The success of the first season of Stranger Things came as a total surprise. It had many appealing qualities such as the setting in the 80s, its excellent cast of young newcomers, the unbearable tragedy of Barb who was character that it seemed that most everyone connected with that much more popular. A year and some months later, Stranger Things returns with a second season. So the question is, did Stranger Things 2 live up to its predecessor?
It picks up a little under a year since the last season and though Will is now home safe, something is clearly very wrong with him, a mystery that leads the gang into a battle with new menace they name “The Mind Flayer”, an invasive force more powerful, more terrifying and much, much harder to defeat than the Demogorgon.
Speaking of Will, the actor who plays him, Noah Schnapp, has a lot more screen time this season, and it is very deserved. Seriously, this 13 year old’s portrayal of possessed Will is incredible.
David Harbour also gets the chance to fully explore a side of Jim Hopper previously only hinted at, as the police chief struggles with his newfound role as Eleven’s adoptive father, and the show’s scope widens further to include families for Dustin and Lucas.
Lucas gets an expanded role and a love interest in season two, named Max. She is a skateboarder who at first seems a little annoying but as the audience learns more about her she becomes a fan favorite. Her brother Billy though is a whole different story. He is portrayed as a bully to his sister at home and to Steve at school.
The mutual attraction between Nancy and Jonathan heats up nicely in the background without ever derailing the mystery thriller narrative. Nancy’s arc in the early episodes is all about getting #Justice4Barb from the lab, and there’s a payoff that arrives in the closing moments of the season finale.
With Nancy and Jonathan’s unrequited love now requited, Joe Kerry’s role as Steve Harrington is forced to shift from love rival to comic sidekick to a bigger brother figure to the kids, but it’s a switch up that works wonderfully.
Eleven also goes on a journey, both literally and metaphorically. Millie Bobby Brown further cements her status here as one of Hollywood’s most exciting new talents in a season that drags her to various emotional extremes, even if the continued exploration of the Upside Down and its various terrifying inhabitants is far more intriguing than El’s investigation into her own personal history including reuniting with her mother.
Episode 7, ‘The Lost Sister’, is the season’s only episode I did not love, as it is taking place entirely outside of Hawkins, it removes us from the action and the characters we love at a pivotal point in the narrative, for a standalone outing with Eleven and a gang of youths led by the similarly super-powered Eight who was also a child experiment at Hawkins Lab.
Given more screen time but just as little development is Joyce Byers. Winona Ryder’s as fantastic as she ever was, but is now on very familiar ground as she does nothing but freak out about Will, feverishly working to piece together surreal, disparate clues about his condition. She nails it, of course, but the material feels like a rehash.
Also she gets a new love interest this season. Sean Astin plays Bob Newby who attended high school with Joyce and Hopper and is now manager of the town’s Radioshack. At first his character seems like non important one dimensional character but at the end, the audience is in shock at his poor unfortunate fate which was actually very predictable.
It was a difficult challenge that the Duffer brothers faced in following up their breakthrough hit, but the flawed but bold Stranger Things 2 makes a decent stab at recapturing what made the original great, while still taking a few risks here and there. While it’s not quite as cohesive and confident as the first season, it’s about as satisfying as it possibly could be.
Despite a few reservations, I am excited for more. Because while this Stranger Things might not live up to the hype, it is still a very good sequel to the first season.