Halloween: the time of spooks and scares, of tricks and treats, of strange otherworldly monsters and telekinetic girls. That’s right my friends; dust off those conspiracy boards and strap in for the second season to last year’s surprise Netflix hit, Stranger Things. I’ll be doing my damnedest to avoid spoilers, but there’s no guarantee. If you haven’t watched season two (or season one for that matter), proceed at your own risk.
For those of you who don’t know what Stranger Things is, it is a Netflix-original 80s-style small-town horror/sci-fi show. Think of it as a scarier, more supernatural version of Goonies or Stand by Me. Season One introduced us to our main cast and the central mystery/conceit of the show: the Disappearance of Will Byers, the appearance of a young girl named Eleven and her telekinetic/psychic powers, and the Upside Down. It was a tightly constructed season that resolved its main plot while leaving open the doors to expand the world and answer a lot of unanswered questions.
Now, over a year later, we have the answer to some of those questions as well as a whole host of others. Season Two does not possess the tight narrative of Season One, but it does have the advantage of knowing that it’ll probably get a season three. Therefore, it can afford to think on a larger time-scale. A lot of this has to do with the increase in the number of plot threads we get, along with the increase of characters in the cast.
We’ve got the main crew— Mike, Lucas, Dustin, Will— and each of them get their own mini-arcs. Lucas and Max, Dustin and Dart, Will and Joyce and the fallout of Season One, and Mike….is pretty sidelined this season, but considering he was the main focus of Season One, that’s ok. It gave the rest of the cast a chance to grow and to expand, which is exactly what we needed, enabling us to finally see more of the other families.
The other plots are split between Eleven and Sheriff Hopper (whose plots converge and diverge throughout the whole season), along with Jonathan, Nancy and Steve, who fulfill the fandom’s promise of “Justice for Barb” and resolve their lingering love triangle. I’m glad that the creators addressed both of those issues and hopefully this was the wrap up we needed on those plot threads before we move on to others. This season also brings back everyone’s favorite character: Nail Bat!
On a more serious note, I think this season was a little bit overstuffed with all of these moving pieces, but there was a lot to love about it. Steve’s character arc continues here, and I’m so thankful for the nuance they are giving his character. He could have easily been the shitty boyfriend that he originally started out as in the beginning of the first season, but this season gave him a slow arc of character growth. He isn’t perfect, exemplified by the advice he gives Dustin on how to get girls and his own thoughts on love; but he has moved beyond the sex-obsessed douchebag we were first introduced to.
Bob was also a fun addition to the cast and exemplified peak-Dad characteristics of any character other than Mike’s. But out of all the new characters, new girl Max was the best and a true joy to watch. Her ‘brother’ (whose name I can’t remember so I’ll just call him by his key traits: Toxic Masculinity & Creepy Charmer) was easily the worst part of the season. He served no purpose other than to be an example of the bad guy that Steve could have been, failing to bring anything new to the show; at best, he’s a plot device for Max and Steve.
Speaking of unnecessary additions, Episode Seven was most definitely a misstep for the series. It broke from the established format of jumping between plot points to slowly build tension; instead it spent an entire episode focused on Eleven and Eight, a new character who really irked me. By spending the whole episode on this, we don’t have the layered storytelling we’ve gotten throughout the rest of the show. There were at least three cuts in the first twenty minutes where I expected us to cut away to another storyline to give us a breather, but we never get that. Instead, we get more of Eight and her self-righteous attitude. She serves as a foil to Eleven, as someone who grew up without anyone to hold her back or to teach her anything about compassion. She has no remorse and pretends to care about Eleven, but her only concern is her own agenda (at least at the onset). By the end of the episode, it’s apparent that Eleven’s presence has had an effect on her, but what that effect is is left up in the air. However, the episode was necessary for Eleven’s growth as a character, so it can’t be skipped. While I applaud the directing of the episode and the decision to take a risk, it wasn’t one that panned out.
Beyond that and a few other, smaller pacing problems, this season is very solid. It’s not as focused on the elements of horror established in Season One (which is a shame) but it makes up for it with the development of characters’ depths. Check it out if you haven’t yet, and if you have, get pumped for season three… eventually.