Stranger Things 2: A somewhat sup-eerier season

This review contains mild spoilers for season one but will be generally spoiler-free for season two.

Few shows made as many waves last year as Netflix’s series Stranger Things. A flagship and a tour de force among the company’s original programming, the show grew into a pop culture phenomenon. With the release of the second season this past Friday, the show has proven itself to be scarier, darker, and better than ever–most of the time.

What’s the show (and this season) about?

The science-fiction mystery horror series Stranger Things carried an impact matched by few recent shows when it debuted on July 15, 2016. It carried strong writing, powerful acting, laser-sharp direction, and delectable 1980s homages to the most iconic film directors and authors of the time. These were main attributes for the show growing into a widespread craze rife with Eggo waffles, Christmas lights, and cries of “#JusticeForBarb”.

The show’s first season told the story of a small Indiana town in 1983 being shaken by supernatural occurrences, including the disappearance of a boy named Will Byers and the appearance of a telekinetic girl nicknamed “Eleven”, that were all connected to an eldritch parallel dimension known only as “the Upside Down”.

The second season (referred to as Stranger Things 2) prominently runs on the trajectory set by the first season. It’s Halloween of 1984, a year after the last season, and the town is still recovering. Once again, Will Byers is the show’s centerpoint. Although he has left the Upside Down, it has not left Will, and he keeps having strange visions that hint at his disappearance merely being the beginning of a larger, more sinister happening. His mother and his close group of friends–Mike Wheeler, Lucas Sinclair, and Dustin Henderson, plus the new addition of tomboy Maxine “Max” Mayfield–are sent springing back into action.

Meanwhile, Eleven has committed to piecing together her enigmatic past, and the duo of Mike’s sister Nancy and Will’s brother Jonathan are determined to bring the death of Nancy’s best friend Barbara Holland to justice, ramming headfirst into the underbelly of a government conspiracy in the process.

What stays the same, and what changes?

Much like in the first season, the original score (which you can listen to here) and soundtrack (which you can listen to here) walk with a justified puffed-chest pride and provide great sonic backdrops for scenes. The analog synth-packed score fluctuates between brooding heaviness and mellow tranquility, while the soundtrack–filled with hits from Devo, Scorpions, Mötley Crüe, Duran Duran, The Police, and more–serves as an accentuation rather than an afterthought. The Duffer Brothers also assume writing and/or directorial roles for the opening and closing pair of episodes again, so the midsection of the season cycles between a roster of different writers and directors, and with an impressive lack of hiccups in momentum and consistency at that.

The show’s stance as a ’80s period piece holds its ground, with small tidbits of immersion-deepening information sprinkled throughout the season, from Ronald Reagan/George H.W. Bush election signs to Jaws posters to an arcade full of video games including Pac-ManDig Dug, and Dragon’s Lair.

Although the humorous charm of the first season appears sporadically, you are mainly looking at a darker and more serious Stranger Things with the second season, so its Halloween release is definitely fitting. Monsters come in larger bounties (and larger sizes!), characters are pushed to their limits, relationships are strained profoundly, and the show pulls fewer punches in regards to violence and intensity, especially nearing the season’s conclusion, which is nothing short of jaw-dropping.

Is it any good?

Stranger Things 2 is undoubtedly one of the most eye-popping TV experiences of this year. It’s a slow-builder, but once its pace picks up, you will be firmly superglued to the edge of your seat.

Plot points brought up in one episode recur in another smoothly and intelligently, exposition is made intriguing and engaging, and interwoven storylines are made equally interesting so no one plot needs to pick up the slack of another.

The acting of this season is unquestionably on top of its game. Actors for old characters continue showcasing chops and making their characters come to life, while actors for new characters manage to hold their own and add new factors to an equation we’ve all grown accustomed to. However, a special note must go to Noah Schnapp, who portrays Will. After being gone for most of the first season, he makes up for lost time and then some with a phenomenal performance that will render an audience unable to keep their eyes off of him.

The show also presents itself well from a technical perspective. The cinematography is crisp and visually arresting, often enhancing a scene with precise camerawork and fluid scene transitions. The audio and video are both edited scrupulously, although continuity errors and audio editing gaffes are present but so few and far between that a viewer’s immersion is unlikely to be shattered. The sound design makes ample of deep booms and spacious, offsetting reverberations.

However, as commendable as it is, Stranger Things 2 is not a perfect season.

Certain plot points (I won’t divulge which, but they have been shown in the trailers) are introduced with promise but ultimately revealed as dead-ends that could’ve furthered the plot more had they been acted on. Many new characters are thrown into the mix, but very few of them actively advance the story; this peaks in what could be considered the closest the show has gotten to a filler episode.

Also, some of the presented mysteries have tendencies to hold the viewer’s hand as they progress, primarily through the liberal use of flashbacks that tend to come across as hasty recaps for events in the first season. Furthermore, those wishing to get the most out of the season’s soundtrack will have to jump extra hurdles considering Netflix is oddly inconsistent in showing song titles.

Ultimately, Stranger Things 2 is an experience worthy of a hearty binge. It will get your heart racing and your blood boiling as you try to figure out what happens next, and although it’s not without its flaws, its charm, flair, and action make up for it. All in all, season three cannot come sooner.


Featured image from Netflix