“I’m going to my friends. I’m going home.”
Last year Netflix released a little sci-fi series that took the world by storm, a series that mixed ‘80s nostalgia with wholesome supernatural horror to make a cult classic with mass appeal. This year, Stranger Things returned for a second season – and one that’s every bit as good as the first.
We begin in unfamiliar territory, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1984. A police car chase, as a group of punks shed their disguises and barrel away from the scene. However, don’t adjust your set, this is still Stranger Things, and we’re reminded of this when a series of unfortunate events leads us to a punk with a bloody nose, and a number on her arm – 008.
This introduces us to one of the most prominent themes of this season – the ramifications of Hawkins Lab’s actions.
At the centre of it all, the rag-tag bunch of misfits who took on the Demogorgon last season have been sworn to secrecy by the powers that be. As far as the rest of Hawkins knows, Will (Noah Schnapp) was found in the woods, a lost boy, who turned up when everyone believed he was dead – and that’s the end of it. Except, for those who know better. And worse than this, Barb’s parents have hired a private investigator (ably played by the hilarious Brett Gelman) to find out what has happened to their daughter, which serves as a continuously painful reminder for Nancy (Natalia Dyer) that her friend is never coming back, and she cannot tell them why.
For the Byers family, each day is a struggle. Will is still tied to the terrible place he was rescued from, plagued with nightmarish visions of terrifying creatures that leave him paralyzed with fear. Under the (very) close watch of his mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder) Will is undergoing testing at the new and improved Hawkins Lab, for what they are treating as PTSD – though it is much more dangerous than they realise, for everyone, not just Will. The ripple-effect of his time in the Upside Down is spreading through the town, poised to take Hawkins as its own, and Will is the anchor by which the haunting creatures are taking root.
Elsewhere, Will and the other ‘party’ members have returned to school, shaken by the events of last year, and holding onto the memory of the mysterious girl with the awesome powers that saved them countless times. Mike (Finn Wolfhard) is adamant that Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is still out there, and while his friends are moving forward, a part of him sees El in everything, sitting in his basement fort, and checking in on the radio every day, hoping for a reply. But, there’s a new girl on the scene for Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) in the form of ‘totally tubular’ tomboy skater Max (Sadie Sink). Coming to the boys’ attention in the arcade, Max is brought in the join the party – much to Mike’s distain, who believes that the others are simply replacing El. However, Max brings with her a whole new set of issues for the gang, who, at the precipice of adolescence are confused as to how to act around a normal girl, and how to explain their strange and unusual actions to someone who isn’t privy to the events of last year.
Alongside Max is another new character (one of many new characters this season – which at times can seem a little overwhelming) her brother, bad boy, Billy (Dacre Montgomery) who’s main character function is to make us feel bad for Max, and generally just make the audience kind of hate him – and when there’s a chance to expand on his character, they hold off – clearly waiting for next season to delve deeper into his flawed bad lad persona.
Chief Hopper (David Harbour) continues to be a fan favourite this season, as he acts as protector to all, and father to some, in all of his wonderfully grumpy glory. Remaining close to Joyce as she battles with Will’s condition, we get a little more detail from their past, though just a tease to keep our attention. At many points this season, Hopper’s recklessness leaves you fearing for his safety, and David Harbour brings to the character an impressive balance of levity and depth, as he throws himself head-first into protecting his town.
Like Harbour, Millie Bobby Brown puts her all into this season, proving that when the actress said that this season was “emotionally and physically challenging” for her as Eleven, she certainly wasn’t exaggerating. Season 2 sees El trying desperately to find out who she is and where she comes from, as she has been hidden away from the world for almost a year by a familiar face, who is endeavouring to keep her safe.
This season sees Nancy and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) take something of a backseat, in favour of us spending more time with the younger cast. On a mission to get Barb’s parents some kind of justice, theirs is the smallest arc, which breaks up the more intense storylines with a little less danger. It’s much the same with new addition Bob ‘the brain’ (Sean Astin), Joyce’s new boyfriend and loveable tech-nerd who is trying his hardest to take the fractured Byers house and bring them into a normal, wholesome family unit. Like that’s possible in Hawkins.
The character which sees the biggest change this season is Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) whose arc is one of redemption. Gone is the teen boy desperate to be the coolest kid in school, with Nancy on his arm – what remains after the events of last year is someone who has realised that there’s more in life, more to care about, more to be afraid of, and ultimately, more he can do with his life. His is the most incredible change of character, and your opinion on Steve is sure to be completely altered after the season’s end, particularly as they have made more of the character than simply ‘Nancy’s boyfriend’.
All in all, Season 2 of Stranger Things delves deeper than its first into the central characters and what the events of the last year have left them with. In only nine episodes we are taken on an emotional journey which sees the young stars deal with problems beyond their years, and bring a level of performance that sometimes rivals that of the more experienced cast members, as the Duffer Brothers bring back everything we loved about the first series, but turn everything up to eleven – if you’ll pardon the pun.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10.
(Nothing’s perfect, but this comes pretty close.)