Almost three years have passed since "Stranger Things" season three graced our televisions in July 2019, and after such a long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, anticipation for the fourth installment couldn't be higher. Season three's action-packed finale left viewers on the edge of their seats when fan favorite Jim Hopper seemingly died in the Russian base hidden beneath Starcourt Mall. With an end-credits scene that featured a new young Demogorgon and the reveal of American prisoners in another Russian facility (located in Russia, this time), the finale created just as many questions as it answered.
Season four quickly answers this question for viewers. In the very first episode, Joyce receives a ransom note hidden inside a Russian doll that claims Hopper is alive, giving fans hope that everyone's favorite overprotective dad could make a return. The intro to episode two quickly confirms Hopper did, in fact, survive, but how did he manage to escape that explosion? Joyce, Hopper, and Murray all understood that if they were within range of the device when the destruct failsafe was initiated, they'd be instantly vaporized. Considering Hopper stood right beside the main core, how could he have had any chance of survival?
In a flashback to the moment Joyce turned the keys to initiate the destruction of the device, we see a brief sequence of Hopper turning away from the observation deck (and Joyce) and sprinting down the scaffolding alongside the core toward the fissure that opens our world to the Upside Down. At first glance, it looks like he might be aiming for the fissure itself. If he could slip into the Upside Down before the explosion sets off, he'd theoretically save himself. Risky, true, because he could also find himself trapped there, but at least he would be alive.
In the end, Hopper hops over the end of the railing, dropping into a haze of smoke as the explosion finally sets off. For several moments, we're left holding our breath to see the aftermath. The camera pans down to the ground beneath the scaffolding structure, where Hopper lies among the rubble and debris, very much alive. It seems he ran back, jumped off, and hit the deck, apparently clearing enough space between him and the explosion to survive.
That said, it's worth mentioning that it's still possible Hopper briefly slipped back into the Upside Down, though the episode doesn't confirm that. But considering the explosion was supposed to be so powerful that it would vaporize anyone caught in the crossfire, simply running away from it and surviving seems a little convenient and too easy of an explanation. It's possible Hopper took a brief detour into the Upside Down to survive the explosion and then crawled back out before the rift could be completely sealed.
Yes, Eleven did seal the fissure at the end of season three, killing off the Mind Flayer and all of its minions in the process, but "Stranger Things" has never shied away from the reality that a gateway is never really closed.