by Casey Williams
WARNING: There will be mild spoilers.
Things are still strange in the land of Hawkins, Indiana. The second season picks up in October of 1984, a year after the previous season ended, but things are far from normal.
Some things have changed for the better. Joyce has a supportive boyfriend named Bob and has rekindled her friendship with Chief Hopper. Eleven is back from the Upside Down and has been secretly living with Hopper in a cabin in the woods.
Nancy is still with Steve, who has reformed considerably, and has remained friends with Johnathan. Will is back with his family and friends and is attending school again. Dustin finds a new pet who turns out to be an unknown species. The bad people at the Hawkins Lab are supposedly gone.
But of course, some other things have changed for the worst. A new gamer girl named Max has Lucas and Dustin vying for her affections causing contention in their clique. Will is having worsening visions of the Upside Down and has to be checked by the Hawkins Lab about once a month.
Nancy is suffering from guilt over Barb’s death. Mike is still despondent over Eleven’s disappearance. Hopper has his hands full keeping the government and a curious journalist at bay and is dealing with an increasingly impatient Eleven, who in turn is learning more about her past. And to top it all off, a shadow monster from the Upside Down is trying to use Will to break into the real world.
If the first season of “Stranger Things” is an example every 80’s cliché done right, the second season is an example of a sequel done correctly. This season goes deeper into the story and gives the characters more depth than in the first season, for the most part.
Much like the first season, the writing is focused on the characters dealing with these strange events and has each group in their own storyline until they all come together at the end of the season to fight off the big monster. The second season improves on the original by allowing more intermingling between the groups and showing the impact that the first season has had on the characters. Mostly, these developments make the show more interesting.
In my opinion, the best development is given to Eleven. In this season, the audience feels more of her emotions, especially when she struggles with being separated from Mike. On her own, she finds her mother and her “sister,” Kali, one of the other children from the lab who escaped before her and uses her psychic powers more vengefully than Eleven does. While in the first season Eleven usually goes with the flow, this season she makes decisions for herself and ultimately decides how she wants to use her powers and who her family truly is.
The latter is especially important for Eleven as she decides to return to her friends in Hawkins instead of running away. She learns once and for all, that you belong with the people who truly love you because they are truly your family. Seriously, one of the most satisfying moments of the whole series, is when she dances with Mike at the Snow Ball.
The second best development goes, unexpectedly to Steve. In season two, he has reformed considerably and has become a kinder person because of his relationship with Nancy. Steve has lost his title of “king of the school” and is no longer as popular as he used to be. A fact rubbed in his face by Max’s awful stepbrother, Billy. Steve tries to support Nancy in her mourning, even though she ultimately breaks up with him, and even afterwards, he remains likeable.
In fact, the most surprising twist of the season revolves around him and his unlikely friendship with Dustin, who asks for his help in dealing with his out-of-control pet Demogorgon. In the finale, he mentors the other kids, too. He stands up to Billy and reluctantly jumps into an underground tunnel to help the kids defeat the shadow monster. By the end of the season, Steve becomes an older brother figure to Dustin and even mentors him on how to attract girls.
Almost everyone else receives natural development, too. Hopper has become a father-figure to Eleven. Joyce is calmer since she’s finally in some stable relationships. Will is made more independent and annoyed by everyone’s concerns. Dustin gets a cute but tragic side-story when he unknowingly raises his pet Dart who turns out to be a Demogorgon.
Lucas goes out of his way to make Max like him and make her feel a part of their group. Mike proves himself to be Will’s closest friend, and his grieving for Eleven makes his animosity towards Max understandable. Everyone else is as good as they need to be.
The new characters are also made likeable. Bob is a sweet, goofy, intelligent, and supportive partner to Joyce and uses his puzzle-solving and technology skills to help her out and attempts to be a good father figure to Will. Kali, while being a vengeful telepath vigilante with her own clique, is still very relatable.
Surprisingly, even Will’s doctor, Dr. Owens, who works for Hawkins Lab, is not an unlikeable character. He genuinely seems to care for Will’s safety and fights to protect him when the other doctors of the lab seem ready to give up on him.
Unfortunately, not all the characters are very well-developed. The biggest culprits of this are Johnathan and Nancy. Johnathan, character-wise, does not really change this season, besides growing closer to Nancy and struggling to know how to care for Will. Nancy, unfortunately, gets more annoying. She’s still smart and determined.
She and Johnathan manage to secretly record the doctors of the Hawkins Lab confessing their crimes and get the recording to the funny journalist/conspiracy theorist, Murray, who then figures out how to get this information out to the public so that people can know the truth about Barb.
But when it comes to romance, Nancy’s as wishy-washy as they come. Nancy tells Steve in her drunken stupor that she does not truly love him, but the next day when Steve confronts her, instead of making her feelings clear and breaking up with him, she remains undecided then cheats on him with Johnathan while the two of them are at Murray’s house.
If Steve was still the jackass he was last season, this development may have been applauded, but since Steve has now developed into a much better person, this treatment felt more than unfair. Johnathan and Nancy ultimately get together by the end of the season, but in show that espouses the values of loyalty, honesty, and true love for the people we care about, the viewers are left feeling sorry for Steve and annoyed at Nancy’s hypocrisy.
The only other problem I have with the cast is with Max. She’s a confident and tough tomboy with a sad backstory who fits in well with the group, but as a character, her place in the story feels forced. Max is mostly around to cause conflict in the story. She is the reason there is a rift between Mike and Lucas and Dustin.
She is a partial motivation for Eleven’s running off, since Max’s presence makes her worry that she’s being replaced. Then, when Max is not serving as a dividing point, she does not really contribute in any other way, besides as a love interest. Max is not a badly written character and her actress does a good job, but story-wise, she needs a different role.
As for the production values, everything still looks great. The costumes, the hair, the sets, the transitions, the camera angles, it all looks perfect. Surprisingly to me, even the CGI is consistently great, whether it is the Shadow Monster or Dart as a baby, all the monsters and the Upside Down look like they belong in a movie production and not in a television show. The effects and the production, like the rest of the show, are much better than anyone was expecting them to be. Strange, isn’t it?
All-in-all, “Stranger Things 2” has succeeded in being a good sequel. I love the writing and most of the characters and can’t get enough of them. I can’t wait to see where the series goes next and pray to God that nothing any more tragic happens (I almost cried when I saw Mike trying to contact Eleven on the walkie-talkie, so they better not be separated again)! I only started watching the series in October.
I binged the first season in about a week and the second season in several days after it came out. Now, I’m stuck with everyone else waiting for the next season. It’s a bittersweet feeling, but if it continues being this good or even better, it’s honestly well worth the wait.