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At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much that’s strange about the teaser trailer for Netflix’s Stranger Things season three. Released on Monday, the trailer pulls eager fans back to Hawkins, Indiana, the town where dark creatures loom in the Upside Down and there are cultural references aplenty.

With the new season to be set in 1985, show creators the Duffer brothers take us to Starcourt Mall, a brand new shopping Mecca that promises to project the small Midwestern town into the future and attract outsiders with the lure of the American dream. Nailing the old-school mall aesthetic through neon lighting, arcade-esque electronic muzak, nostalgia-inducing storefronts, pastel-colored outfits, and big hair (we’re looking at you, sailor Steve), the teaser basically bashes the viewer over the head with ’80s vibes.

There are, however, also a number of sly nods that might have slipped by if you weren’t paying close attention in your excitement. And these references perhaps offer huge clues about season three’s narrative.

First, rewatch the trailer above and then join us as we break down the biggest things you might have missed in the Stranger Things season three teaser.

Is Starcourt Mall the new lab location?

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Let’s start with the most obvious. There’s a reason why this trailer focuses on Starcourt Mall, and it’s not just because Steve’s new job in an ice cream parlor means he now dresses like Sailor Moon. It’s possible that Starcourt is the new cover for Project MKUltra’s lab, seeing as the last one was overrun with vicious demodogs in season two.

Project MKUltra is a covert, CIA-run operation to develop mind-control techniques for use against Cold War enemies. Based on the real MKUltra, which existed from 1953 to around 1973, the show spins the project in a fantasy direction, with the show implying that the power drawn from conducting these experiments created portals to the dark alternate world known as the Upside Down.

Don’t forget that Stranger Things is set in the go-getting era of President Ronald Reagan, a period in which government and big business became more and more intertwined. Starcourt Mall, then, would be the perfect cover-up and an ideal location for keeping tabs on the local community. What are the chances the fountain seen above might actually become a portal to another dimension?

Could Scoops Ahoy help the Upside Down spread?

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Reddit user gf120581 strengthened the mall theory by drawing a connection between Steve’s new job at ice cream store Scoops Ahoy and cult ’80s horror-comedy The Stuff.

The 1985 movie’s title refers to a white yogurt-like substance that becomes the nation’s snack of choice. However, as gf120581 explains, “The Stuff is actually a living organism that eats those who consume it from the inside, turning them into empty zombies.” Might ice cream mirror The Stuff‘s yogurt in season three?

This theory certainly provides food for thought, especially as we already know through Will’s story arc that people can be taken over by the Upside Down.

The Hunt for Red October and a dodgy doctor

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In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-moment, a quick scan of the Waldenbooks storefront shows a copy of Tom Clancy’s 1984 debut novel The Hunt for Red October. The Cold War thriller follows CIA analyst Jack Ryan, who leads a group of United States Navy officers to take possession of an experimental Soviet nuclear submarine — a revolutionary vessel capable of sneaking into American waters undetected. The submarine is under the command of a defecting Soviet Navy commander, who opts to switch sides after his wife dies at the hands of an untrustworthy doctor who was never punished for his crimes.

While Stranger Things already references the Cold War via MKUltra, The Hunt for Red October potentially hints at how these references could expand in season three.

While nothing is certain, the book’s narrative raises questions. Could Dr. Brenner, Eleven’s “Papa” and the leader of MKUltra’s experiments, have finally lost the respect of his team? Or could it have something to do with Dr. Owens, the shady lab doc who should have been killed by the demodogs but escaped with only an injured leg? As the latter is played by Paul Reiser, who starred in Aliens, which heavily influenced Stranger Things season two, we’re willing to bet there’s more to be revealed about this Hawkins lab-dweller.

Did you catch anything we didn’t? Let us know in the comments.

Next, the latest ‘Unfriended: Dark Web’ trailer grapples with the perils of the internet.

Staff Writer
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