I don’t think expectations for a series can get any higher than they do for Stranger Things. Last year the show came out of nowhere and swept people up into its 1980s mythos. Netflix has had some popular shows but nothing to the level of this. It’s become part of American pop culture.
I adored the first season. It was made for me and I ate it up. A time period I grew up in and remember well. An awesome adventure that stars kids that harkens back to the best stuff that Stephen Spielberg has done. The cast of kids is awesome, the story was cool with a fantastic mix of horror, suspense, and laughs.
Now a year and a half later, The Duffer Brothers and crew have delivered Season 2.
I’m going to talk about everything, so spoilers ahoy.
It’s an expansive season in terms of the main kids. They are apart for quite a bit of the runtime, trying to figure things out largely on their own until things blow up so much they come together to survive. By breaking the group up, more personal stories come out.
Eleven and Mike are largely pushed out of the spotlight. Mike is pretty much in mourning over the missing Eleven and is very protective of keeping the status quo of his crew. Eleven doesn’t reunite with the boys until the very end which was really surprising. Hopper keeps her hidden (rightfully so) until he’s swept away and she breaks out on her own.
Will remains window dressing, which is disappointing. The kid is the resident of The Upside Down and everyone more or less worries about him for the entire show. He’s the McGuffin again and while the kid is fantastic at selling torment, they can’t waste his talents as the We Have To Figure Out How To Help Him Kid again.
Dustin and Lucas get pushed forward with much more screen time and all for the better. They’ve both hit the “notice girls” phase and jockey for attention from the new girl. We get to meet Lucas’ family (his little sister is fantastic) and he gets much more fleshed out as a character. Dustin gets himself in trouble by breaking group rules and he scrambles for awhile to fix things on his own.
Speaking fo the new girl, Max is a good fit for the cast. She’s rather guarded and it takes far too long to find out why, but she’s an interesting added dynamic that has a lot of room to grow. Her stepbrother Billy is a ponderous character though. His dynamic with Lucas is super weird and he’s a rather tacked on bully that doesn’t do much. He’s a half-baked character compared to the rest. His quick scene with Mike’s mother was a great payoff though.
Steve is probably the biggest standout this season, pretty much everything he’s in is fantastic. By breaking up the kids more, they got to do different character pairings that worked really well. Steve and Dustin are the greatest together as it turns out Steve is a great mentor and he’s awesome to have in a clutch situation.
After Nancy chose Steve last year, I think we were all bummed for Jonathan. One of my favorite arcs this season was the love triangle shift. The dynamic between Nancy and Steve quickly soured and the mission with Nancy and Jonathan brought the real couple together. And hey, Justice for Barb is real!
Sean Astin as Bob! I love Sean Astin, so I love Bob. They managed to keep Joyce from being ultra weepy so, so that’s a bonus. Bob was good for her. For as little time as Bob got, he was established well and he made for a great hero. I’m also happy with Paul Reiser’s character, Dr. Sam Owens. I thought they’d follow his Aliens roll but they kept him solid guy which I was happy to see.
Hopper remained great and his surrogate father role worked well and felt believable to me. As much as Eleven pouted and complained, he was right in everything he did. When you find out The Upsidedown is spreading under your town, that can be a distraction from your parenting duties. That leads to the most controversial part of the season: episode 7. Eleven’s Solo Adventure.
I liked it. It was good to get out of the town and see something else. Eleven desperately needed something new to do. It’s very easy for her character to stay trapped in Will territory, the same stresses and scenes replaying over and over again. She has far and away the most interesting backstory to explore too. She learns her mother isn’t dead and manages to communicate with her when no one has in years. It’s such a tragic story but it’s great to see Eleven meet her roots. That leads her to Eight, who is essentially her sister. The only person (right now) that knows exactly what Eleven has gone through.
The criticism for this stretch seems to be that it’s too much of a show deviation. It’s only Eleven, so everything stops for her to take a short road trip. I don’t agree with that. I’ve seen people go as far to say it was “pointless” which is completely wrong. It’s world-building for a show that really needs it. Eleven is integral to everything and she has to make moves on her own. She’s been basically a lab rat for her entire life so she’s naive and it’s often like following a preschooler around. How many times can we see her wiggle her hands around to use her power and make her nose bleed? You gotta move past those clichés as fast as you can.
The girl has the guts to go hitchhiking and she finds her family! She decides to put in some of her detective skills to good use after everyone has been sheltering her (something Will can relate to). I think Eight is cool and watching Eleven basically meet her sister was huge. They both got away from the lab and they both found their own crews. Eight has been consumed by anger and found friends to enable her. Her whole motivation is revenge and that’s something Eleven can (and has) fallen easily into. It’s not that difficult to manipulate Eleven but in this episode, Eleven stands up for herself. She’s uncomfortable with Eight’s techniques and realizes her place isn’t next to her sister. Her crew that she left behind (and that includes her “father” Hopper) is where she needs to be. It’s major growth for her and I was stoked to see it. Plus, she gets a bad ass entrance when she comes back. Our telekinetic is done hiding!
The build-up is slow this season. It takes awhile for the pieces to be put in place and the mayhem to kick in. I found the build up to be fun, if predictable. What happens with Dustin’s pet, Dart, is obvious as anything and the show asks you to just roll with things a lot (what are they injecting Will with? No one’s putting a single second thought into jacking him up like that) about the dosage? Characters figure out/realize things at just the right time). The climax is rather blasé too. We never truly meet the monster and never get any kind of motivation or goal from it. Something besides “thing that’s trying to get here to do bad things” would be appreciated.
I had fun the whole way through. I get a kick out of the little things like how they show what a pain in the ass it was to find a friend if he wasn’t home when you called. The chemistry with the kids is great, and the balance of comedy and suspense is spot on. Killer soundtrack and solid special effects, too. I think the end sets up the possibility for the best season yet because of where everyone is left to move on from. It’ll take the show to new areas which I think will ultimately pay off. I’d like to see Eleven find more kids and I hope someday Eight comes back. A monster that can communicate would be nice. Now that Eleven is back and Will is fine (he better be) the crew will be whole right from the start so there are no limits to how they can kick season 3 off. After the initial cold shoulder Eleven gave Max, it’ll be something to see them become friends.
Let’s blow this adventure up to new heights, I’m excited for more.