Back Down Under
Stranger Things season one was a monumental success that seemed to come out of nowhere. Filled with its excellent characters, exciting plot, and 80’s nostalgia, the show captivated audiences around the world and had them grow attached to the Hawkins gang. With the ambiguous ending of the first season, it seemed like the show could be a one season off show, but The Duffer Brothers thankfully did not stop there. It’s a joy to say that Stranger Things season two is able to capture the same charm and enjoyment of the first season and expand its universe to leave room for more. Even with a few missteps, the nine episode season easily surpasses expectations through excellent character development, tight and tense writing, and overall fun.
Set approximately one year after the events of the first season, the Hawkins gang have started to adjust to life in the aftermath of Eleven and the Demogorgon. Things are not the same for everyone as they still are hung up over some of the exciting and traumatic events that had happened. Particularly Will Byers seems to be having the toughest time, not able to shake his connection to the Upside Down. With that connection brings new circumstances for our characters who must all band together to unearth the mysteries that Hawkins holds.
The first season easily got by on its cast of characters and the chemistry between them, and thankfully that is maintained and explored further in season 2. Mike, Will, Lucas, and Dustin are all a joy to watch as a group as they navigate middle school and the struggles that come with it. These kids are growing up and new developments start to rattle this group particularly in the form of Maxine (or Max) the newest addition to the gang. She gives the boys a run for their money and has moments with each of them that present struggles with their group dynamic that are at times hilarious to watch.
Eleven also makes a welcome return, but to discuss her arc and relevance to the plot delves more into spoiler territory. What I can say, is that she has one the more satisfying growths and insights out of all of the characters in the show and expands her backstory in ways that are heartwarming and heart breaking to watch.
Season 2 goes deeper into these characters and explores the mental consequences of the events of the first season. We immediately see that Will is not all right, and why should he be? He has been trapped in a parallel dimension with no contact, that should definitely have an impact on someone, especially a middle schooler. The way Will navigates his thoughts and emotions is captivating yet heartbreaking to watch especially in the relationship with his mother Joyce. Shoutout to both actors, Noah Schnapp and Winona Ryder respectively, who deliver powerhouse performances to sell us on the raw emotion and consequences the Upside Down has had on this group.
That is my favorite thing about Season 2, the fact that the writer are not afraid to explore the post-traumatic stress and repercussions of the first season. Mike is still upset over the loss of Eleven and how much he was attached to her. Nancy is still hung up on the idea that Barb was killed in the Upside Down. The police chief Hoppers has difficulties managing two different lives one brought up in response to the Upside Down. It is extremely interesting to watch this drama unfold and see how the characters deal with both the old problems and the new. It would be so easy to just hit the reset button and draft a new story given the new season, but the writers have elected to make a strong continuation of the journey’s and arcs in the first season.
The plot moves along at a brisk pace keeping you invested through the nine episode season. The threat they face is much bigger than the Demogorgon, and its exciting to see how these characters use their talents to try and fight the new baddie in town. There is rarely a dull moment explored whether its through the tense chase scenes or drama within the characters, this is an easy binge watch to allow you to venture through the intricacies of this world. I am trying to keep most of the plot details out of this review, but I can say that the last two episodes are some of the best for the show as a whole as it ramps up the tension and pays off on most of the investments you made in the story. There are unpredictable twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Unfortunately, the season does fall into some small flaws particularly in its pacing and new characters. The episodes do move along a fast pace but there is one episode in particular that stands out as a sore thumb in hindsight. The episode is dedicated to providing more depth and exploration of a certain character, but it has almost nothing to do with the overarching conflict. The episode as a standalone watch is great, but woven into the story especially when the tension is at a peak detracts from the overall excellent pace of the season.
In addition, the characters of Max and her step-brother Billy are entirely hit or miss. Max blends in well with the cast but it does take awhile to find her groove. The same cannot be said for Billy who goes through absolutely no character growth and seems like a plot device for the writers. He is a bully and a jerk with little redemption within him. It is disheartening to see because in season one, Steve started out as a bully but went through an excellent arc that made you root for him by the season’s end. Hopefully future seasons will explore Billy in more detail.
Stranger Things season two is a great followup to season one that proves this mysterious town still has stories to tell. It addresses the events of the first season in a satisfying way that you are able to see real growth in the characters. Everything that worked in season one is expanded upon in a proper way that still maintains the heart and soul of the series. There are exciting plot developments that will keep you watching until the end, and even then you will be hoping for more. Some pacing issues aside, Stranger Things now stands as one of television’s powerhouses and will undoubtedly stick around for a long time. Now let’s just hope the wait is not too long.