Undoubtedly, one of the most anticipated television shows of 2017 has been Season 2 of Stranger Things. The first season was a cultural phenomenon and, if you read my review of the first season earlier this year, you will know that I really liked it. A big reason why Season 1 was so good was because of the kids and the chemistry they had together and they were all back for Season 2.
Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) return for Season 2 in addition to Winona Ryder and David Harbour as Joyce Byers and Jim Hopper respectively. Noah Schnapp has a bigger role as Will Byers in Season 2 of Stranger Things and we have new characters such as Bob (Sean Astin), Max (Sadie Sink) and Billy (Dacre Montgomery) making their debuts too.
The story of Season 2 of Stranger Things is set one year after the events of the first season and the focus is on Will who is still recovering from his harrowing experience in the Upside Down. We find out that Will still has a connection to and is influenced by the Upside Down which leads to the characters finding out the shocking truth that a larger threat from the Upside Down exists; the Shadow Monster. In order to save Will, the Shadow Monster must be defeated.
My Knowledge and Expectation for Season 2 of Stranger Things
As I said above, I watched the first season of Stranger Things on Netflix and, after finishing what I thought was a very good season of television, I was intrigued to see where the story would go. Obviously, I had high expectations given how much the first season impressed me with its characters and world-building. I wanted more of the same in this regard but I also wanted this second season of Stranger Things to move away from its reliance on 80s nostalgia.
Clearly, a big reason why the first season of Stranger Things was so widely loved was because of its ability to pay homage to 80s pop culture. However, as I look back at the first season, I do feel as though its reliance on 80s nostalgia to pull people in meant that the story was never given the chance to be its own unique thing. I hoped that Season 2 of Stranger Things would find a better balance of paying homage to the 1980s while being its own story at the same time. Moreover, I still wanted the show to have that great blend of science-fiction and horror.
My Thoughts on Season 2 of Stranger Things
I have to say, there are not a lot of weak points in Season 2 of Stranger Things. This is a pretty flawless season of television that continues the greatness of the first season but it also improves on the first season due to the fact that Season 2 does not rely on 80s nostalgia. Obviously, it does pay homage to the 1980s through its brilliant synth score and music choices which included bands such as Metallica, The Police and Scorpions (a band that was also featured in GLOW).
Season 2 of Stranger Things is also influenced by movies such as Aliens and Ghostbusters. However, it does not rely on these things to shape the story like Season 1 did. The story of Season 2 felt much more like its own thing. One of the brilliant aspects of Season 2 which cemented how special this season of Stranger Things felt was the arc of Will Byers and the brilliant performance Noah Schnapp gives as this character.
Truly, Noah Schnapp gives one of the best child performances I have ever seen. The levels that he goes to while playing Will is extraordinary and it pushes him right to the forefront when it comes to award recognition. Additionally, seeing Will struggle with what is essentially PTSD from his time in the Upside Down was very gripping and set the stage for what was quite a harrowing arc for his character.
Indeed, he becomes possessed by the Shadow Monster and the Shadow Monster is actually feeding off Will who is, in some sense, a host for this mythical creature. Some of the scenes in Season 2 of Stranger Things which showcase this are very disturbing and it proved how great an actor Noah Schnapp is for his age.
This was particularly evident in the eighth episode of Season 2, titled ‘The Mind Flayer’, where the possession of Will by the Shadow Monster is at its peak. It made for some quite emotional scenes involving the people who love Will as they try to get through to him by recalling their most cherished memories of him. For me, this eclipsed any moment in Season 1 of Stranger Things.
It was also great to see Will spend more time with Dustin, Mike and Lucas and the chemistry between the kids is still fantastic and helps Stranger Things be as great as it is. Whether it was them turning up to school as the only ones dressed up for Halloween or obsessing over who beat the high score at Dig Dug, the moments they shared as a group were very funny. If Stranger Things is to have more success in the future, then these kids are vital in achieving this.
Hopper and Eleven
Additionally, it is easy to see how the whole cast feels like a family both on and off-screen. All the relationships in this show are very authentic and this is especially true for the relationship between Jim Hopper and Eleven. I did not expect these two to be together in Season 2 of Stranger Things. This made it quite a nice surprise when we found out in the first episode, titled ‘MADMAX’, that Eleven has been in hiding and Hopper is looking after her.
I loved the relationship they had. Obviously, it had a father/daughter vibe to it and, as Season 2 of Stranger Things progressed, you could tell how much Hopper cared for Eleven. This made complete sense given the tragedy which surrounded his own daughter and this affection he has for her was especially evident in ‘The Spy’ which was the sixth episode of Season 2.
It was also cool to get flashbacks of Eleven’s time on her own after she escaped the Upside Down and before Hopper found her. One of the funniest moments in Season 2 of Stranger Things happened in one of these flashbacks. Indeed, in the second episode, titled ‘Trick or Treat, Freak’, we see a squirrel being flown into a tree by Eleven (I know, it is a horrible thing to happen but it was so funny!).
The New Characters
Aside from the characters we know and love, I also thought the new characters that were introduced in Season 2 of Stranger Things were good. I liked Max (Sadie Sink) and her interactions with the group of kids. She added a bit of spunk to that group and to see Mike be really annoyed with having another girl around was interesting because it confirmed that he had still not got over Eleven.
While the character of Billy was a complete prick, the performance that Dacre Montgomery gave as that character in Season 2 of Stranger Things was excellent. To see why Billy was as horrible as he was made me empathise with his situation but it did not take away from the fact that the way he treated Max and others was awful. I thought I hated Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) in Season 1 but Billy surpassed Steve in the douche-bag category.
Undoubtedly, my favourite new character was Bob, i.e. Bob the Brain. Bob was played by Sean Astin who is most famous for his role as Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Clearly, this would always influence my thinking that Bob was a legend. But, the matter of the fact is that he was a legend and his heroism and sacrifice in ‘The Mind Flayer’ was proof of this.
Dustin and Steve
In terms of the recurring characters, Dustin is still the MVP. I love this guy and his whole thing with Dart, the baby demo-dog, in Season 2 of Stranger Things was weird but cute at the same time even if Dart did kill a cat. However, it was his dynamic with Steve that was one of the best parts of Season 2 and it might have been the best relationship that was developed in this season of Stranger Things.
They had such a great rapport when they were together and, while I did not like Steve as a person in Season 1 of Stranger Things, he has grown on me because he has redeeming, likeable qualities. These qualities were most evident when he was with Dustin and the other kids. He is still a bit arrogant but he is getting better.
Eleven and Episode 7
While Dustin is probably my favourite character due to his personality and the humorous moments involving him (I mean, seeing Dustin theorise that the Shadow Monster was a Mind Flayer and explaining what that meant was priceless), Eleven is the character with the most depth. Her arc in Season 2 of Stranger Things proved that. We talked about the flashbacks we saw of Eleven surviving on her own in the woods which was cool. Yet, it was really the journey she took to find her mother once she knew of her existence which started this great arc.
I feel as though Eleven went through a lot of soul-searching in this season of Stranger Things and her experience when she met her mother showed this as well as what this meeting led to. Indeed, we find out that there is another girl like Eleven out there in the world and we saw her in the opening scene of this season of Stranger Things. Kali (Linnea Berthelsen) was the name of this girl and, like Eleven, she was a patient at the Hawkins Lab who escaped.
Obviously, The Duffer Brothers, who are the show-runners of Stranger Things, felt that the stuff with Kali/Eight and Eleven’s journey to find her was very important because an entire episode was devoted to it. Yes, now we get to talk about the highly controversial Episode 7. Indeed, this episode has been very divisive for fans of Stranger Things and it is considered to be the weakest episode of Season 2 and the series in general.
For me, it is the weakest episode but I do not get how some people hate on this episode to the extent that they do. I still think that it is a very good episode. I really liked the punk vibe and I feel that the events of ‘The Lost Sister’ will have a lot of significance in future seasons of Stranger Things. In fact, I do feel as though this episode was establishing stories that we will see next season which is a reason why ‘The Lost Sister’ was the weakest episode of Season 2.
Having one episode which focused on Kali and Eleven killed the momentum that was being built with the main story-line back in Hawkins. I wish that the events of ‘The Lost Sister’ had been spread out across a few episodes of Season 2. It would have been better this way rather than just having one standalone episode. If it was blended into the other story-lines, I feel as though some fans of Stranger Things would have less of an issue with this aspect of Season 2.
Season 2 of Stranger Things Ends Well
Nevertheless, the events of ‘The Lost Sister’ led Eleven to the stage where she knew that she needed to help her friends who were in a desperate situation. We saw this situation in the last two episodes of Season 2 which were fantastic. One could argue that ‘The Mind Flayer’ and ‘The Gate’ are the best ever episodes of Stranger Things. The final two episodes were tense, dramatic (Poor Bob) and they were great pay-off for the story in Season 2.
Moreover, it solidified my belief that Season 2 of Stranger Things is better than Season 1. Even the weakest elements of Season 2 were still very good and this season built upon the greatness of Season 1 while improving on the weakest point of Season 1 which was its over-reliance on 80s nostalgia.
Still, even though the end of Season 2 is a shot of the Mind Flayer looming over our characters, I do wonder how The Duffer Brothers will be able to pull-off a third season of Stranger Things. Perhaps moving away from Hawkins will benefit the show. That is why I believe Episode 7 is important in addition to the story that involved Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and Nancy (Natalia Dyer).
The purpose of the mission they embarked on was to expose the government cover-up of the events of Season 1 (Justice for Barb lives on!). I believe that the success they had in doing this will have ramifications which will be explored more in Season 3. Despite my concerns about how Season 3 will be executed, I am defiant in my belief that Season 2 was a brilliant season of Stranger Things. While I do not expect Season 3 to be better than Season 2, I hope that Stranger Things continues to be great television to watch and an event which we all look forward to.