“Stranger Things 2”: Spoilers

“Stranger Things 2”: Spoilers
Photo by Dylan Shen.

By Mohit Puvvala, Lifestyle Columnist


In its sophomore season, Netflix’s “Stranger Things” uses its visual charm and well-rounded cast to build a nostalgic yet fresh story with unexpected twists.

I was a huge fan of the first season — it was everything I love about ‘80s cinema and culture encapsulated in a show. The great use of color, incredible cinematography and retro synths created an atmosphere that transported viewers back in time.

The show’s fictional setting of Hawkins, Indiana, created a sense of containment and subtle claustrophobia as the events of the first season stayed within the town despite the show’s grandeur. To put it simply, creators Matt and Ross Duffer — known as the Duffer Brothers — caught lightning in a bottle.  

Due to the first season’s monumental acclaim, the announcement of “Stranger Things 2” created a tremendous amount of hype on social media. There was finally a show that almost matched the excitement and speculation that surrounded HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Usually, this kind of buzz and speculation surrounding a season leads to unattainably high expectations. Well, I’m happy to say that while it’s not perfect, “Stranger Things 2” delivers on many of its promises and more than satisfies cravings for a binge-worthy season.

“Stranger Things 2” picks up a year after the events of the first season. Will Byers is back in the group after being lost in the Upside Down, and things are, for the most part, back to normal for his friends Mike Wheeler, Dustin Henderson and Lucas Sinclair. Joyce Byers has finally found her boy, Steve Harrington and Nancy Wheeler are still together and Jonathan Byers is still, well, himself.

However, not everything is the same, as Eleven is still missing after her encounter with the Demogorgon at the end of season one. Will is coughing up slugs and is faced with some sort of Upside Down version of PTSD. Jonathan, Nancy and Steve are all conflicted about the death of their classmate Barbara Holland. And as a new threat emerges, the characters find themselves once again facing the unknown from the Upside Down.

I loved the fleshed out character arcs that expanded upon things that were established or hinted at in the first season. There’s a sweet friendship that develops between Dustin and Steve that I loved. Steve becomes a mentor for Dustin and even reveals to him the secrets to his flawless hair. He could have easily become just another standard ‘80s bully like Biff from “Back to the Future,” but the show flips this trope and makes Steve one of the major protagonists. The show also lovingly uses ‘80s film tropes by including an “ET”-inspired friendship between Dustin and a demogorgon.

Although Nancy starts the season in a relationship with Steve, she eventually becomes lovebirds with Jonathan and I can’t be happier about it. As numerous fan fictions can confirm, I think everyone saw this coming from a mile away, but it’s still relieving to see on screen. They even played with ‘80s style rom-com humor when Jonathan and Nancy denied their interest toward each other to a laughably cheesy level. The shots leading up to their much anticipated “get-together” are John Hughes-esque.

The dialogue is delivered well by the actors, and the direction is excellent for the most part. There was a certain scene in particular between Hopper and Eleven that displayed an enormous amount of tension that I didn’t think would happen in this show. I was genuinely on the edge of my seat as the two yelled back and forth about their morals.

I couldn’t praise this cast enough, as it’s one of the best on TV right now. Winona Ryder and David Harbour are once again excellent. The kids have incredible acting talent that many shows can only dream about. Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin and Noah Schnapp all give fabulously convincing, multifaceted performances. There’s an ongoing conversation between Dustin and Lucas throughout the show about their newfound crushes for the same girl that could easily have been ruined if not for the kids’ acting charms. Joe Keery gave a particularly standout performance as a conflicted Steve, and that’s mainly to do with his fleshed out narrative arc that started in season one.

I also liked the new additions to the show. Max Mayfield, played by Sadie Sink, added a new dynamic to the team. Though she initially acted more mature than the boys, she eventually leveled with her new friends and organically became a part of the team.  Billy Hargrove, played by Dacre Montgomery, was a menacing bully. However, my favorite of the new characters was easily Sean Astin’s character, Bob Newby. He provided some much needed levity as one of the only outsiders looking in on the clandestine mystery of Hawkins. I found myself laughing nearly every time he spoke, and his addition to the cast balanced out the much darker tones in the show.

My main issue with this season has to do with the seventh episode. It goes against what made the show great in the first place by trying to set up a spinoff about a new character, Eight. As audience members, we live in a world where studios are constantly attempting to create these massive cinematic universes comprised of sequels, prequels and spinoffs. While this sometimes works, more often than not they shift their focus from the story to setting up the next big thing (we can see this especially with Marvel and DC). It centered around a new character, Eight who has psychic powers that allow her to create illusions. She uses these powers to control Eleven. Her grunge character felt too tonally inconsistent with the rest of the cast and ultimately felt contrived and lazy. They should have used this time to put Eleven in a more coming-of-age situation that’s true to her character as opposed to what we got, which was out of place for what the show was trying to build. Eleven is still growing as a person, and simple moments with her and Hopper highlight the family dynamic she’s been missing her whole life. I don’t think her character was ready to find others like her quite yet because her story in Hawkins was far from done. The showrunners seemed to realize that as well since they had Eleven return to Hawkins at the end of that episode.

That episode aside, I loved “Stranger Things 2.” It sets up really well for a potential third season, and I loved how the story took its time to build to its amazing finale. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would go ahead and give “Stranger Things 2” an 8.5. It’s not as good as the first season only because the first season felt like a ticking time bomb. The stakes were higher because there was a missing kid. Every day he was missing, things became darker. In season two, those stakes are there, but they don’t feel as high. They diminish the threat of the large Demogorgon by adding numerous smaller and more CGI-looking Demogorgons. It was the same thing James Cameron did with the 1986 film “Aliens” — take the creature from the first movie, add more, but take away the scary aspects. They do some scary things in this season, such as eat Dustin’s cat, but I wasn’t genuinely terrified of anything. However, “Stranger Things 2” proved to be a pure delight, and fans are definitely going to want to revisit the Upside Down.

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