I liked Stranger Things. I liked the second season. If you liked Stranger Things, you will probably like the second season. If you did not like Stranger Things, I doubt this second season will change your mind. The Duffer brothers have described this sequel season as “bigger and darker,” and they certainly deliver on that front. The show has the same slow pace for the first half, blossoming into an even more action-packed second half. It has the same cast of genre movie/television character tropes that are subverted and expanded–even more so now, since most of the cast is returning from the first season, and so are entering season two with all of the growth and trauma experienced in season one. It is still firmly rooted in the eighties, in its setting and cultural references, and in its genre allusions (through specific references and plot elements and background Easter eggs) to various titles of the era.
You may have noticed that I referred to this new season as a “sequel season.” I’m not sure that later seasons in a show are typically referred to as sequels; they’re just continuations. But the creators and critics have already referred to season two as a sequel, and I think that description is apt. Season one is not a string of episodes but almost something like an eight-hour movie; season two, with its continued use of “chapters” instead of episodes, invites a similar viewing experience. It’s made for bingeing, consuming in a single chunk of extended content. It is a singular story, following the singular story of the first season. And it’s not just a continuation of the status quo. We jump ahead a year in time, as the characters still try to adjust and move on. While poor Will, the boy lost in the Upside Down and barely rescued in time, has the most trauma to cope with, it is clear that all of the main characters have been affected by events.
Since this season is about finding out what is still affecting Will and hanging over Hawkins, rather than a desperate search for a missing person, the series has a little more breathing room earlier on. I would say that the first season also had a quiet slowness to it, but that was often to build tension. In this second season, the first half allows for considerable character development. Seeing the Byers family of Will, Jonathan, Joyce, and Joyce’s new boyfriend Bob simply living together feels not only authentic but incredibly sweet. These are good people, adjusting to past trauma and new life changes. They legitimately care for each other. And that caring, that love that we see, provides a lot of fuel for my desire to want to see them make it all through okay.
The story goes down some different roads, too. While season one might have pulled from a lot of slasher films and childhood adventure/coming-of-age stories, season two is often more of a straightforward action sci-fi story, with more lore and bigger stakes. We don’t just learn more about the Upside Down, either–the lore grows laterally, with more stories about the covert government project that Eleven was a part of, and more about others who were involved in that project. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to note that Eleven (portrayed by Millie Bobby Brown, whose already impressive acting appears to have grown with the character) plays an important part in this story, and her plot feels like a mashup of runaway stories and X-Men/New Mutants and even a dark mirror of the Jedi path. The second half of the overall story becomes a sort of Aliens to season one’s Alien, mixed with a heavy dose of The Exorcist. And one of the most dramatic early visuals to indicate Will’s continued troubles echoes a scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
But this new season also just gives more time for character development. Winona Ryder in particular is fantastic as Joyce, now that she is given more of a role beyond shrieking hysterics for much of the plot. Her deep love and affection, her reserves of inner strength and resolve, and her fierce Mama Bear protectionism are simply great. There really isn’t a weak role on this show, though, and all the kids remain incredibly charming. New addition Max serves as a sort of cool out-of-town tomboy replacement to Eleven while the party’s mage is off on her own; Max’s older stepbrother, whom I hate with a passion, feels a little bit like what Steve could have become, if Steve hadn’t developed into such a sweet, sincere, good kid and away from his bullying jock persona.
Really, like I said at the beginning, if you liked the first season, you’ll like season two. If you didn’t like it–if you thought it was too derivative, or too nostalgic, or too slow, or whatever–you probably won’t have any better opinions about the new season. It’s simply more. For me, more was good. But more probably won’t change any minds. Not that it has to, considering the success of the show so far. I’m happy to see that the show’s quality has remained consistent, and I’m looking forward hopefully to future seasons. Even without an obviously dangling thread to force another sequel, there are a lot of intriguing storylines that could, and hopefully will, be explored.
Last thought: Bob, you’ll always be my superhero.