Title: Stranger Things 2
Air Date: October 27, 2017
Genre: Science Fiction, Supernatural fiction, Historical period drama, Horror, Mystery
Where to begin… Well, I guess I’ll be honest and admit to all my readers that I binged the second season of Stranger Things on Netflix in one sitting. That’s not completely true. I went upstairs, jotted down some notes, tried to resist watching the last three episodes, then ultimately went back downstairs and stayed up until 5 AM finishing it off. And if you didn’t do the same, then I can’t bash you for it. I understand. I’m just glad that there’s also Beyond Stranger Things to keep me busy now that I’m done with the season, because I’m already feeling the symptoms of withdrawal from no more episodes. There are two words to explain why: because this season is “pure fuel.”
The story of the second season takes place about a year from where the characters left off in the first season. Everybody is trying to put the altercation with the Demogorgon in the past, especially since those at the Hawkins Lab are imposing their will on the matter. But signs that the Upside Down isn’t done with the characters show themselves in none other than Will, the boy who sparked the events of the first season. He continues to have reoccurring flashes of the Upside Down and sees a “shadow monster” lurking there, attempting to get ahold of him. When the Mind Flayer–as the monster is later referred to–possesses Will’s body (this kid cannot catch a break), his friends Dustin, Mike, and Lucas must enlist the help of newcomer to their party, Max; the older kids, Jonathan, Nancy, and Steve; and the adults, Hopper, Joyce, and Joyce’s new boyfriend, Superhero Bob, to help save Will once again and free Hawkins from the spreading clutches of the Mind Flayer’s grasp. But they all soon become aware that this new monster is much more powerful than that of the Demogorgon from the first season. In fact, it’s the one who controls all the creatures from the Upside Down, like a hive mind. Meanwhile, Eleven struggles to come to grips with her situation. Spoiler(?), she’s alive.
I think, although the stakes are raised tremendously compared to that of the first season, the Duffer Brothers have found comfort in the familiar, which is quite ironic since the show is titled Stranger Things. As the old saying goes: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I love that about this season. There’s enough new material to keep you entertained throughout its entirety, but the Duffer Brothers maintain a sense of familiarity with each and every episode. From the characters exploring new situations in the same places to the use of D&D as an analogy for the creatures in the Upside Down and how the kids–primarily Dustin, Will, Lucas, and Mike–view their friend-group, there’s a heaping ton of material that’s explored further in the second season that was introduced in the first. This method of writing makes you feel at home while watching the pure evil of the Mind Flayer take control of Will’s body, a feeling Eleven has trouble with throughout the season.
The characters in this season each undergo their own evolution. Jonathan and Nancy finally gather the courage to share a bed (the morning after scene is one of the funniest), Steve accepts his role as the kid’s babysitter, Will struggles to stay in control of his body, Hopper finds that he truly cares for Eleven, Dustin impresses with his new attitude, and Mike remains stagnant in hopes that Eleven is still alive. I can’t go into details about all of the character’s transformations because there are so many characters, but how they evolve over the course of the season is done in such a way that moves them forward, not backward.
But the development I like the most is Eleven’s own personal journey in discovering who she really is. She struggles with accepting the fact that she is safer without leaving Hopper’s house and has trouble finding out where home really is. First off, the dynamic between David Harbour and Millie Bobby Brown is excellent. They work great together, and you can see the chemistry between them as the season progresses. That said, I think Eleven’s journey is both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. She finds her mother but still doesn’t feel at home. She finds a long lost patient that was with her at the Hawkins Lab, someone she calls her sister but still doesn’t feel at home. It’s not until after that episode, “The Lost Sister”, that she discovers that sometimes home is where she would least expect it to be. There’s a fine line between family and home, a theme that’s explored throughout the season. Watch how the newcomers, Billy and Max, evolve over the course of the season, and what they consider home to be like for them.
What’s a season of Stranger Things without the popular references made throughout? The Duffer Brothers always find a way to make these references come full circle, and that’s an aspect of their writing that makes them stand out from others. In particular, the use of the Dig Dug arcade game as a metaphor for the tunnels used by the Demodogs to travel Hawkins without being exposed to the sun. The classic arcade game also foreshadows events to come in the season. The same goes for the use of Princess Daphne in the arcade game, Dragon’s Lair: Lucas and Dustin fighting over the Princess foreshadows their conflict on who will win over Max. But, the obvious references are great too. From The Terminator to Ghostbusters to Jaws to The Goonies to The Warriors, there’s something here for everyone.
A more subtle, but still important, theme that’s explored in Season 2 of Stranger Things is the nature vs. nurture argument that still poses questions in today’s society. With the introduction of Dart, a small creature that Dustin discovers in his trash can, you see the argument played out over the course of the season. You see how the creature evolves from a pollywog looking slimy guy to a dog-like Demogorgon. More importantly, you see how Dustin’s treatment of the creature shapes it into the faithful, nougat-loving pet that remains loyal to him even after escaping to the wild with his other Demodog pals. It goes to show that sometimes how you raise your pet, or even your child, can have a greater influence on how they behave compared to other environmental factors. If that doesn’t convince you, as I mentioned earlier, watch how Billy’s character unfolds as the season progresses. In no way are his actions justified, but, by the end, you see why he acts the way he does.
The writing of the second season is artfully crafted into a humorous, scary, and thought-provoking piece of television, one that demands your attention because it’s so well-paced. So much so that I think the Duffer Brothers thought they could pull a fast one on you when introducing a whole new level of the show that you haven’t seen much of yet. This is my only “problem” with this season: the prologue, which then leads into the seventh episode, “The Lost Sister”. This episode feels so out of nowhere that it ends up missing the mark when you don’t think about it enough. There are obviously others like Eleven out there, and I like that you’re introduced to at least one this season, but it’s done so quickly that I thought it messed up the pacing of the show. But once you think about it, this episode is needed to show how Eleven has evolved over the course of the series. The ending battle is also dependent on a piece of advice given by her “sister.” So, although the episode felt off base, I understand why it’s needed in piecing together the grander scheme of things and can’t in good conscious dock any points because of it.
In Season 2 of Stranger Things, the introduction of the Mind Flayer leaves you wondering how future seasons will address this interdimensional antagonist. A conflict in the making almost always makes for a great story, especially if it’s written well. And, yes, the Duffer Brothers know their stuff. They and their team did everything right this season. Some elements that were superb that I haven’t even talked about yet include the selection of Sean Astin as Bob, the soundtrack, the acting by the whole cast, how the Duffer Brothers and their crew were able to manage such a young cast so effectively, the visuals, and–my personal favorite–the growing relationship between Steve and Dustin. If you didn’t laugh out loud at least once during a scene where they’re together, then you may be from the Upside Down. Now stop reading and go binge the hell out of Season 2.
Verdict: The second season of Stranger Things builds on the first by presenting its audience with a familiar ground to stand on, all while raising the stakes as each episode passes by. The characters develop realistically and according to the actions they and the others around them take, ultimately resulting in excellent storytelling. There is a hiccup in pacing once the seventh episode hits, but it’s a necessary one as it launches Eleven towards the final battle with the Mind Flayer and provides an essential backdrop in what’s to come in future seasons. The combination of good acting, directing, writing, music, themes, references, and visuals all scream that this show will go down in Halloween history. Saddle up and get ready to be amazed.
- Character introductions and development
- Raised stakes while maintaining familiarity
- Character relationships
- 80's themes and ambiance
- Writing and pacing
- "The Lost Sister" episode was a curveball