This review will be packed full of SPOILERS so this is a warning to anyone who has yet to see the second season of Stranger Things.
A little over a year has passed since Netflix’s Stranger Things took over our screens and became one of the most talked about TV shows in this day an age. Now, just in time for Halloween, Stranger Things 2 has dropped on Netflix for us to consume.
I got hooked on the Stranger Things train really early on its run, and like many people, I watched with no real exceptions for the show only to be blown away.
That being said, the second season was always going to be a tough task for the Duffer brothers. Stranger Things now had expectations and a massive audience that were screaming for more.
As an overview of the whole season, Stranger Things 2 was a really strong season of TV. It took some elements that we loved from the first season and built from them to make a season that stands as a worthy sequel.
There are so many aspects of this season that can kick of the positive side of this review (yes, there are a few negatives), but the aspect that stands out the most is by far the cast. Similar to season 1, the cast drives this show. Whether it is the kids, the teenagers or the adults, pretty much every member of this cast felt utilised to their potential this season.
Last season, many people were calling for Millie Bobby Brown to be nominated for an Emmy for her performance as Eleven and she got her nomination. This season however, it is one of her kid co-stars that steals the show: Noah Schnapp as Will Byers. Taking nothing away from the other kid actors, especially Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin and Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas who I thought both were outstanding, Noah Schnapp showed an acting range that I thought no one else showed, in not only this season, but in this show as a whole.
Putting a bit of attention onto the adult cast members, David Harbour was again a stand out and I think that comes with the arc they gave the character of Hopper this season. With his arc, Harbour got to show some emotional range that we didn’t get to tap too much into during the first season. Many of his scenes with Millie Bobby Brown’s Eleven was some of the best work he has done.
Before leaving the positive cast behind, Joe Keery who plays Steve has to be mentioned. While I don’t think his performance stood out the same way Schnapp or Harbour did, some of my favourite moments come from his character. While that also gives some credit to the writing of Steve as a character, I thought that Keery gave a performance that worked with his character. His natural chemistry with many of the
other cast members, especially Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin, allowed the writers to explore some great relationships with Steve and others.
This season had a sense of self awareness and metaness to it. The casting of Sean Astin was a great callback to his role in The Goonies, an 80’s film that Stranger Things pulls a lot of inspiration from. The justice for Barb story line was one that had me worried at the beginning, but in the end stood strong as a great moment of closure for the fans and characters on the show.
However, my personal favourite was when Max pointed out that the events from the first season were very low on originality. While many of us hold the first season on a high pedestal, it is not hard to see that many story elements were based from classic films.
Looking at the story of this season, they explored more of an original idea. While there were still some elements that were callbacks to classic 80’s films, they did a good job of taking the concept of the Upside Down in an original direction. The elements of the Demodogs, the vines spreading underground and Will’s connection to the Mind Flayer were all great story elements.
While there were a lot of elements that worked really well, there were a few others that didn’t quite hit the mark.
Going back to characters, new cast members joined the crew including Sadie Sink and Dacre Montgomery who played Max and Billy respectively. I thought that Max worked well with the group as we knew it already. She bounced off everyone and she could blend into the fabric of the show.
Billy however, did not. While he was the literal embodiment of everything 80’s into one character, his placement in the show stood out for all the wrong reasons. For the most part, his main interactions were with Max and Steve. The problem with that is when you look at both Max and Steve as characters and their arcs this season, the impact Billy had was very minimal.
For Max, he was the jerk brother who acted as her taxi, a role that could have easily been done by a character like an disgruntle father that we didn’t have to see or care about. For Steve, Billy challenged him as the new popular jock at school. However, Steve no longer wanted to be the popular jock at school; he had already stepped away from that role, which made Billy’s challenges towards Steve feel out of place.
The other character problem I had during this season was with Mike, which ties into the second overall problem of Eleven’s story. Mike’s story had interest in the first season because he was the link to Eleven. In this season, with Eleven off doing her own thing, in many situations Mike felt like an accessory. While he got something to do in the very back end of the season, for eight of the nine total
episodes, he didn’t have his own clear cut arc.
Staying on the topic of Eleven, this is where I think this season suffered the most. Like many people, I was interested into the history of Eleven and what happened to her. The scenes of her past and her history with her mother were intriguing. However, she was left too far out of the action for way too long.
The highlight of the first season is the interaction between the four kids: Eleven, Mike, Dustin and Lucas. In this whole season, there were only two scenes where they were all in the same room at the same time: in episode 8 when Eleven kills the Demedogs, and at the Snow Ball when each character has someone to dance with. We never got one scene when it was just the four of them interacting together.
Following on from this, you can’t do a review of this season without talking about episode 7. This was the episode when Eleven found Eight and her crew. Looking at the objective behind this episode and what it did for the arc of Eleven, you can see the importance, however the way it was presented was really poor. Introducing us as the audience to a new group of characters mid-season, for it only to last 50 minutes made episode 7 feel like a filler episode. The first season had eight episodes and this season had nine; it makes you question why they couldn’t have just kept the eight episodes and sprinkled in Eight and the meaning of her character in Eleven’s arc throughout the whole season rather than in one self contained episode.
Overall, despite this season having a few negatives, Stranger Things 2 is a brilliant and enjoyable season. In no way did this season do anything to tarnish the reputation Stranger Things built. This time next year, in preparation for Stranger Things 3, the first two seasons will be able to be binged seamlessly, which is a massive credit to Stranger Things 2.
Season rating: 8/10