Welcome to The Week in Fan Theories, your guide to what fan theories, good and bad, are taking the internet by storm!
With so many fan theories floating around the web, it can be hard to know which ones to take seriously and which ones are wildly off the mark. Some theories are brilliant breakthroughs that reveal a whole new understanding of what a work of fiction means, or they're spot-on predictions about what's going to happen in the next installment. Others are specious bunk, deeply flawed theories that nevertheless get aggregated by some of the less scrupulous news sites.
San Diego Comic-Con is probably about to drop a whole bunch of kindling on fan theory fires, but there are still theories that made waves this past week that we've got to deal with first. We've got an MCU fan theory that was never going to be true, a Stranger Things fan theory that we already had a meltdown about once before, and then we'll wrap up with a pretty good Handmaid's Tale fan theory.
ALL OF STAN LEE'S CAMEOS WERE ACTUALLY OLD STEVE ROGERS
This theory is pretty simple — or at least, as simple as a theory involving superheroes, time travel, and multiple personas can be. Basically, it's that every one of Stan Lee's MCU cameos was actually the elderly Steve Rogers viewers met at the end of Avengers: Endgame. Steve opted to stay in the past so he could live a full life with Peggy Carter, but this theory posits that he still felt the need to check in on major events — hence, Stan Lee's characters appearing at key times throughout the MCU.
Obviously, this theory isn't correct. Stan Lee is still quite old in his Captain America: The First Avenger and Endgame cameos, and those take place in World War II and the '70s, respectively. If Steve Rogers was checking in on everybody as he lived through history, he wouldn't be Old Steve Rogers yet at those points. Also, Stan Lee's character dies in The Incredible Hulk.
This is the type of theory that doesn't really do anybody much good. It can be a fun personal headcanon, maybe, but given its clear impossibility and, frankly, narrative irrelevance, there's really no need to spread it around as if it were news or legit.
Before the premiere of Season 3 of Stranger Things, there were some theories that the Chernobyl disaster might somehow play a part in the Upside-Down action. Early rumors about a Soviet plotline in the season turned out to be true, and fans noted that Season 3 took place in 1985, just a year before Chernobyl. Obviously, that turned out not to be the case, but as fans look ahead to the (presumably) upcoming fourth season, the theory is making the rounds again.
Chernobyl being a factor in Season 4 does make more sense than the Season 3 theories, admittedly. It's unclear when the next season would be set, but it could actually be set in 1986 when the disaster happened. Also, the post-credits scene revealed that the Soviets are still doing experiments in with the Upside-Down, and they have an American in their custody. Whether this American turns out to be Hopper or Dr. Brenner, as fans are theorizing, it seems likely that more of the action in Season 4 would take place in Russia, rather than just the first and last scenes as was the case in Season 3.
On the other hand, Chernobyl is on everyone's minds right now because of the surprise success of HBO's historical drama. Part of the reason why Chernobyl was so gripping was because it showed audiences who might have been familiar with the details of the disaster just how horrible the radiation was, and how much it devastated peoples' lives. Could Stranger Things, a largely fun, escapist, retro sci-fi show about kids and teens invoke the Chernobyl disaster in Season 3? Sure. Should it? Probably not. Will it? Again, probably not, but stranger things have happened.
SERENA JOY IS SECRETLY WORKING TO ESCAPE GILEAD WITH BABY NICHOLE
Season 3 of The Handmaid's Tale is retreading a lot of old ground, as later seasons of the Hulu show are wont to due, but one of the main plots right now involves Gilead's attempt to force Canada to return Baby Nichole to the puritanical state. June successfully smuggled her child out of Gilead at the end of the previous season, and she got Serena Joy to agree that her life would be better that way, as hard as it was for Serena to let her adopted (stolen?) child go.
But, she's had a change of heart in Season 3, apparently, and now she's working with Commander Waterford and the Gilead government to get Baby Nichole back into the country. What gives? Well, this theory posits that Serena wants to get Nichole back so that they both can escape after being reunited, since we know that she does have the phone that the representative for the U.S. Government-In-Exile gave her. She's "using Fred and her power to get [Baby Nichole] back into Gilead, only to run away to paradise and escape with her," as the theory put it.
This would explain why Serena is having such an about-face, and would help explain why she's suddenly being so nasty to June again — it's because she can't let her know about her plan. Also, it would make her secret Chekov's cell phone pay off. Is the plan to bring Nichole back only to escape together wildly convoluted? Yeah, totally, but it also sounds like something The Handmaid's Tale would do at this point. Call this theory plausible, even if it's a little frustrating.