Creators: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer
Starring: Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp
Length: 9 x 55m Episodes
(N.B. This review may contain spoilers)
The stars of Stranger Things, the iconic dark fantasy TV series that first aired in 2016, have been heralded as the most recognisable group of child actors since Harry Potter. This Halloween, they returned for Season 2.
Season 1 introduced the audience to this all new world that began with the
disappearance of Will Byers and ended with his return. During this time we were
introduced to the gang who comprise Will’s friends and also the stars of the show.
The main focus for Season 1 was the struggle over Will’s disappearance and the
mystery surrounding Hawkins Lab as they try to cover it up. The strange
supernatural happenings surrounding the monster sightings across town were also enough to keep the viewer hooked.
Season 2 brings us new frights and new revelations, especially regarding the return of
characters from the previous season and the demise of others. (RIP: Bob). Also
worthy of note is the introduction of new series regular Max and her sadistic and
uncouth brother Billy. Max in particular is noteworthy as the introduction of another
girl into the group adds a new and interesting dynamic to the story.
The new season starts off a little slow but gradually builds in pace as we are exposed
to more and more of the new supernatural threat posed by the shadow monster and
how it manifests through the ‘episodes’ of Will Byers. Furthermore, Dustin’s
adoption of a new pet which turns out to be evil makes an interesting side plot as does the
foibles of the season’s love life. The Steve, Jonathan and Nancy trio later becomes an
invaluable part of the show during the season’s showdown, as does Bob’s relationship with “…”, especially after he sacrifices himself to save everyone in the finale.
But what is most striking about Season 2 is the easy way it melds humour with terror
and the difficulties of dealing with trauma. Doctor Sam Owens tells Will Byers near
the beginning of the Season, for example, that his episodes and memories of the
supernatural will disappear with time. However obviously he is mistaken, for we all
know that the monsters are very real in this series. Whether these monsters are actual
creatures come into our world from the other realm of the ‘Upside Down,’ or whether
they’re only monsters of the mind, is beside the point. Much of the clever genius of
Stranger Things is how it grapples with these issues. To take another example,
Eleven’s running away from her home with Hopper to find her mother and later her
sister only to return to him later develops a further layer of her relationship with the
police officer. Although this episode – ‘The Lost Sister’ – was criticised for being one
of the ‘worst’ episodes of Stranger Things it may just be a case of people jumping on
the bandwagon. It was a bold move to move away from the main story for a whole episode, and we got to see that Eleven is capable of compassion. Her decision not to kill the malicious Doctor Brenner’s former minion, for instance, shows that she is capable of reasoning almost on an adult level.
It might be said that innocence in this series comes at a heavy price, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t much childish fun in this season. Joe Keery and Gaten Matarazzo’s humour brought much needed comic relief, following the search for the missing evil pet. Also, Finn Wolfhard goes above and beyond in his performance as he offers much needed moral support to the conflicted Noah Schnapp. Wolfhard already got to show us his acting skills this year after appearing in the reboot of Steven King’s It. Similarly, in the new season, he and his peers continue to show us again that age is not necessarily an obstacle to good acting. Furthermore, as the series shows off its young talent it has continued to habituate a cycle of good cinematic action and relationship drama that we can only hope will continue in Season 3. One issue that might bother some fans however is the need to pair off everyone. The Duffer Brothers seem keen to show here as much as anywhere else that you’re not really a person if you’re not in relationship. Naturally, relationships in Stranger Things are generally a source of strength and the finale’s Snow Ball was a great way to wrap up the season. However, some might feel a little concerned that Stranger Things does not buck the trend in this regard, even when it has largely been a success on all other fronts.
To summarise then, Stranger Things 2 has been a gradual and well told story that
builds from gradually hinting at the need to confront our fears and into fast-paced
action following the invasion of Hawkins Lab in the penultimate episode. One can
only hope that Stranger Things will continue it’s high standard of clever referencing,
spooky scares and balanced drama when our beloved cast eventually returns for Stranger