins from total destruction by the Mind Flayer. It is only in “Chapter 8: The Battle of Starcourt” when Hopper’s selflessness prevails as he sacrifices himself so that Joyce can close the gate to save Hawkins and, most importantly for Hopper, El.
Hopper’s heart wrenching fate then becomes even more harrowing as Joyce hands El the letter that Hopper wanted to read to Mike and his daughter on that night he tried to have ‘the talk’ with them. In the letter, Hopper pours his heart out to his daughter, telling him how he wants what is best for her, but that he misses her and loves her as well — all things that he was too scared to say to her just days before.
“I started to feel things again.”
Opening up like this when he is known for being so cold and distant transforms Hopper’s speech into something even more moving. As he tells El how she was his beacon of hope when everything else seemed so dark, and that his over-protective nature only came from a place of love, we are reminded of how Hopper lost his other daughter Sara to cancer — he doesn’t want to lose El too.
Whilst Hopper and El’s situation was certainly an exceptional circumstance — it’s definitely a one-off situation to leave some Eggos out in the woods and end up with a daughter — the sentiment that El brought Hopper out of a deep depression is certainly one that touches even the toughest of viewers. The connection that Hopper shared with El was, quite literally, a life-changing one — one that saved Hopper from a life of misery and despair and instead transformed him into a better man; a man full of hope.
“Life is always moving, whether you like it or not.”
Despite his apparently tough exterior, Hopper reveals to El that he was hurting deep down before he met her, and it was El who was able to drag him out of that dark place. The Chief was also undeniably this person for El, and watching her learn about everything that she had done for her father, whilst knowing that he is no longer there, serves as one of the most bittersweet moments of the series. El wasn’t to know that the hug she shared with Hopper in the food court would be their last, but reading his letter now allows her to be with him one last time.
“When life hurts you, remember the hurt.”
We all have setbacks and challenges that we must face, things that hurt, things that kill us inside. But we keep on going, we keep on pushing past it to become stronger, tougher, better versions of ourselves. Instead of ignoring the pain and letting it defeat us we learn from it, and that is exactly the message that Hopper is trying to teach his daughter. Whilst Hopper wasn’t to know what would become of his own fate as he was writing the letter, his sentiments encourage El to use the pain from her loss to help her continue to fight and be the fearless warrior that she is, rather than letting her grief hold her back.
This monologue is one from the heart, full of honestly, rawness and encouragement that not only El, but each person who hears it can identify with. We all fear change, loss, sadness and heartbreak, but Hopper reminds us that all of it is an unavoidable part of life that we have to tackle head-on, rather than shying away from it.
Hopper’s letter reminds us that, even in a town like Hawkins where nothing is ever normal, the feelings of love, care and compassion that make us all human still build the foundations of everything, and that not only El, but everyone, should embrace them with everything that they have, no matter how difficult it might be.
“But please — if you don’t mind, for the sake of your poor, old dad — keep the door open three inches.”
Featured image via Netflix