When the first season of Stranger Things burst onto the scene in 2016 it was an instant pop culture phenomenon, blowing people’s minds with a sustained eight-episode deluge of ‘80s horror nostalgia that brought Winona Ryder and Matthew Modine back into the spotlight and made new stars of David Harbour and the entire young cast, especially 12-year-old Millie Bobby Brown. Set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana in 1983, the first season centered on the disappearance of young Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). But rather than simply disappearing, Will is abducted by a monster (called the Demogorgon by the gang) from a desolated alternate dimension, “The Upside Down”, haunting the woods of Hawkins after escaping from a dimensional rift opened by the nearby Hawkins National Laboratory which operates under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Energy, but is actually tasked with doing experiments into the paranormal on human test subjects – one of whom, a little girl known only as Eleven (Brown) has also escaped. Eleven was being trained to be a psychic viewer able to track people anywhere in the world by just concentrating on their picture, but also developed powerful telekinetic abilities. While searching for Will on their own, his best friends Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) discover Eleven and then the game is afoot! Channeling such ‘80s greats as E.T., The Goonies, and most of John Hughes’ oeuvre, Season One wove the story of the kids, Will’s and Mike’s older siblings Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) along with Nancy’s boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery), and Will’s mom Joyce (Ryder) and Sheriff Jim Hopper (Harbour) into a tightly-paced and extremely satisfying tapestry of nostalgia, adolescent innocence, teen lust, madness, and cosmic horror. If there was one criticism that could be levied against the show, it was that the characters were fairly thinly written and at times there was a bit too much of a reliance on nostalgic homages to create emotional resonance. Luckily, every single actor in the show elevated the scripts and made what began as shorthand clichés into full-fledged characters the audience couldn’t help but fall in love with. One might argue that Winona Ryder’s constant state of near-hysteria was a bit much though. But seriously. This is one of the strongest ensemble casts on television today. With the first season essentially being a monster hunt story, the plot didn’t expand on much beyond the secret experiments and how to save Will. That helped allow the show’s identical twin creators, The Duffer Brothers, Matt and Ross, to focus on making the story as tight as possible – and set entirely in Hawkins. Ultimately, SPOILER ALERT, Will is rescued, but infected with a lingering case of other-dimensional PTSD and Eleven – who killed the Demogorgon with her psionic powers – was trapped in the Upside Down, so going into Season 2, we had a handful of story threads to follow up on. The question was, of course, could Stranger Things maintain its momentum and hit another home run with Season Two. The short answer is, Hell Yes. Stranger Things 2 takes everything that worked in Season One and upscales it while also course-correcting pretty much every weakness. Every single character gets a story arc that not only makes them better characters, but also logically builds on everything that came before. Plus, we get a handful of new characters, each with their own varying levels of complexity and depth. Before getting into that, however, here’s a quick glimpse at the new season. This might be difficult, but I’m gonna try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. Will’s PTSD isn’t getting any better (although maybe anything is a step up from vomiting up a squirmy turd thing like he did in the S1 finale) and he’s having visions of The Upside Down that feel disturbingly more like dimensional shifts than dreams. His doctor, Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) is a little sinister, but some of that may just be because he’s the new head of Hawkins National Lab. Eleven made her way back to our world and Sheriff Hopper has her hidden away for her own safety. Nancy and Steve are on the outs thanks to the pressures of keeping the secret of what happened to Nancy’s best friend Barb last year (she was killed by the Demogorgon in the Upside Down and her body was never found). Mike is isolated and acting out since losing Eleven (upon whom he had a major crush). Will’s mom has a new boyfriend, Bob (Sean Astin) who is a super nerd, but kind of cool. Last, but definitely not least, Dustin and Lucas are both mooning over the new girl in town, Max (Sadie Sink), who is not only tough and cool, but is an expert at playing Dig Dug. Oh, and she’s got an abusive step brother, Billy (Dacre Montgomery), who’s the hottest and most dangerous boy in town. No, really. He’s super hot. And dangerous. Will’s visions are what kickstart this season and it’s clear from the get-go that the Duffers have decided to go large. Think of the way Aliens kicked up and expanded the danger of Alien and you’ll get the idea. The pacing of the series is still excellent, with barely any wasted time or energy, despite what seems to some reviewers to be a slow first four episodes. Speaking of other critics, some have had issues with one episode in particular: Episode 7 – “The Lost Sister.” This episode marked the first time we’ve really moved outside of Hawkins as Eleven discovers the existence of another former experiment and tracks her down in Chicago. It’s a tonal and stylistic shift that is jarring, but I really liked the way it allowed the show to build its mythology and expand its world. Eleven’s “lost sister,” Eight (or Kali) leads a ragtag bunch of punks, crazies, and toughs whose sole mission is to track down those responsible for the experiments in Hawkins and murder the fuck out of them. The aesthetic is straight out of The Warriors with a taste of Return of the Living Dead (along with an alleyway of homeless/crazy people that would be perfectly at home in Hellraiser) and the gang’s hideout has graffiti on the walls that are direct references to my favorite comic book series of all time, The Invisibles. Kali pulls a reverse-Yoda and teaches Eleven how to channel her anger to become more powerful but ultimately, she decides that murder isn’t the answer – a lesson that seems to rub off on Kali as well. There’s also a surprise reveal that should lead to some interesting developments in Season Three. So, while some viewers saw it as a filler episode or a waste of time just as a huge action sequence was preparing to kick off at the climax of episode six, “The Lost Sister” is essential to expanding the world of Stranger Things and setting some events in motion for the next season – especially given how Season 2 ends. It also serves to set up Eleven’s dramatic return (and her new punk look) just in the nick of time when things look their bleakest. As mentioned above, one of the best things about the season – and what sets it apart from Season One – is the excellent character work all around. The only real thinly drawn character is Billy, and even he gets an opportunity to show what’s going on in his beautiful mulleted head. Most of the other characters are split up into separate storylines that really only come together as we head into the two-part finale and this decision allows for everyone to really shine. For example, when Nancy and Steve split up, it allows Nancy to get closer to Jonathan who embark on their own adventure in pursuit of #JusticeForBarb with conspiracy theorist / private dick Murray Bauman (played to perfection by Brett Gelman). If Murray isn’t at least a part-time regular in coming seasons, I’m gonna be pissed. At the same time, the breakup puts Steve on a trajectory to become part of the most surprising – and amazingly rewarding – team-up of the season as he becomes Dustin’s Love Guru, sharing his wisdom about women, being cool, and hair care products. In addition to the ways the story is told, we also get a couple of real surprises with what could have been the simple stunt casting of 80s stars Paul Reiser (Aliens) and Sean Astin (The Goonies). I won’t go into detail, but both characters, Dr. Owns and Bob Newby exceed expectation and evolve into characters that we actually can relate to and feel for. Even when they do or say something and we can’t tell whether they’re naïve or potentially evil. Stranger Things 2 improves on Season 1 in just about every way possible (even Joyce channels her hysteria and fear into being proactive and badass) and the fact that we have to wait another year or more for the next season is going to be torture. To help hold you over until then, and to stoke your imaginations for what’s to come, here are a few tidbits revealed in various Duffer Brother interviews over the past few days about the future of the show: There will be a time jump between Seasons 2 and 3 since the kids are growing up too quickly to maintain realtime storytelling. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, especially given the way this season ends. There are other Numbers out there besides Eleven and Eight. It’s very likely that we’ll meet some of them. As the story moves forward, Hawkins, Indiana will not remain the main focus. Again, given the way this season ends, this shouldn’t be a surprise. The question will be how much time will be spent in Hawkins since the gang will still be in school. Finally, as suggested in Episode 7, somebody we thought was dead, isn’t. That probably has the most important implications going forward, especially with the knowledge that the story will be expanding and potentially bringing in other Numbers. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related 2 Responses Shawn EH November 6, 2017 I binged the last four episodes today, and I didn’t mind episode 7 at all. If they’d had a Lord Fanny to go with the King Mob, Boy and Ragged Robin, it would have been an Invisibles movie! Log in to Reply BMovieDotCo November 12, 2017 i like it ♥ Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.