Stranger Things is an incredibly likable show. Stellar acting, a nostalgic '80s setting and an entertaining science-fiction story all dropped on Netflix last summer and quickly became a national phenomenon. The lives of Eleven, Will Byers, Officer Hopper and the rest of the crew took audiences on a ride and the Duffer brothers’ creation was immediately renewed for a second season. No spoilers for this newest season, but I can’t think of any way to discuss season two without discussing what happened in season one. So before I continue, here’s the spoiler warning for the season prior. You've been warned.
The season starts off with the everyday lives of all the characters, with the heavy-hitting dangers coming later. It’s been a year since Will (Noah Schnapp) came back from the Upside Down, but he’s not doing so hot. PTSD-like nightmares are becoming frequent, with visions of shadow monsters haunting him. Mike (Finn Wolfhard) is in a funk, too, but more so because he’s angsty over Elle (Millie Bobby Brown) being gone. Outside of these two, it starts as a fairly normal look into the town of Hawkins.
Joyce (Winona Ryder) found a good-hearted but dorky boyfriend Bob (Sean Astin) and both are trying their best to make things normal for Will. Hopper (David Harbour) is back to being police chief, seemingly only having to deal with the small town problems of the locals. Dustin and Lucas (Gaten Matarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin) both get the hots for the new girl Max (Sadie Sink) who just moved to town from California. Max’s douchebag step brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery) acts as the human antagonist for the season, especially towards Steve (Joe Keery). In addition to the love triangle of Max, Lucas and Dustin is another triangle with Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and Steve, centered on dealing with the repercussions of nearly dying last season.
Season two is a slow burn, which is understandable. The first season had a lot of loose ends that needed to be wrapped up, and season two takes its time to do so naturally. This approach could have been frustrating or boring, but the Duffer brothers have crafted a world of fascinating characters and I loved watching their lives play out on screen.
The new additions to the cast all make a strong impression. Sean Astin is as lovable here as Bob as he was as Sam in Lord of the Rings. Max and Billy bring an interesting dynamic to the small town, offering different kinds of trouble to all the younger characters. Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) the new head of the shady Hawkins Lab, seems like a more compassionate leader than the villains from last season.
Throughout the nine episodes are a ton of subplots, similar to the first season, and some are definitely better than others. Elle has an entire episode dedicated to her activities that felt especially slow and tonally off, and a plot about Jonathan and Nancy trying to make up for Barb’s death didn’t feel necessary. Mike doesn’t have much to do without Elle and turns from one of the best characters in the first season to one of the most frustrating.
But outside of these sections, new character dynamics brought some of the best moments of the series. Steve and Dustin team up for a few episodes and act as a surprisingly effective pairing. Honestly, Steve in general has more to do this season, and everything is made better for it. Elle and another character whom I won’t mention for spoilers have some great highlights, with both characters acting as replacements for what the other has lost. Even Winona Ryder, whose over-the-top acting drove me crazy in season one, mellows out with the addition of Bob; she became one of the strongest characters, especially with all that poor Will is going through. It has to be said that the child acting across the board is terrific, and if Millie, Finn, Gaten and the crew weren’t such professionals, then the show would not be nearly as great as it is.
The Duffer brothers bring a level of polish to the show that makes it stand out. Phenomenal acting across the board, gorgeous camera work and convincing special effects give everything a cinematic feel — like a long-lost, nine-hour '80s movie. Unlike the first season, season two wraps up all the storylines in an extremely satisfying finale, with only a small hint at where future seasons could go.
If it wasn’t obvious, I absolutely loved Stranger Things season two. The slow parts and occasional meandering plot arcs were vastly outnumbered by the strong, suspenseful moments and, as a whole, the season works spectacularly. The dark and scary moments are balanced out by pure '80s movie charm, and it left me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. The bits of horror make it a perfect Halloween binge, but the series' heart makes it a stellar watch any time of the year.