Stranger Things 2 created by the Duffer Brothers
After its unexpected success last year, Stranger Things became an instant classic and fans have been clamouring for the release of the second series ever since. With its perfect combination of nostalgia, comedy and suspense, the show’s creators, the Duffer Brothers, gave themselves a hell of a first series to follow up. So, did they manage to live up to the hype?
Sequels always present a conundrum: you want to give the fans more of what they want (and know), whilst simultaneously trying to create something new. Stranger Things 2 boldly begins with the unknown: our opening scenes start with a group of grungy misfits (eyeliner and mohawks galore) mid-robbery, that winds up in a police chase. It seems a far cry from the unnatural goings on at Hawkins, until one of the group brings down the tunnel of a freeway on a police car. At least, we think she does, until we realise it was an illusion. It all makes sense when we see the 008 tattooed on her wrist: she’s come from the same lab as Eleven.
Cut back to Hawkins and all the familiar faces: there’s Lucas, a rather broody Mike, Nancy and Steve are back together, the ever sallow-looking Jonathan, and a new face: Max (a girl with stellar scores at the arcade). Dustin is also back in abundance — the Duffer Brothers evidently cashed-in on the fan favourite. Joyce is back too, and with an unfamiliar face: Sean Astin (of Samwise Gamgee fame) joins the cast as her blundering but loveable boyfriend, Bob. And of course, Chief Hopper. When he’s not investigating the strange goings on at Hawkins, he’s sneaking off into the woods to his grandfather’s cabin where he’s hiding a certain numerically-named someone…
The season starts off strong. Fans are given what they love and know, as well as a couple of new additions and a dark twist to the upside down. The gate to the dark netherworld is still open, and this time the big bad is … bigger and, well, badder. The dynamics between the gang are hilarious as ever, and also a little strained: Mike is still brooding about the loss of Eleven, whilst Lucas and Dustin are both competing for the attentions of new girl, Max. The love triangle between Steve, Nancy and Jonathan continues, and Nancy takes a refreshingly more proactive role this season.
After a strong start, the second season loses its way a little bit around episodes five, six and the infamous episode seven. Fans will understand the need to explore wider storylines — the fact that Eleven is number 011 surely means there were others before her — but it diverges too far from what the viewers are already invested in.
But if ever there was a redemption, it’s the last two episodes. Back to Hawkins, back to the characters we know and love, this final climax will have viewers screaming, crying, and laughing respectively. Some ends are tied up, some aren’t, but there’s no denying this is Stranger Things at its finest.
The Duffer Brothers have said they plan to make up to five seasons. With such a powerhouse of a franchise it’s no surprise, but you have to wonder whether the characters and small-town setting are going to offer enough juice. Like the last four seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there’s a danger that there’s only so many times a hellhole can threaten to destroy the world, and humankind, etc. But for now, they’re still onto a winning formula (despite a few minor wobbles). Well worth a weekend alone with just the television.
The second season of Stranger Things is great, and I was glad to see a wider view of this strange little town and its inhabitants, especially because characters like Nancy and Joyce become more interesting. Nancy, in particular, really needed to be more than a silly teenage girl, and I think this season did a good job of pushing her away from being just another stereotype. Bringing in Joyce’s new boyfriend added a depth to her beyond the long-suffering single mother trope, and it certainly didn’t hurt that, as Ray mentioned, he’s played to doofy perfection by Sean Astin.
The returning characters all get strong and interesting developments as the show goes on, which I and many other fans welcomed, since there’s no way to deny that the youngest members of the cast are all growing up. This is always a challenge, because Mike and the other boys aren’t frozen in a permanent state of childhood (unlike, say, Bart and Lisa Simpson), so I was glad to see the Duffer Brothers making allowances for the real world.
But the new characters and storylines/backstories sometimes bog things down, especially in the much-maligned episode seven. I’m aware that there’s a planned five-season arc for the show, and I’m willing to give Stranger Things the benefit of the doubt and hope that the next season is a little smoother, but episodes five, six, and seven felt really out of place. The show works best when it remembers that Hawkins is a small town and when the primary focus is on the core group of Will, Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Eleven, with the adults and older kids orbiting them. I’m still a big fan of Stranger Things and will gladly recommend the show to anyone within earshot; my hope is that season three will be a stronger, more cohesive effort.