The Unpopular Opinion: 'Stranger Things' Season 2 Is Better Than Season 1

(Welcome to The Unpopular Opinion, a series where a writer goes to the defense of a much-maligned film or show or sets their sights on something seemingly beloved by all. In this edition: an argument that Stranger Things season 2 is a vast improvement over season 1.)

To say Netflix's Stranger Things has become the love of my TV life might be the understatement of the decade. Featuring every bit of the '80s that made my childhood magical, and one heck of an amazing cast, it fulfilled that hole in my TV life that no other new show could. But ever since I finished my first viewing of season 1, there has been one question that has plagued me  – could the Duffer Brothers deliver a "sequel" that was just as good as the first installment of their story?

While the rest of the /Film crew found themselves disappointed with the new season, I was definitely won over. In fact, I'm a proud believer that Stranger Things 2 is better than its predecessor for a multitude of reasons.

And obviously, if you haven't watched Season 2, prepare yourself for some big spoilers.

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The Characters Are Actually...Characters!

When we meet the cast of Stranger Things in season 1, it's quite obvious what influenced the Duffer Brothers. And with countless number of YouTube videos analyzing every single shot that pays homage to certain classic films of the '80s, there's no denying that these characters are paying tribute to beloved movies. But sometimes this method of traveling down memory lane left the show's ensemble feeling more like vessels for nostalgia instead of real people. And though one particular character is the greatest example of this (we'll get to her later), let's take a minute to focus on two that seemed to get the short end of the stick when it came to the fandom of season 1: Joyce and Steve.

Joyce Beyers (Winona Ryder) seems like the typical single movie mom. Her hair is all over the place, her eyes tired and puffy, and her clothes are unkept. She works a not-so-fantastic job, constantly loses her car keys and wishes she had more time with her kids, representing the kind of role that Dee Wallace would have taken on to an almost cartoonish degree. Then there is Steve Harrington (Joe Kerry), the popular jerk of '80s legend. With hair that reaches the clouds and an ego that almost seems to travel similar heights, Steve was given some redeeming qualities by the end of season 1 that saved him from being left in the villains' corner of the series.

In the new season, Joyce continues to wear her emotions on her sleeve, but rather than being the stressed out individual we grew to care for, she takes control of her situation. She isn't just going to fall for Hawkins Lab's tricks – she becomes the badass parental figure we wanted her to be. And for Steve, this young James Spader stand-in blossoms into a real hero. Not only does he go through some pretty big personal trials, but he battles his demons (literally and metaphorically) head-on. He's no longer defined as just the pigheaded pretty boy, but rather the big brother we all wish we had.

Everyone in season 2 (with possibly the exception of Mike) has this sort of turn, whether for good or bad. They are all flawed characters who refuse to have their names written in the stars by their past. And if anyone (or any Demo Dog) stands in their way, they'll be sorry, because they aren't going to back down from their evolution. Speaking of which....

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Eleven becomes a "real girl"

Much of the success of Stranger Things comes from the character of Eleven, played brilliantly by Millie Bobby Brown. This nose bleeding badass captured the hearts of viewers worldwide and became the icon of the series. But much like the rest of the cast in Stranger Things, Eleven was a character who seemed only to exist to service nostalgic touchstones. She was the E.T. of the series, showing off her powers and saving the cast from the terrors of Hawkins Lab. But in Stranger Things 2,  Eleven finally takes on a Pinocchio-style transformation and takes control of her destiny. She becomes a real girl.

It all starts with her escape from the Upside Down, and her meeting with Hopper (David Harbor). She then forms into a different kind of girl, one that is very much in line with the image of Hopper's late daughter, Rachel. And with the clues that Eleven pieces together of her own origin, she takes the risk of escaping Hopper's care so she can find out who she truly is meant to be, without his influence.

Of course, Eleven's journey to becoming Jane (her real name) is a wild one. She finally meets her mother, gets involved with a gang of punks with too much hair product, reunites with her Hawkins Lab sister, and even gets a goth influenced makeover. Yet all of this helps her discover that Hawkins is her real home and the only place where she discover who she really is. And with Hopper's acceptance of her new look upon her return, plus the love of her friends, Eleven is finally able to conquer her fears and become the girl that she always should have been from the get-go.

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Bob is better than Barb

Bob, Barb...I see what you're doing, Duffer Brothers. Are you wanting us to fall in love with characters that start with the letter "B" just so you can see the reaction we have once you kill them off?! Is this some kind of emotional test!?

In all seriousness, this probably isn't really the intention of the creative team behind Stranger Things, but the similarities in which my heart broke for these two was hard to ignore. And here's the truth: I think I felt more for Bob than I ever did for Barb. It's a savage comment on my part, I know.

Bob entered the picture like any innocent character does. He's wide-eyed and longs to be the cool one of the group. He's also the guy that loves Kenny Rogers and will always be up for watching Mr. Mom as opposed to a spooky sort of flick. He laughs too much for his own good (like George McFly from Back to the Future) and is smitten with a girl he never thought in a million years would give him the time of day. And maybe this is a bit of a personal reflection of my own loner past, but many people have certainly been in Bob's shoes. Maybe even more than Barb.

With two real episodes of development, Barb graced our TV screens and won our hearts not because she was really a compelling character, but more because we wished she had been involved more in the story than she was. But with Bob, the Duffers took what worked with Barb (a slightly nerdy, well meaning individual) and gave him room to grow. And rather than being just an excuse for characters to feel guilty over their actions (like Barb was to Nancy and Steve), Bob existed to push the cast towards a better outcome. He made sacrifices in the face of circumstances he didn't understand and that kind of selfish heroism makes Bob not just a great guy, but a great character who will certainly be missed for genuine, non-Tumblr influenced reasons.

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The Shadow Monster is a greater monster than the Demogorgon

Though his introduction might not have been as impressive as the Demogorgon's in the first episode of Stranger Things, the Shadow Monster is a spooky entity who has a plan and is willing to learn everything possible to set that plan into motion. And sure, an army of Demo Dogs might not reach the same heights of horror as season 1, but it is the meaning behind the Shadow Monster (and his long term effects) that are the stuff of nightmares.

Right from the get-go, the Duffer Brothers lay the ground work for audiences as to what the Shadow Monster truly is (in a real world sense.) Dr. Sam Owens (Paul Reiser) makes an important point in the first episode that Will is likely experiencing PTSD from his time in the Upside Down. Even Hopper makes a case for this, since he himself suffers from a similar issue due to Rachel's death. So when we see the effects that the Shadow Monster has on Will, they were more right than they were wrong – the PTSD just took a less traditional form than any of them had anticipated.

This "winning" combination of Will's personal trauma, and the Shadow Monster's abilities to see everything from Will's perspective make for one heck of a baddie. Note the Exorcist-style takeover of Will, coupled with the scenes where he loses complete control over his actions. This is so much more than just a simple, one-track-minded monster. And though Joyce, Jonathan and Nancy were able to force the creature out of Will's body, this is a pest that isn't going to go away so easily.

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Billy feels like a genuine threat to Hawkins

Once he rolled up onto the parking lot of Hawkins Middle School, I knew Billy (Dacre Montgomery) was going to be a load of trouble.With his innate and ridiculous hair cut, Billy has got the trappings of a shady individual. He's everything annoying about Rob Lowe's character in St. Elmo's Fire, and comes off like the strange love child of Dunkin and Hardy from Some Kind of Wonderful. But once you push the cartoonish aspects of the character to the side, it is his lack of control with his emotions that are at the center of what makes Billy even a bigger threat than the Upside Down. Socially speaking, at least.

Billy comes from another place (like the monsters come from the Upside Down) and he looms over the cast of this show much like The Shadow Monster. And similar to the way the monster/Upside Down is spreading through Hawkins like a vine, Billy's actions create a ripple effect not only for Max, but for anyone that comes into contact with him. I feel that this is just the beginning of what Billy will become in future installments of Stranger Things.

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Stranger Things 1 vs. Stranger Things 2

Stranger Things was a strong foundation. It was the key for us to enter the mysterious world of Hawkins and introduced us to characters we've grown to love. But with the dice and D&D pieces now all on the table, Stranger Things 2 is able to play with the cast in ways the first season could not, pushing them in directions that enrich the story.

A complaint I keep hearing about season 2 is that it sets up things to come rather than working with what the show already had. But a good follow-up to an already great story needs to sprinkle more breadcrumbs so it has a purpose to continue. Stranger Things 2 shouldn't be blamed for keeping one eye on the future. Instead, it should be celebrated for planting seeds to ensure longevity.

The new season is not without flaws. Episode 7 easily could have been merged with Episode 8 to keep the progress of the plot going at a better pace and still offer the development that Eleven needed. Plus, a few of the new characters seemed a bit too convenient to the plot (I'm looking at you, Murray Bauman and Max), while new fan favorites got little or nothing to really do (poor Mike.) But these feel like minor quibbles about a season of television that took its world and characters to exciting new places.

tranger Things 2 doesn't remain complacent in its nostalgic comfort zone. Instead, it offers a season where characters grow into real organic individuals that we connect with on a basic human level, no matter the decade in which we were raised. It gave us new spooky things to dwell on, both in and outside of the Upside Down, and reminded us exactly why we love this story of a small Indiana town and its weird citizens so much. Bring on Stranger Things 3.