The ridiculously talented young ensemble. We’re not just talking Millie Bobby Brown and her herd of boys. Keery, Heaton and Dyer are absolutely fantastic. The casting process is miraculous.
Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein’s perfect, perfect musical scores. Every song choice; every synth-score.
Yes, yes, Justice for Barb. But thank the lord she didn’t actually come back. It propelled much more important stories (Nancy’s, Jonathan’s, Steve’s) and it would’ve wasted time.
As simple as a black screen may seem, the eeriness oft he rainbow room is eternally scary.
The reveal of the Caesarian, and the reason for Eleven’s mother’s repitition of words was truly terrifying.
It was a sequel, but boy did the continuation and callbacks bring a smile to our faces!
Eight’s introduction was understandable, but completely unnecessary.. Eleven could’ve been propelled by something or someone else.
Bob (whilst likeable) and Billy were two character additions that added nothing. Zilch.
Story builds, yes. But it doesn’t take four episodes for any action; nor does it take nine for an Eleven/Mike reunion. Suspense is key, but overdoing it is what the Duffer brothers can’t help doing. They did it in season one. They did it again.
Nobody wants anyone from this cast to die, but considering there are gooey monsters everywhere, the death rate is suspiciously low.
Netflix is to television what the Hawkins lab is to Stranger Things: it’s spreading its sheer quality at a monstrous rate and we’re shamelessly hooked.
Less than a year from Stranger Things 1, the second season picks up with the boys doing their usual. Instead of obsessing over D&D, they hop over to the arcade. But ever since we saw Will (Noah Schnapp) coughing up that slug, we knew things weren’t normal. Stepping outside into isolation, Will witnesses something of a Demagorgon-on-steroids as the viewers think: “uh-oh”. And that’s the polite version.
With Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) separated from the cast except for Hopper (David Harbour), whose eggo plants did find her, it becomes not only a tale of this Upside Down but a timely one of growing up. The Duffer brothers don’t forget that this is one year onwards. Mike (Finn Wolfhard) still takes Eleven’s loss hard. But it’s contrasted heavily in Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas’ (Caleb McLaughlin) fascination with new-girl “Mad” Max (Sadie Sink). And it’s not just that. Where Nancy (Natalia Dyer) contemplated sex with Steve (Joe Keery) last season, it’s now earnest love. That is, until Nancy gets hilariously wasted at a Halloween party.
Of course, our interest lies in the Upside Down. Paul Reiser’s Dr. Owens is the new head of Hawkins Lab now, and after a slow four episodes, Stranger Things 2 amps up. Dustin’s keeping a baby Demagorgon, thinking himself quite the genius in discovering a new species. Nancy and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) find their bond inevitably growing closer. And we discover that as the monster’s spread over Hawkins, it’s latched itself onto Will, too.
And okay, we stand by our four-episode verdict. It was slow. But when things crank up so frantically (we’ll discuss this later), it’s hard to summarise everything. Eleven’s backstory is visited, and it’s about time. Finding her mother, Millie Bobby Brown breaks hearts in a standalone episode as she meets Eight, another subject of the Hawkins’ experiments, in Illinois. For the soul-searching she does, she readily admits: it’s not her identity she needs to find anymore. Perhaps she always had it. It’s her friends she needs to save.
As Will’s ‘episodes’ frequent, there’s a heartwarming if naive hunt. Contrasting between determined teenagers and their flashlights to professionals in white-suits, we’re not sure which group is more capable. But it’s for Will. The boy who came back to life–but didn’t.
When Eleven inevitably, undoubtedly returns–it’s the most cliched thing you’ll ever see. The boys are pairing off with their dances. A rejected Dustin even gets sympathy and smiles from Nancy. And Eleven? Maybe she’s home, as she dances happily in Mike’s arms, a reunion so late it shouldn’t be half as gratifying.
The younger cast were always the strongest ones–so pitting them all together in the last few episodes was a clever move.
Unquestionably, David Harbour and Winona Ryder leading a cast is a sure-fire winner. But this year, more than ever, the younger cast proved dominant. Very much like last year, the young cast enchanted us. We’ve heaped praise upon praise upon the core boys–Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin–have been endlessly fun to follow. What has been a revelation has been the vulnerability and heartache of Will’s plight, played to perfection by Noah Schnapp. Schnapp was obviously underused last season, but Stranger Things 2 proved his scene-stealing worth.
It’s not just the kids, though. We know Millie Bobby Brown & co have been receiving praise after praise and rightfully so. But the teens–Joe Keery (Steve), Charlie Heaton (Jonathan) and Natalia Dyer (Nancy)–have been perfect. The boys showed a much more naive case in puberty and ‘liking’ a girl, but whether their characters were likeable or not, Keery, Heaton and Dyer were sensationally teenaged.
Murray: “Listen, there’s a pull-out sofa in the study if you want. But if I were you, I’d just cut the bullshit and share the damn bed.”
And that matters. In a story that should focus on the very adult themes of paranormality and the unknown, the Duffer brothers created a narrative that should’ve been Ryder’s and Harbour’s. It isn’t. Instead, it belongs solely through these adventurous, naive, often idiotic boys–because we need it to. Not just for the nostalgic element, but because we need that lack of wisdom as they pursue what they believe is right. This isn’t, as Stranger Things 2 establishes, just a story flooded with callbacks and eighties tunes. It’s an adult production in a kid’s world, the very juxtaposition the Upside Down provides the normal world but on our television screen.
“I felt frozen.”
Isolation is a heavy, if often forced-down-our-throats theme this season. Will’s return isn’t truly a return, as everyone notes. He’s different and closed-off. Known to the Hawkins lab, he experiences ‘episodes’ Dr. Owens merely labels as PTSD, constantly worrying Joyce and Jonathan too. Will can’t help it, of course, but for once we see Joyce happy with her new partner Bob. Meanwhile, Jonathan, who’s always been alone, can barely talk to Nancy–who he’s so obviously head-over-heels for. Even Will’s friends, save for Mike, rarely know the appropriate thing to say.
Will isn’t the only sufferer, though. It makes sense: to ignore events, even if they were a whole year ago, would be stupid. Eleven’s loneliness is emphasised not just in her scenes but in the many times she spends in the ‘rainbow room’, watching everyone move on with their lives as she remains in limbo. Joyce and Hopper should be happy with Will’s return, but both are too mature to pretend. And Mike, perhaps the most tragic of all, radios Eleven nearly every-day–to no response.
Visually and on-paper, the Duffer brothers ensured we felt the Demagorgon’s icy presence. From the dread shots of sweat beading down the back of Will’s neck to the constant lines of the monster “not liking” the cold, perhaps it should’ve been obvious. Turn the heaters on! But it’s understandable, just like we empathised with Joyce last season. This is her son, who came back from the dead.
It’s a powerful storytelling tool because not only does it build empathy for the character within us, it allows us to connect. Eleven’s frequence in the rainbow room is scarily lonely, and Brown is fantastic in those scenes. The moment you see a familiar face, your heart thumps. It works, because the Duffer brothers isolate her. Not only does it work in the moment, but in the inevitable reunion, the reward just seems greater. The warmth of Mike’s company, the feeling of finally being ‘home’–something she’d struggled for–is here. And all that isolation? We feel it every day in our lives. This tells us: it’ll be over. Loneliness. You’ll dance with someone to Sting. And it’ll be okay.
To offer us that hope in the midst of such a dark, foreboding storyline is brave and toes the line of “not working”. But with such compelling characters–how could it not?
To tell Eleven’s backstory, was Eight really needed? Aside from her standalone episode, Eleven’s fleshing-out was so well-done that it seemed unnecessary.
Millie Bobby Brown proved that she could hold an episode, if not a whole series, alone. It’s not in her dramatic Eleven moments where she hauls a bus over the boys, but rather the micro screengrab facial expressions. The tears glistening in her eyes as she’s reminded of her messed-up definition of ‘home’. There’s an understandable distrust Eleven possesses, thanks to Brenner’s years of abuse and experimentation. Likely, she still doesn’t even know what for. Will we ever find out? Who knows?
Eventually, she ends up in Illinois, meeting fellow experimental subject Eight, and also the populace:
Citizen: “Watch it, kid.”
But with Schnapp’s engaging Will returning, Eleven faded and Millie Bobby Brown didn’t deserve that. She was the best character of the first season. In this half-baked journey into her past, the Duffer brothers introduced a sister, Eight, who brought questions for a singular episode. Why? Eleven was always fated to home. Expanding Stranger Things 2’s universe was needed, but losing the small-town intimacy and charm in Eleven, who thought of it as home, was poor. Yes, plotlines were revealed that we needed. And yes, we got heart-wrenching visions of Hopper and Mike. But did any of this do Eleven justice? Well…No.
What the Duffer brothers did exceptionally well was re-introduce Will Byers, and Schnapp was more than adequate as a leading man. As for Eleven, the heart of the first season? She deserved better. And we still received zero interaction between Will and Eleven. Why? And we could’ve seen the boys’ reactions. Max’s. Nancy and Jonathan’s. Joyce’s. A world of plot could’ve happened with Eleven. Whilst it was interesting to see how manipulative Eight was, and selfish, really, Millie Bobby Brown shouldered impressively what was the weakest episode of the lot.
The best thing about Stranger Things is its capability to merge utter hilarity with seriously dark themes.
If there’s something Stranger Things 2 does even better than its first-run, is its insatiable ability to weave in laugh-out-loud moments with horrifying “oh, crap” moments. Even by the end of each season, when everyone’s happy, you know something awful will creep at the seams of this small town in Indiana once more. And it’s that inevitable, creepy-crawling sensation that leaves you hooked.
With extended screen-time, the ever brilliant Gaten Matarazzo shines as he adopts his disgusting new ‘Dart’. All the while, he’s practising his girl-repulsing purr as he tries to woo new-chick on the block Max. Everything’s so hysterically heightened because we’re watching these boys–and everyone around them–experience the first smacks of puberty. Steve seems to be okay. Nancy, on the other hand, should never drink alcohol.
Brilliantly, Nancy and Jonathan’s inevitable hook-up was a straight-up throwback to the classic Doris Day/Rock Hudson scene in Pillow Talk. By Natalia Dyer and Charlie Heaton, who’ve been staring at each other with crackling chemistry both seasons, it’s really well done. It’s wonderfully cheesy, predictable, and cliched. And that’s probably exactly the feel they were going for. Heaton in particular heightened the hilarity at breakfast, when he nearly spat his food out at the phrase “pull out”.
The Duffer brothers avoid what could’ve been an annoying conflict: youths. Instead, they’re nerdy, brilliant, and ridiculous. The love triangle is actually appealing because Steve is wonderful, but imperfect; Jonathan is malleable, but lovely. Neither are a match for Nancy. But they’re teens. They’re figuring all of this out. And perhaps for the first time on television, a youth-led cast is producing an award-winning, sensational production.
FINAL VERDICT: No matter how bad or good the Duffer brothers produce Stranger Things, the emotional punch will destroy you like the punch destroyed lightweight Nancy.
Nostalgia slaps us in the face because as a kid, of Eleven’s age, or Mike’s, or the boys’, who wouldn’t want to possess telekenesis? These scenes are inexplicably cathartic, because convince us you wouldn’t want those powers. Just try. Not only that, our senses are filled with Bowie and Sting and Roxette and the school dance is yanked out of a John Hughes movie. It’s so touching and reminds us that none of us are truly over the past–as iPhone dominated as we are now.
The direction and gorgeous cinematography so typical and expected of Stranger Things excels. Andrew Stanton’s episodes in particular shine. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein’s impeccable music transports us back just as effectively as the Duffer brothers do. And it’s that kind of hard-hitting “feels” that save you from the often questionable script and dialogue/character choices. For example, having an Eleven-centric episode is a necessity; having it in such a way is not.
But despite all of that, did Stranger Things 2 obliterate us with the school dance? Were there tears streaming down our pathetic faces? Yes. Did it touch all hearts, age-regardless? Yes. It wasn’t quite the masterpiece of freshness it was last year. But it adds another piece of convincing evidence to the Netflix-monopolised plate that you don’t need to dish out for a cinema ticket in order to experience the real thing.
STRANGER THINGS 2 is streaming now on NETFLIX.
Season Two Verdict: “Stranger Things” [Netflix]