On Stranger Things, Chief Hopper (David Harbour) has risked life and limb to try to protect the kids in Hawkins, Indiana. Atop the list has been Eleven, but unfortunately, Season 4’s first volume had him imprisoned and tortured in Russia after he helped seal the Upside Down rift under Starcourt Mall.
This almost broke him, because Hop felt he was way too far from home, with no Americans around to help. More so, one attempted escape already backfired, so he felt like it was time to give up. To make it worse, Hop discovered they’d soon be thrown into a gladiator pit to fight a Demogorgon. As the hero processed all this, the show took a brief sojourn and gave heartbreaking insight into his past, revealing his most tragic secret.
Hop was in a cell with Enzo, the Russian who tried to help him escape the frigid base. Both were bloodied, battered and bruised, leading to an existential conversation. Hop confessed he ended up enrolling in the Vietnam War to show his father he was a man’s man. The 18 year-old was assigned to the chemical division, whipping up the deadly chemical known as Agent Orange.
As American history would confirm, the military created the chemical weapon to destroy foliage and greenery in Vietnam, preventing the enemy from camouflaging and hiding amongst nature. But as Hop added, this was a big mistake because when they got back home, most of his fellow soldiers suffered and went into depressive states. Due to their DNA being altered by their exposure to the chemical, when those soldiers had children, their kids were born with defects or stillborn.
Hopper was reluctant to start a family when he returned to the U.S., but he kept it secret and had Sara with his wife, Diane. As the show already revealed, Sara would end up dying of cancer, so while Hop thought he dodged a bullet, he was merely prolonging the inevitable with the kid. Sadly, this led to Diane leaving him, and Hop turning to drugs and alcohol as his life as a cop in New York fell apart.
He even revealed while Diane didn’t verbally chide him and make him feel guilty or selfish, he hinted she thought he was responsible — all because of his lie of omission. Thankfully, Hop would rebound in Hawkins years later, but this explains why he was skeptical to be a father to Eleven, and also why he hurt so much being separated from her. Since losing Sara, he felt like a curse and now, getting thrown into a Soviet camp had him reliving all the pain, wishing he could have made the most of his second chance at parenthood with Eleven.