You are now entering the Upside Down, turn back now to avoid major spoilers for Stranger Things season 2!
Holy smokes! Or should I say holy smoke being harnessed by a giant shadow monster?
Netflix surely knocked it out of the park in 2016 with the premiere season of Stranger Things. The question remained whether season two could live up to the critical success of the first season but the results are in – lightning really can strike twice. There was a bunch of unanswered question and season two tackled many of them. The threats are larger and the stakes are higher than ever for our friends in Hawkins. Let’s dive right in and discuss our thoughts and feelings for the follow-up season.
Right in the feels
The PTSD from the previous year’s events is plaguing just about all the characters this season. There is still a prevalence of well-timed humor but the emotional aspect is amplified in season two. Eleven is back but feels lost being stuck in Hopper’s cabin even if it is his best intentions. Nancy still feels guilty about Barb considering the girl’s parents still don’t know the truth. Mike has become super moody since Eleven disappeared but he and the boys are noticing something is off with their returned friend.
Will Byers is still reeling from the events of season one and his condition only worsens throughout this season. After experiencing a series of visions transporting him to the Upside Down, Will falls victim to becoming a host for the new shadow monster. Will can now channel the thoughts and feelings of the monster but that “true sight” goes both ways.
Seeing the young boy suffer physically and emotionally while his friends and family feel helpless will certainly pull at your heartstrings. Hasn’t the kid been through enough? He seizes in pain and screams in horror before eventually falling to a complete possession from the monster. The most heartbreaking scene comes when he attacks his own mother while Joyce tries to force the virus out using heat.
Eleven finds a “home”
Besides Will’s struggle, much of the season focuses on Eleven and her search for “home.” For a young girl who grew up in a lab, she hasn’t experienced a real home life. When Hopper finds her in the woods, he takes her in and gives her a safe place to stay his his grandfather’s isolated cabin. For her safety, Hopper creates a set of rules including not letting her leave but of course she starts to feel like a prisoner.
As the bond between Hopper and El grows, so does the frustration between them. Once it boils over, El makes the decision to find her mother who Hopper claimed wasn’t around anymore. From season one, we know that Brenner did something to El’s mom to make her basically catatonic. After a tear-inducing reunion, we learn that El’s mom can still communicate with her through her powers which leads to the revelation of a sister.
This season we are introduced to another girl, 008, who also fell victim to the lab and shares a series of supernatural abilities. El sets out to find her in Chicago where the two meet and consider each other sisters. The girl, Kali, tries to teach El about her potential and how she can use those powers for revenge against their past treatment from the “bad men.” They set off on a mission but El’s good nature overtakes her thirst for revenge and she realizes that her real home is with Hopper and her friends in Hawkins.
Along with Kali, there was a slew of new characters in Stranger Things season two. Kali introduces her team of outcasts which served as a side episode. Although interesting in nature, the episode threw off the pace a bit. We also had Bob, Joyce’s boyfriend (sorry Joyce and Hopper shippers this season!), who played a good-hearted dork with very good intentions. Of course he helped saved the day against the demodogs before meeting his heartbreaking death.
Then we had Max and Billy, stepsiblings from California with major attitude problems. Max becomes a new member of the boy’s group much to some dismay from Mike. Dustin and Lucas are both infatuated with the tomboy but it is Lucas who wins her over. She is tough to crack but after witnessing the latest events, she starts to break down her wall.
Her stepbrother Billy on the other hand, never fully develops as a worthwhile character. He serves as another antagonist for Steve and Lucas. He is awful to his stepsister to the point where his actions are borderline psychotic. After facing off with Steve, it is Max who defeats him but we hope we get more of a character arc in the future.
The only complaint that I have for an otherwise fantastic season is the separation between characters. Like many shows with a large cast, much of the time is spent on mini storylines. Yes, that did give the show an opportunity to explore unlikely pairings – Hopper and El, Dustin and Steve, Dustin and Dart – but the excitement comes when everyone is fighting together.
We knew that El would be back but teasing her reunion with Mike all season, only to wait until the final episode was excruciating. It did make for grand entrance but the screen time for El and her Hawkins pals was very limited. Even after coming up with a master plan to defeat the smoke monster and the demodogs while saving Will, it had to be done in separate groups. I guess in this case, everyone had their own mission. The win would go on to become even sweeter as it because of the group effort. And El finally made it to the Snow Ball with Mike, cue the waterworks!
In conclusion, the season as a whole was incredible. The nostalgia and scares are still there but it is the character driven and emotional storylines that really drive it home. The cinematography is so stunning, it feels like we are watching a nine hour movie. Despite the minor concerns, there is still plenty of room for the story to grow and develop. By the looks of the Upside Down at the end, there is more issues for Hawkins on the horizon.
The second season of Stranger Things is available now on Netflix. And be sure to follow the page for more Stranger Things coverage!
(featured image: Netflix)