In its sophomore season, Netflix’s Stranger Things uses its visual charm and well rounded cast to build a nostalgic yet fresh story with wonderful twists. I am a huge fan of the first season as it was everything I love about 80s cinema and culture encapsulated in a show. The great use of color, incredible cinematography, and retro synths created an atmosphere that transported viewers back to a simpler time without a huge reliance on technology. The show’s 80s setting of the fictional Hawkins, Indiana created a sense of containment and subtle claustrophobia as the events in the first season stayed within the town despite the show’s grandeur. To put it simply, in 2016, show creators Matt and Ross Duffer caught lightning in a bottle.
Due to the first season’s monumental acclaim, the announcement of Stranger Things 2 created a lot of hype on social media. There was finally a show that almost matched the excitement and speculation that HBO’s Game of Thrones had. Unfortunately, the constant buzz and speculation about season 2 led many to have insanely high expectations. Well, I’m happy to say that while it’s not absolutely perfect, Stranger Things 2 delivers on many of its promises and more than satisfies our cravings for a great, binge-worthy season.
SPOILERS AHEAD FOR SEASON 1 AND MINOR SPOILERS FOR SEASON 2!!!
Stranger Things 2 picks up a year after the events of the first season. Will Byers is now back in the group after being lost in the Upside Down, and things are going well for his friends Mike Wheeler, Dustin Henderson, and Lucas Sinclair. Joyce Byers has finally found her boy, Steve Harrington and Nancy Wheeler are still together, and Jonathan Byers is still himself. However, not everything is the same as Eleven is still missing after her encounter with the Demogorgon at the end of season 1. Moreover, Will is coughing up slugs and is faced with some sort of Upside Down version of PTSD… or so we think in the beginning. Jonathan, Nancy, and Steve are all conflicted about the death of their classmate Barb. As a new threat emerges, the characters find themselves once again facing the unknown from the Upside Down.
I loved the dynamic that each character brought into this season. There’s a really sweet friendship that develops between Dustin and Steve that I loved. Also, certain characters do certain things that we were all rooting for a long time… yeah Jonathan and Nancy… those two are lovebirds now, and I can’t be happier about it. The dialogue is delivered well by the actors, and the direction is excellent for the most part. There was a certain scene in particular between Hopper and Eleven that displayed an enormous amount of tension that I didn’t think would happen in this show. I was genuinely scratching my seat as the two yelled back and forth about their moralities. That’s the benefit that Netflix provides. Since this isn’t cable TV, the Duffer Brothers have the creative freedom to push boundaries.
I couldn’t praise this cast enough as it’s one of the best on TV right now. Winona Ryder and David Harbour are once again excellent. The kids have incredible acting talent that many shows can only dream. Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin and Noah Schnapp all give fabulously convincing, multifaceted performances. There’s an ongoing conversation between Dustin and Lucas throughout the show about their newfound crush that could easily have been ruined if not for the kids’ acting charm. I also really liked the new additions to the show. Max Mayfield, played by Sadie Sink, added a new dynamic to the team. Though she initially acted more mature than the boys, she finally leveled with her new friends and organically became a part of the team. Billy Hargrove, played by Dacre Montgomery, was a menacing bully. Joe Keery gave a particularly standout performance as a conflicted Steve, and that’s mainly to do with his fleshed out narrative arc that started in season 1. However, my favorite of the new characters was easily Sean Astin’s character, Bob Newby. Aside from the fact that Astin himself was the iconic Samwise Gamgee in Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” films, he’s just the nicest character ever and really lightened the mood. I found myself laughing nearly every time he spoke, and his addition to the cast balanced out the much darker tones in the show.
My main issue with this season has to do with the seventh episode. It goes against what made the show great in the first place by trying to set up a spinoff about the new character Eight. As audience members, we live in a world where studios are constantly attempting to create these massive cinematic universes comprised of sequels, prequels, and spinoffs. While this sometimes works, more often than not, they lose focus of the story and focus more on setting up the next big thing (we can see this especially with Marvel and DC). The episode centered around Eleven and a group of people she meets, and Eight, one of the group members, shares a close connection with Eleven in that the two have similar powers. Eight, who has psychic powers allowing her to create illusions, uses her newfound connection to control Eleven, and her character felt way too tonally inconsistent with the rest of the cast. It sounds like a nice idea, but it ultimately felt contrived and lazy due to it’s lack of progression for the show as a whole. I think they should have used this time to put Eleven in a more coming-of-age situation that’s true to her character as opposed to what we got, which was out of place for what I think the show was trying to build. Eleven is all about being a fish out of water in normal scenarios. She’s still growing as a person, and simple moments with her and Hopper highlight the family dynamic she’s been missing her whole life. I don’t think her character was ready to find others like her quite yet because her story in Hawkins was far from done. The showrunners seemed to realize that as well since they had Eleven return to Hawkins at the end of that episode, which makes Chapter 7 even more of a mess.
Aside from that episode, I absolutely loved “Stranger Things 2.” It sets up really well for a potential third season, and I loved how the story took its time to build to its amazing finale. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would go ahead and give “Stranger Things 2” an 8.5. It’s not as good as the first season only because the first season almost felt like a ticking time bomb. The stakes were much higher because there was a missing kid, and every day he was missing, things became darker. Here, those stakes are there, but they don’t feel as high. Season 2 diminishes the threat of the Demogorgon by adding numerous smaller and more CGI-looking Demogorgons. It was the same thing James Cameron did with the 1986 film “Aliens” – take the creature from the first movie, add more, but take away the scary aspects. The Demogorgons do some scary things in this season, but I wasn’t genuinely terrified of anything. It’s not a major nitpick, and many would probably love the classic sequel device of making more of the thing from the first part. The first season was a 10/10 for me, which I only reserve for the best of the best, so I wasn’t expecting another home run. However, despite my reserve, “Stranger Things 2” proved to be a pure delight, and fans are definitely going to want to revisit the Upside Down.
That is my review for Stranger Things 2! What do you think about the show? Do you agree or disagree? Do you think I should have mentioned something? If so, feel free to let me know in the comments section! Thanks!