Spoiler Warning for the first and second seasons of Netflix’s “Stranger Things”
Things get strange again with the debut of the sequel season to the hit Netflix original series “Stranger Things.” In the summer of 2016, Matt and Ross Duffer quietly released an eight-episode series that would go on to become one of Netflix’s most successful shows; with a massive fan base and the obsession with the 80s at an all time high, “Stranger Things” has solidified itself into the cultural lexicon, making a second season all the more anticipated. Was the wait worth it, though? Absolutely. Not only does Season 2 build on what made the series already great, it introduces new and refreshing elements to keep the audience guessing. The lovable band of characters somehow become even more interesting to watch, while the performances of the respective actors prove to be some of the best on television at the moment. Dealing with themes of trauma and death, the show becomes edgier and darker, while still maintaining the childish atmosphere that generates feelings of nostalgia. Grab your Ghostbusters costume and your box of Eggos as we venture back into the wonderful and strange town of Hawkins, Indiana.
The first season left off on several cliffhangers as the characters recovered from their ordeal with the Demogorgon and the Upside Down; Will (Noah Schnapp) may have been rescued, but Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) sacrificed herself for her friends and seemed to be lost to another dimension forever. Season 2 picks up nearly a year later and while life has returned to normal on the surface, everyone is still struggling to come to terms with what happened. Will keeps flashing to the Upside Down, but it isn’t exactly clear if he is hallucinating or if he is still connected to the terrifying alternate dimension; Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Hopper (David Harbour) have been taking Will to the Department of Energy laboratory from last season to figure out what is wrong with him, but it is apparent that even though the lab is under new management, something unusual is still going on. Dr. Sam Owens (Paul Reiser) is just one of the many new characters this season and his super calm demeanor makes him difficult to trust right off the bat, although he does show himself to be far more compassionate than Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) from last season. A major aspect of this season is the exploration of the effects of the trauma inflicted on Will during his disappearance; when life is literally flipped upside down, how do people, specifically children, get back on their feet?
Season 1 balanced time between the child characters and the adults, but that changes in the sophomore season; this isn’t to say that the adult characters don’t play major roles, rather they aren’t given nearly as much screentime this go-around. Joyce finds herself in a relationship with one of the MVPs of the season, Bob Newby (Sean Astin), and the two really have amazing chemistry; Bob’s try-hard attitude and dad-humor is extremely cheesy in the best way possible. Bob really shines as he does his best to get on the good side of Will and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) all the while providing emotional support to Joyce; since the start of the series, Joyce has been through a lot, so it’s rewarding to see her actually be able to smile a bit and have some happiness this season. Both Astin and Ryder have fantastic chemistry with one another, nailing both humorous and dramatic scenes. Will, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Mike (Finn Wolfhard) all really have their own individual sub-stories and missions; while the group may not get up to as many adventures together as they previously did, they all ultimately come together when duty calls, specifically when it comes to investigating the strange occurrences in their town.
Hopper’s role in the final few episodes of last season made me really come to appreciate him as a character, mostly because of his tragic backstory becoming a catalyst for him to step up and help in Will’s rescue. The premiere features the big reveal that Hopper is taking care of Eleven following her escape from the Upside Down; over the course of these nine episodes, a powerful bond develops between Hopper and Eleven as they struggle to keep her hidden from the government, as well as the other characters. This bond is a definite highlight of the season, specifically because of the fact that Hopper takes on a paternal role, something that Eleven hasn’t really had. Hopper’s reasoning doesn’t feel cliché or forced either; rather than him trying to replace his own daughter, Hopper genuinely views Eleven as her own person. Their relationship isn’t exactly calm and stable as Hopper does become overprotective, afraid of losing another child; both David Harbour and Millie Bobby Brown really sell this fractured relationship in their glares and bits of anger, but also in their lighthearted moments together. Having this connection between the two characters is a really smart move that opens the door to revealing Eleven’s backstory throughout the season.
Speaking of Eleven, she is mostly separated from the rest of the main characters for this batch of episodes; this is both a positive and a negative as the dynamic of her with the rest of the kids is somewhat lost, but she also gains more depth as her backstory is uncovered. It’s no secret that Eleven is one of the most fascinating characters on the show and on television currently, and this season really serves to explore just who she is and where she comes from. The first episode expands the show’s universe and lets the audience know that Eleven isn’t the only person with special powers; a young woman numbered Eight (Linnea Berthelsen) is revealed to have come from the same laboratory as Eleven, undergoing the sick experiments and torture. Chapter Seven, titled “The Lost Sister” is essentially an Eleven bottle episode, following her as she seeks answers about her mother and Eight; this particular episode doesn’t feel like “Stranger Things” at all and really breaks up the main story with its flat side characters, however, Eleven’s role in it is fantastic and really allows for a unique excursion to explain just who this enigmatic badass is. Having her away from the rest of the group does make the season feel as though it is missing something as this was a crucial aspect of the first eight episodes, but Eleven really grows as a character during this separation.
This season also follows Jonathan and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) as they struggle with their knowledge about what happened to Barb (Shannon Purser), eventually leading them to work towards exposing the government cover-up that took place. What started out a simply a friendship evolves into a romantic relationship as the two come together over their “shared trauma,” as conspiracy theorist Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman), who assists in their research, puts it. Another standout character of these nine episodes is none other than Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), who has become one of my favorites because of his brilliant development and all around good heart. Never could I have guessed that the douchey jock we met at the series start would evolve into a caring babysitter that would literally die to keep his “children” safe. The bond that forms between Steve and Dustin is especially memorable to watch as they exchange advice and work together to save their friends. The introductions of new characters Max (Sadie Sink) and Billy (Dacre Montgomery) really serve to shake up the quaint town of Hawkins with their tense family drama; Max is far more compelling as she joins the other kids and slowly learns about the supernatural forces at play, whereas Billy really only contributes by taking on Steve’s former role as the douchey jock.
“Stranger Things 2” really succeeds on every level from its expert storytelling and characters to the mystical supernatural elements and horror themes. The driving force of this series has always been the characters and that is especially true in Season 2, where nearly everyone gets their moment to shine and be developed further. The child actors are some of the best I’ve ever seen, but Noah Schnapp really steals the show, delivering some truly raw and emotional performances as Will finds himself caught between dimensions; I would even go so far as to say that Schnapp should be nominated for an Emmy next year. Millie Bobby Brown, Winona Ryder and David Harbour also nail their roles and help to showcase the additional layers of their respective characters. This has always been a wickedly entertaining series and this season really just builds on that while making the story darker and more frightening; thankfully, the humor and heart aren’t left behind and instead help to make this one of the most enjoyable shows on television at the moment. With several more seasons of story planned, it’s clear that this phenomenon isn’t going anywhere and will likely continue to dominate pop culture with talk of Eggos, Dungeons and Dragons, Demogorgons and yes, Barb. Simply put, “Stranger Things” is television done right.
Seasons 1 and 2 of “Stranger Things” are currently streaming on Netflix.