Stranger Things 2 has officially arrived on Netflix for your binging enjoyment, so you better just get used to hearing about the series from friends, co-workers, and strangers on the internet. The Duffer Brothers’ creation became an instant pop culture phenomenon upon the first season’s release, as it formed a great, genre-blending mystery in a nostalgia-fueled 80’s setting while frequently paying homage to the films that have caused generations of fans to fall in love with cinema in the first place.
Since the sequel was announced, legions of fans have amped the excitement with theories, speculation, and a burning question that understandably lingered in every conversation: Could Stranger Things 2 maintain a nearly-perfect level of quality throughout its nine episodes?
Without hesitation, yes.
In many ways, the second offering of the series manages to improve on its predecessor, rarely having a misstep throughout the process. We’re going to dive right into our review now, but fret not, we’ll keep the spoilers to a minimum.
The first season of Stranger Things gripped viewers with the heartbreaking story of a son, brother, and friend gone missing to forces that nobody understands. Throughout that season, our characters unravel the mystery and forge together to bring him back home. Stranger Things 2 wastes no time in showcasing the ramifications of these events, nor does it hesitate to establish that this season will be offering a fresh story with a broader world and higher stakes.
Having just watched season one (for the seventh time) two days ago, I was vehemently impressed with how naturally the story progresses. These feel like the true “next steps” for our characters, their lives, and the danger presented by The Upside Down. Stripped to its most basic form, Stranger Things 2 explores the effect that the first season had on Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), who is experiencing complicated “episodes” that may be related to his time spent in The Upside Down. Beyond just his safety, however, these issues spell potential disaster, not just for Hawkins, Indiana, but for the entire world.
This is only a surface-level observation of the series, and I assure you that there are many more fantastic elements that this new story is made up of, but for the sake of the story’s freshness, it’s imperative that you hear no more plot details than this.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the continued story is that, whereas season one was frequently content to pay homage at every possible turn, Stranger Things 2 cuts a path all its own. There are plenty of nods, sure. By and large, however, this season improves in establishing an identity beyond just nostalgia. It’s incredible.
There are several new characters introduced to the Stranger Things core in season two, most notably Max Hargrove (Sadie Sink), a young girl who reluctantly joins the clique of Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Will; Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery), Max’s intensely troubled ASSHOLE stepbrother; and Bob Newby (Sean Astin), Joyce Byers’ nerdy new lover who is having a difficult time being accepted into a difficult situation despite his best intentions. While Billy is unfortunately one-note (although we eventually understand his mentality), the other two characters are incredible additions to the story, not just in what they bring to the table, but in how they allow our original characters to evolve.
As for the kids, Will is front and center throughout most of Stranger Things 2, and Noah Schnapp owns the role of the tortured child, honestly giving one of the greatest child performances I’ve ever seen. He’s that good. The dynamic between the friends remains largely the same, with the exception that now Lucas and Dustin are competing for the affection of a girl, and heartbroken Mike broods over the loss of Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) in last year’s finale. If you’ve seen any of the trailers, you’ll know that Eleven indeed returns to the series. However, she doesn’t interact with the group as much as you might be expecting or hoping for- a choice that allows for several powerfully touching moments in the final two episodes of the season.
The character arc of Chief Hopper (David Harbour) was my personal favorite in the first season of the series, as it culminated in a finale moment that was alternately devastating and emotionally fulfilling. This time around, though, I feel as though Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) was given the most resonant character progression. Much of last season, viewers saw Steve in two separate lights: One in which he was a loving, well-intentioned guy, and one in which he was a douchebag. By the end of the season, Steve’s hero arc had begun, and without giving much away, that aspect carries over to Stranger Things 2 in a way that will, at times break your heart, but more frequently, cause you to grin from ear to ear.
The relationship between Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) continues to be complicated in Stranger Things 2, as the pair are still ignoring their obvious chemistry and affection for each other in order to maintain a sense of normalcy. The “will they, won’t they” portion of the story is every bit as prevalent here as in the first season, though it’s further explored in this outing by the season’s end.
To beat a dead horse, there are several other relationships and dynamics that I’m neglecting to discuss in order to keep this review free of significant spoilers. Does that make me a hero?
As much as I’d like to say that Stranger Things 2 was without flaws since it provided my heart so much joy, there is one gripe that simply cannot go without mentioning. Episodes 6, 8, and 9 are three of the best chapters of any show I’ve ever seen. Each one builds on the previous episode’s heightened excitement and stakes in an electrifying manner. The 7th episode of the season, however, disrupts the pacing and flow of the season by ignoring current events and focusing on an elsewhere story. While the chapter remains good and particularly essential in the growth of a specific character, the placement is detrimental to the climax of the season, and I found myself ready for the next episode to begin well before this one ended.
Stranger Things 2 is every bit as, if not more, enjoyable as the tremendous first season. The story branches out in ways that feel natural, the characters continue to win over your heart, and the Duffer Brothers find new ways to incorporate nostalgia without tapping into the same old tricks. Those who thought that a second season couldn’t possibly maintain the level of excellence are about to have their expectations flipped upside down. Stranger Things 2 totally tubular.
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