I was, admittedly, a little late to the party with the first season of Netflix’s buzzy sci-fi/horror adventure “Stranger Things.” I finally had to watch it to see what all the hype was about, and I was immediately hooked. For the uninitiated, “Stranger Things” is set in a small town in Indiana during the 1980s and is about a group of young friends — Mike, Dustin, Lucas and Will — who love to ride around on their bikes and play Dungeons and Dragons. Then, their ordinary lives are (quite literally!) turned upside down when Will mysteriously disappears in what is far from an ordinary kidnapping.
And that’s as far as I’ll go for now, because if you haven’t seen this show yet, A) don’t dare let anyone spoil it for you, and B) quit reading this review and go watch it right now! 😉 It’s hard to discuss the second season without delving into spoiler territory, so if you haven’t watched it, the good news is that you’re in for a treat and the second season is just as good as the first. And if you have seen the second season, read on — I’d love to discuss all the exciting twists and turns!
As with any sequel, I feared the second season of “Stranger Things” would fall short of its predecessor, which was a perfect blend of science fiction and ’80s nostalgia, with enough dashes of horror to make you regret watching episodes at home alone in the dark but not so scary that a horror movie wimp like me couldn’t watch it. Although the second season revisits the mystery of the first — the discovery of a dark dimension known as the “Upside Down” and the revelation of Eleven’s mind powers — it expands on that mystery in an exciting (and terrifying!) way. There are more secrets to uncover beneath the seemingly sleepy town of Hawkins, Indiana.
Now that we all know about the Upside Down, the show ups the stakes by bringing more of the Upside Down into the real world. Even though Will was rescued from the Upside Down last season, he’s not out of danger yet and is eventually possessed by a terrifying shadow monster.
Although the thrills and scares make this a binge-worthy show, the best part is the characters, who each get some special moments to shine this season. I have to give a shout-out to all the young actors who do a fantastic job in this; they make their characters fun but also believable and authentic (they feel like “real” kids). Mike is grieving the loss of Eleven (or “El”) and struggles to find closure. Dustin and Lucas compete for the affections of a new girl in town, driving a wedge between their friendship. Will continues to be traumatized by his memories of the Upside Down and the new threats closing in around him.
I appreciated that each character had a moment of growth and developed further as a person. The same goes for the equally strong cast of adult characters. Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers did a lot of panicking last season when her son was missing (though understandably so). But it was cool to see her take charge in certain moments this season and help come up with the plan to defeat the shadow monster. Also, Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) has become one of my husband and I’s new favorite TV characters; I love how the chief doesn’t take nonsense from anybody and absolutely rises to the challenge of taking on freaky monsters from a shadow dimension. The show also sees him coming to grips with his past trauma and starting to form emotional connections with people again after the tragedies he’s experienced.
I also didn’t mind the love triangle between Steve, Nancy, and Jonathan, because they’re in high school, and angst and relationship drama go with the territory. 😉 Steve drove me crazy last season so it was cool to see him become a much better person and take on a protective role with Will’s friends. And Nancy also matures; there’s a really sweet moment at the very end of the show where she dances with Dustin at a school event so he won’t feel lonely. I don’t feel that’s something season 1, episode 1 Nancy would have done.
As for the new characters, I think my favorite was Bob, played by Sean Astin, best known as Sam from “Lord of the Rings.” Poor Bob. ☹ I thought this was a cool example of a seemingly ordinary character who turned out to be a really selfless, brave person and ended up sacrificing his life to save everyone else. You are a hero, Bob!
The other two major characters are a stepbrother and sister who are new to town, Billy and Max. It took me a while to warm up to Max’s character, not necessarily due to the character herself, but because of how the writers used her to divide the friend group and particularly Lucas and Dustin. To me it felt like the old, “oh no look here’s a woman who’s going to divide a close-knit group of friends and create romantic drama!” So I was glad to see her fully join the adventure by the end, and she and El will probably be full-fledged “party members” in season 3. Max’s brother, Billy, comes across as really crazy and nasty but we could see a redemption arc for him in season 3, similar to Steve this season. I don’t think we’ve seen all of his story.
I’m not sure where they’ll take the story in season 3, but I’m already excited to find out! Overall this was a really strong season that successfully expanded on the story and made me care about the characters even more. I wasn’t a huge fan of the much-discussed seventh episode, just because I thought it made the primary narrative grind to a halt and didn’t fit tonally with the rest of the season. But everything else was so great that I’ll give it a pass.
So, “Stranger Things” fans, what did you think? What did you like or dislike? Who’s your favorite “Stranger Things” character?