Stranger Things – Season 2 Review
The first season of Stranger Things was outstanding. A gripping sci-fi narrative, clear 80s inspiration and child actors who could actually act. Suffice to say this series felt new and fresh, whilst still being about as 80s as being smacked around the face with Marty Mcfly’s hover board. So, with the stellar season opening the show a second was almost guaranteed, but posed the question ‘could it ever live up to its predecessor?’ Thankfully, that question can be now met with a resounding ‘yes!’.
Season two picks up in a completely new setting. We’re dropped in the middle of a police pursuit, as a group of degenerates try to escape after breaking into an apartment. The group only escape by relying on the powers of a gifted member, who confuses the trail of cop cars following them. This initial intrigue is only addressed near the end of the series and develops into the worst aspect of this series by far. But, we’ll get to that little rant later. After the enigmatic opener, we are welcomed back into the retro wonderland we all know and love, with the nostalgia being turned up to eleven as our foursome gather spare change for an urgent cause: the arcade. The return of Mike (Wolfhard), Dustin (Matarazzo), Lucas (McLaughlin) and Will (Schnapp) genuinely feels like a group of friends reuniting after the summer break. This gladly ushers us back into their world as we buckle in for another season of nostalgic video games, chopper bikes, classic tunes and naturally, a fair amount of fighting off demonic creatures.
As the first season ended, we were left with a decent amount of hanging questions, which people have been screaming at the Duffer brothers over Twitter for the answers for almost a year. Will Eleven be back? Why is Will throwing up slugs? How much more eighties a reference can they subtly shove into every shot of the show? Do Lucas’ parents even exist? Clearly, someone was listening, as I’m pleased to say that all of your most urgent queries have been answered, whilst also advancing the narrative to evoke a whole other round of intriguing quandaries.
One aspect which has always stood out for me in this show was the performance. The main brat pack consists of some of the best child actors of their generation, standing up against veteran actors like Winona Ryder. Speaking of which, Ryder reprises her role as the maternal warrior Joyce Byers. Her performance as an extremely unlucky mother captivates an audience, to a level which makes you actually believe it’s her family through her uphill battle to protect her sons. Alongside her, and the other few key adult characters is David Harbour’s, Chief Hopper. Harbour often gets a bad rap, appearing in some particularly terrible films, yet in this, he manages to pull off one of the most charismatic and endearing characters in the entire cast.
For the majority of the first season, our protagonists are hunting for Will and aiming to retrieve him from the Upside Down. As a result, we barely get to see Will, meaning his character interactions are pretty sparse. In the new season, we see his easily believable integration back into the party. At the same time, Schnapps really shows his acting chops, by simultaneously acting normal while battling with his recurring ‘episodes’ of the terrors in the Upside Down. To go from a character that is barely seen, to give one of the stand out performances in such a talented cast is quite the advancement for both character and actor.
Relationships stand as one of the key thematic pillars of season two. That includes both the end of some and blossoming of others. The growing ties between characters who we’ve never before seen share a scene which helps to build a further complexity to the emotional links between the residents of Hawkins, Indiana. Although fans might be sad to see the end of love in some cases, many of these connection conclusions lead to character development which the series is so well renowned for.
As previously mentioned, the Duffer brothers love to pack in references to the bygone era of the eighties at pretty much every juncture in the show. Whether that be setting the alias for one of the protagonists as ‘MADMAX’ (I know, subtle isn’t it), or the party’s matching Ghostbusters Halloween costumes, or even showing that The Terminator is screening at the local cinema. To go along with these visual reminiscent gems, this season comes with a stunning soundtrack which rivals that of Guardians of the Galaxy. From classic hits like Scorpions’ Rock You Like a Hurricane or Duran Duran’s Girls On Film to returning tracks like The Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go. These help to immerse us in the world of the eighties and stop us from getting lost in the Sci-Fi hell that is the scenes within the Upside Down.
I wish you could say that season two is, to quote Sum 41, All Killer No Filler. But unfortunately, there is one episode which sticks out like a sore thumb alongside its carefully crafted brethren. At the start of the first episode, we are introduced to a gangly group of criminals who are being chased by the police. It’s not until episode seven that we are begrudgingly reunited with this motley crew. This episode features a B-plot which could have been spread across the entire season but instead is forced unwillingly into one short episode; as we see Eleven develop her powers with another powerful victim of the Hawkins Lab experiments. Maybe, as a full story arc this could have been worked into the season, but honestly, you could cut out that episode and it would be completely inconsequential. In fact, that is exactly what I suggest you do – watch episodes one to six, and then eight to nine. This rushed mess of an episode feature criminally undeveloped characters, terribly brief dialogue, and a seemingly random narrative. This is truly the only element in which the series falls down, but man did it fall hard.
As a whole, I loved season two of Stranger Things. Maybe slightly less than the first season, because of that episode, but ignoring that it’s excellent. Maintaining interest in the ever-expanding stellar cast, dropping in satisfying references to everything eighties, showing genuine character growth through the season, and giving a nicely nasty array of demo-creatures for our protagonist to battle. I could watch Mike and his rag tag group’s adventures over and over, and easily place them alongside the Loser’s Club from It and the kids from Stand By Me, as some of the most convincing childhood friendship groups to ever be depicted on screen. Season two undoubtedly lived up to the hype, and without a doubt has left me wanting to visit the messed up little town that is Hawkins again; for many seasons to come. This show is an unnervingly subtle sci-fi, a monster movie horror, a classic coming of age story, and enigmatic mystery thriller all rolled up into one. So, if you’re a fan of any of those genres, Stranger Things is not to be missed.