When “Stranger Things 2” dropped on Netflix Oct. 27, I was kind of shocked the whole streaming service didn’t suddenly shut down in protest.
Since the Netflix series took off after it’s seemingly forever-ago debut in July 2016, the whole fan base (with a large, and sometimes disturbing, following on the internet) seems to have been holding its breath for the hotly anticipated second season that brings viewers back to Hawkins, this time in 1984, the home of the Upside Down and a gang of misfits who are submerged into the supernatural.
The Duffer Brothers are unconventional and innovative filmmakers who, with the first season of “Stranger Things”, proved they have a knack, not only for thoughtful story telling, but, are also able to pay homage to the roster of eighties films while still keeping their “Stranger Things” universe their own.
In the second season, the Duffers definitely delivered on making a sequel to their previous season — answering some of our questions while posing countless others. What viewers may or may not appreciate is the expansion of the universe. The setting is pushed a little beyond Hawkins that suddenly makes the previous season’s story of a lost boy in the woods miniscule in comparison. The Duffers decided to go big instead of going home which, though problematic in some areas, proved they are creators who are not afraid of taking risks.
What I found awesome about ST2?
The boys are back
In full honestly, the awesomeness far outweighs the more problematic threads of season two. So, let’s start with whom I hope we all love most: the characters.
What was wonderful about season 2 was how the Duffers dived into the interior worlds of their cast, most notably the interior worlds of Dustin, Lucas, and Eleven. This made already lovable characters even more complex and sympathetic to viewers and gave them the bite that kids-on-the verge of being teenagers needed.
Speaking of interior worlds, the one character viewers will be seeing a lot more of is the mysterious Will Byers, who went missing in an alternate dimension and was saved last season. Will, who ended the last season clearly not as OK as he would like his friends and family to believe, is brought in, front and center this season.
Noah Schnapp, who was twelve at the time of filming, steals the show with a captivating, and at times terrifying, performance. It’s a doozy of a story line for Will, and Schnapp pulls it off without a hitch. If Noah is an Easter Egg of a surprise for viewers, the powerful and much-adored Eleven is not left out in the cold either. Millie Bobby Brown is challenged with a more emotional story arc, which she carries flawlessly — it is a lovely journey for the character and is brought to life with a lot of thought to the character and the overarching themes of the show.
New kids on the block
“Stranger Things 2” also brought with it a bundle of new characters and relationships that were touched on and viewers will look forward to seeing more of in future seasons. Max Mayfield, played by fifteen-year-old Sadie Sink, is a tough-love tomboy who wants to get in with the boys and is a refreshing addition to the cast of kids. Max’s storyline, while not pertinent to the plot, encapsulated some of the more interesting relationship dynamics the series spotlights this season. Joyce Byers’ boyfriend, Bob Newby, played by the charismatic Sean Astin, is this season’s MVP—Astin takes a potentially throw-away character and makes him full of heart, charm, and is a true hero when he gets tied up in the supernatural terror invading Hawkins. Steve Harrington, played by Joe Keery, shines in his new role as reluctant baby-sitter for Dustin, Lucas, and Max and gets an even more developed arc than he did last season. The new monsters are worth mentioning. The Mind Flayer, a terrifying presence that is connected to Will Byers, makes season one’s demogorgon look as cuddly as a kitten. Another monster, who isn’t supernatural at all, is another new arrival, Billy Hargrove. Billy, played by Dacre Montgomery, embodies a type of human-demogorgon that Billy is more than capable of emulating. Violent, hateful, and possibly insane, Billy is a malignant force that will have viewers thinking of the notorious Jack Torrance of Stephen King’s The Shining. Finally, the elusive and mysterious Number 8 experiment, Kali, played by newcomer Linnea Berthelsen, acts as a catalyst for Eleven when she ventures outside of rural Indiana and into the big city of Chicago. Kali and Eleven have a sisterly relationship that is ultimately tested by Kali’s drive for revenge after the men who hurt her, the same men who hurt Eleven, and the Kali-centric seventh episode explores the darkness that is both in Kali and in Eleven.
What was problematic about S2?
So many plots and so little time
The Duffers clearly had at least six plates spinning and this sadly means some characters and storylines got lost in the shuffle. The muddled nature of Jonathan and Nancy’s development left me a little cold because season 1 made their development a lot more of a priority. The Barb plot hole put the Duffers in a bit of a jam that they did not solve as neatly as they could have—it resulted in a weird alliance with a conspiracy theorist Murray (played by Bret Gelman) that just didn’t feel in character with either of them. Nancy, who proved to be both complex and ultimately sympathetic in season 2, becomes even more compellingly flawed with her handling of her relationship with Steve, Jonathan, and Barb’s death. Natalia Dyer delivers a performance that, while I will argue derives from Duffer’s not taking the sufficient time to accurately deal with Barb’s disappearance, makes the frustration over Nancy and Jonathan’s development a little easier to bear. She is utterly convincing which only makes her lack of development this season even more ridiculous—as one of the few female leads on the show with a complexity not often shown in television, especially in the character of a teenage girl, this relegating of her character into a rushed romantic plotline is disappointing, to say the least.
On the subject of the sisterhood, the Duffers need to maybe take season 3 as an opportunity to recognize their female-to-female interactions are severely lacking and, with the exception of Eleven and Kali, the boys-club mentality is getting real old, real fast. Max, the only other girl in the kids’ ‘party’ besides El, has her offer of friendship towards Eleven rejected because of the other girl’s jealousy. I get it. It’s about the narrative. It’s also an old trope that I am getting real tired of watching and, while it may be rectified in season 3, I didn’t see the necessity of including another absence of female friendship on this show. The other female-to-female interaction, or a ghost of one anyway, Justice for Barb fell flat by dragging on too long, which made cracks in the narrative.
A further example of this muddled way of expanding the universe was how Billy and Max, intriguing characters on their own, could have been used more effectively within the plot. It would have made them more integral, justified their presence with more conviction, and would have made carrying them into the next season a lot cleaner.
Last Thoughts Anyone?
So all rants aside, “Stranger Things 2” fulfilled most of my expectations and, for some, exceeded them. It very much acts as a sequel to the first season and places the main characters in very interesting positions come season 3. This is because Eleven, who was bouncing along her own journey for season 2, is finally back in Hawkins with her friends. Friendship dynamics, which were at play centrally through the season, are made even more complex, especially within the Snowball, the last scene of the season. Will and Mike is especially a pair to look out for, considering the amount of screen time they had with one another and the return of Eleven back into Mike’s life. The Duffers have pushed boundaries within their series and will probably continue to take more risks now that Season 3 has been officially announced.
Regardless, I watched season 2 within twenty four hours of it’s release and, as soon as it was over, I said, “So where is the next one?”
By Meagan Gove