It might be difficult to remember in this age of the #JusticeforBarb hashtags, Eleven cosplay and Dustin gifs, but in the summer of 2016, Stranger Things was a show that came out of nowhere. No one had heard about this quirky little show and yet when it launched, it managed to reach an unexpected level of success. On word of mouth alone, Stranger Things soared to new heights and became a bona-fide sensation. With its charming cast, colorful characters and affectionate references to ‘80s films as well as TV classics, the show permeated the subconscious of the public. Therefore, it didn’t come as a surprise to know that there were a lot of expectations associated with the sequel. Stranger Things season 2 came to our television screens with most of the familiar elements in place; the soundtrack, humor, cast, references as well as the nightmarish imagery.
The follow-up is basically a combination of The Exorcist, Alien and a whole lot more of Stephen King. However, it doesn’t have the novelty value of its predecessor and also its immediate charm, but the second season makes up for it by expanding the world that was established by its predecessor. The season picks up a little under the year since Will’s return and our heroes’ foray in the Upside Down.
Even though he is home safe, it seems that Will Byers is still not okay and this mystery leads the group into a battle with a new menace called The Mind Flayer. This is a more terrifying, invasive and powerful force that’s much harder to defeat as compared to the Demogorgon. Most of the time, the season focuses on pushing the characters into new and uncharted territory. Will gets a lot more screen-time in this season and he shows that he is more than capable of fulfilling the huge demands being placed on him.
Jim Hopper’s character is also fully explored in this season as the police chief is struggling to play the role of the adoptive father to Eleven, who he is hiding. The show also widened its scope to include families of both Lucas and Dustin this time, with the former’s sister coming off as a scene-stealer and a delightful new addition. As far as the show’s heart is concerned, it remains firmly in place. Lucas also sees his role expanded this season and also get a love interest in the form of Maxine. The mutual attraction between Jonathan and Nancy also bubbles nicely in the background without interfering in the thrilling narrative.
In the early episodes, Nancy is focused on getting justice for Barb and she gets a pay-off in the final episode. With Nancy and Jonathan getting together, Steve Harrington becomes the big brother figure to the kids and does this job really well. As far as Eleven is concerned, she goes on a trip, both metaphorically and literally. She investigates her own personal history, which is interesting, although not as much as the terrifying inhabitants of the Upside Down.
The only major misstep that the second season makes is in the seventh episode, which is focused entirely on Eleven’s journey outside of Hawkins and her brief time with a gang of youths led by a super-powered Eight. Another risk the show took was keeping Mike and El apart for so long, but the emotional reunion kind of made up for it in a big way. With that said, one of the strangest problems in the second season was the decision to sideline the heart and soul of the first one; Mike. He was pushed into the background until the last two episodes. While Joyce Byers get more screen time, her character development is nothing to talk about.
The character’s material feels like a rehash as she is still fretting over her younger son and feverishly working to piece together disparate and surreal clues about his condition. Season two also gets some fresh faces like Bob Newby, Joyce’s boyfriend. The character is charming and amiable and you find yourself rooting for him even though it is clear he is nothing more than a sacrificial tool. His death paves the way for a Joyce and Hopper romance. While Max gets a really good introduction, the character seems rather irrelevant to the plot.
The same goes for her brother Billy, who is downright despicable. It seems that the only reason to introduce him was to show that Steve is not such a bad guy. They did throw Billy’s abusive father into the mix, but it was a little too late for people to feel for the character. Brenner is replaced with another doctor as a mouthpiece for the monsters or the human villain, but he doesn’t live up to the task that was accomplished by his predecessor. Furthermore, after all the fuss that was creating for Barb not getting proper closure in the first season, the makers decided to listen to the public.
She finally got a funeral and her parents, who were willing to sell their house so they could hire an investigator to look for their daughter, can now grieve for her properly. The flawed yet bolder season two of Stranger Things makes a great effort to capture the essence and beauty that was the first season. It takes a few risks here and there, which means that even if it is not as confident and cohesive as the first one, it does a really good job and is fun to watch.
The final two episodes of the second season, in particular, are spectacular because they are just the right blend of action, emotion and also quiet character moments. The epilogue is sweet-natured and wonderful, so much so that it leaves you craving for the third season already. The stage is also set for the new sequel. Yes, there is no cliffhanger as in the previous one, but some lingering threats have been left hanging like Eight and her gang and the terrors in the Upside Down, which will pave the way for new adventures.