With all the hype surrounding the return of Stranger Things for a second season, there was a very real possibility that it couldn’t avoid being a pretty massive letdown. How likely is it they could really recapture that season one magic? In this case, very likely.
For fans of the 1980s love letter that was the first season of the Netflix mega-hit, the sophomore campaign successfully delivers more of the same, but with a touch of subtlety this time. We still get nods towards The Goonies and E.T., and that Steven Speilberg magic from season one, but this time they’re trumped out by less obvious homages to Aliens and The Terminator with a real heavy James Cameron feel, mixed with a major Ghostbusters love affair. However, in the wake of the first season, while everyone was talking about all the different movies it felt like, season two just feels like Stranger Things. The Duffer Brothers have found a way to replicate so many references and homages and tie them together, that they’ve actually created something that feels organic and new, while still familiar.
Season two picks up a year after the events of the first run, and this time allows for much more character development with so much of the season one exposition in the past. All of our primary characters return, and we even manage to fit in a few new characters which expand the scope of Hawkins and the surrounding world.
As the season opens up, the kids are prepping for Halloween, and we learn that The Hawkins National Laboratory is now under new management, namely that of Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser), and they’re doing regular checkups on Will as he continues to struggle with his experience in the Upside Down. Our heroes have kept the events of season one under wraps as promised, but now it appears that the lab hasn’t exactly been holding up their end of the bargain, cause the threat of the upside down is still a danger. From here, the story spirals out via rotten pumpkin patches, Halloween parties, and Dig Dug.
Paul Reiser (Aliens) is just one of six new major characters introduced this season, and his inspired casting is coupled with another – Sean Astin (The Goonies), who plays Bob “The Brain” Newly, the new boyfriend of Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder). Both of these are characters we aren’t quite sure what to think of when they are introduced. Can Dr. Owens be trusted, or is he just as shady as his predecessor? Some of the same trust concerns can be raised about Bob, is he just a goofy nice guy trying to connect with Joyce’s kids, or is there something more sinister underneath? The interesting thing here is, in the 1980s, would we have even doubted Bob’s intentions, or is the mistrust just a sign of modern times? Additionally, Sadie Sink joins the cast as the new girl at school, and the target of affection for both Dustin and Lucas. Add in Red Power Ranger Dacre Montgomery as Billy, new school rival of Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), Investigator Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman), and the mysterious Roman (Linnea Berthelsen), and we are provided with an ample number of characters for the Duffers to play with, continuously weaving together three separate narratives and keeping the story moving along at a quickly paced and immersive rhythm.
One of the true standout performances this year, which came from perhaps an unexpected place, was Joe Keery’s Steve Harrington. Used a bit differently this time around, Harrington is no longer portrayed at the cocky antagonist he was in the first half of season one, but now a much more likable and reliant source of comedy on the show. Where he really shines are the scenes he shares with the kids, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) in particular. This stuff coupled with his confrontations with Billy see him in somewhat of a reversal from his character type last year, and it’s a welcome one.
Speaking of Dustin, he and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) get quite a bit more to do this time around, and they make the most of their screen time. Noah Schnapp sees the most increased onscreen presence since season one, but it’s the expanded character development of Eleven this year that really allows for them to play with so many storylines at once, as Millie Bobby Brown proves herself capable again of carrying whole scenes on her own. Her’s is also probably the most surprising story arc of the kids, as she doesn’t spend as much time with the rest of them as you might expect.
The season as a whole is extremely fun to watch, and if you enjoyed last year, you’ll likely come away with similar feelings this time too. I’d say the weakest part of the season is the seventh episode, and not because it’s necessarily bad, but it’s just a departure in tone, breaking up the action and pacing a bit, with episodes six and eight being very edge-of-your-seat type stuff. But it does set up the eighth and ninth episodes well, adding a wrinkle that is sure to be revisited in season three.
GEEK Grade: A-
Stranger Things is expected to run for at least two more seasons, and there are no shortage of storylines set up here for them to explore moving forward.