Stranger Things 2 spoiler review

(In our Spoiler Reviews, we take a deep dive into a new release and get to the heart of what makes it tick…and every story point is up for discussion. In this entry: the second season Netflix’s highly anticipated Stranger Things.)

What was it that made Stranger Things season 1 such a hit? Was it the nostalgia factor, with the abundance of 1980s charm drawing viewers in? Was it the rather ingenious combination of Stephen King and Steven Spielberg-like material that tapped into an overall vibe that audiences were inherently familiar with? Both of those things likely played a part, but what truly worked best about the first season of Stranger Things was how it handled its characters. Specifically, how it created a cast of highly likable, relatable characters, cast them perfectly, and then had them work together. The chemistry was unbeatable.

Which is why Stranger Things season 2, or Stranger Things 2, as it’s officially called, seems like just an anomaly. When it came time to plan the second season for their wildly popular show, the Duffer Brothers seemingly decided to take everything that made the first season so memorable and do the complete opposite. There’s a certain amount of appreciation here: it’s gutsy to go so against the grain; to reject fan service in lieu of something different. It would’ve been very easy for Stranger Things 2 to simply remake the first season, and the fact that the Duffers avoided that is commendable. But there’s a difference between trying something different and completely jettisoning things that were working so well. You don’t throw the Demogorgon out with the bathwater.

 

This isn’t to say Stranger Things 2 is a complete misfire. When it’s working, it’s working considerably well. When the show stops bullshitting and lets its characters come together again, the magic is rekindled. Yet the further removed I get from Stranger Things 2, the more its flaws glare out at me. This is a sharp contrast to season 1, which lingered for weeks after the first viewing, and where the moments that worked worked so well that they trumped most, if not all, of the flaws.

Was Stranger Things 2 worth the wait and the hype? Mostly, yes. The cast of this show continues to be charming, and the characters they portray work together incredibly well, whenever the Duffers let them. The biggest problem Stranger Things 2 makes, however, is it cares more about expanding the mythology rather than characters. Let’s take a deep-dive into the Upside Down with a Stranger Things 2 spoiler review. Spoilers follow, obviously.

Eleven stranger things

Back to Hawkins: The Set-Up

Stranger Things 2 picks up about a year following the events of season 1. Things seem perfectly normal in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana. There’s almost no sign of all the supernatural phenomenon that plagued the town, and with good reason: everyone is keeping their mouths shut, for fear that the secret government agency running the Hawkins Lab will come and kill them if they reveal what really happened.

Friends Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) are trying to get on with their lives now that they’ve been reunited with Will (Noah Schnapp), who was sucked into the mysterious alternate dimension known as the Upside Down. But getting back to normal won’t be easy. Will is suffering from some sort of PTSD from his time spent in the Upside Down. He also keeps having dreams (or are they visions?), of a tall, looming, tentacled creature  – nicknamed The Shadow Monster – threatening Hawkins. Mike is having problems too, as he attempts to deal with the disappearance of Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), the girl with telekinetic powers who helped Mike and his friends rescue Will.

The end of season 1 saw Eleven vanquish a monster known as the Demogorgon, and for all anyone knows, she died saving the day. Mike, however, refuses to give up hope of ever seeing Eleven again. He continues to try to reach out to her through static-filled channels on his walkie talkie.

The group of friends find their close-knit group tested when new girl Max (Sadie Sink) comes to town. Both Dustin and Lucas are smitten with Max, but Mike, his mind preoccupied with Eleven, is hesitant to let a new girl into the group. Max has her own problems in the form of her downright crazy older step-brother, the cartoonishly evil Billy (Dacre Montgomery).

Elsewhere in Hawkins, Will’s occasionally frantic mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) is understandably feeling very overprotective of her youngest son after getting him back from the Upside Down. But she, too, is also trying to find some semblance of normalcy in her life, with the help of a new romantic relationship with the charmingly dorky Bob (Sean Astin).

Meanwhile, Joyce’s other son Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) is attempting to deal with his romantic feelings for Mike’s older sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer), who is currently in a not-so-happy relationship with sometimes-jerk Steve (Joe Keery). Nancy is struggling too – struggling with keeping secrets. She’s haunted by the death of her best friend Barb, and racked with guilt over the fact that she can’t tell Barb’s parents what happened to their daughter, whom they still think of as missing and not dead.

Then there’s Jim Hopper (David Harbour), the Hawkins Chief of Police. Hopper has been keeping order, and making sure the supernatural events from last season are hushed-up. He’s in frequent contact Dr. Sam Owens (Paul Reiser), who is both Will’s doctor and the guy tasked with cleaning up the mess left over by his dastardly predecessors at Hawkins Lab. There’s still a portal to the Upside Down beneath the building, and Owens and his associates work daily to maintain that portal and keep it from spreading, all while Hopper keeps things secret.

Hopper has a secret of his own, though. And it’s a big one: Eleven is alive and well, and living with him in a secluded cabin. They have a mostly harmonious relationship, but Hopper forbids Eleven from leaving the cabin. He worries that the minute someone sees her, her life will be in danger. This, of course, is distressing for Eleven, who only wants to see her friends again, especially Mike.

Season 1 had three main story conflicts: the arrival of the monster known as the Demogorgon, a split-faced humanoid ghoul that could jump in and out of dimensions; the arrival of Eleven, a young girl essentially raised in a lab to be a psychic weapon; and the disappearance of Will, sucked into the other dimension called the Upside Down. There were other issues too, of course, but those were the primary ones. Season 2 has a lot more balls in the air; too many, in fact, but we’ll get to that later.

First and foremost is the Shadow Monster that haunts Will. The creature is visually impressive, looking like something H.P. Lovecraft dreamed up while he was running a fever. The creature is also more sentient and cunning than the Demogorgon. While the Demogorgon was a blunt force instrument, the Shadow Monster uses deception and manipulation to destroy lives. But just what this creature wants, really, is rather vague.

Then there’s the issue of the Upside Down, which, despite the efforts of Dr. Owens, is continuing to spread underneath the town, rotting crops in the process. The show keeps this element a secret, teasing it with a subplot about Hopper investigating several farms that report rotting pumpkins. But it’s a rather easy secret to deduce, and when the big reveal comes, don’t be surprised if you find yourself saying, “Well, duh,” to your TV.

On top of this, we have Eleven trying to find out where she came from, and who her mother was. We also have new character Max dealing with her crazy brother. And then we have a brand new creature – an initially cute pollywog that looks sort of like a cross between a baby chicken and a lizard. This is D’Artagnan, nicknamed Dart. Dustin discovers the creature rooting around his his backyard trash, sort of like E.T., and the two develop a very E.T.-like bond that shatters pretty quickly once Dustin and his friends discover Dart is actually a Demogorgon-like creature that keeps growing and develops a taste for human flesh (and also cats).

Oh, we also have a team of X-Men rejects who seem as if they’ve accidentally stumbled in from a different show. They’re terrible. We’ll get to them later. But first, let’s talk about the Stranger Things 2 elements that work best.

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