Stranger Things Max

All Demodogs Go To Heaven: The Not So Good Stuff

Alright, let’s start with Billy, shall we? What the fuck is with this character? Dacre Montgomery goes all-in on this part, and while there’s nothing wrong with his performance, Billy is just way too much to take. The character borders on psychotic, which just simply isn’t needed. One gets the sense that the original plan was to make Billy much more of a threat, but this idea eventually got scrapped due to rewrites, yet they kept Billy as a character anyway. If Billy were removed entirely from this season, absolutely nothing would change. That’s bad writing, folks.

Speaking of bad writing, the season keeps teasing that there’s more to Billy and Max’s relationship than meets the eye, but there really isn’t. Max eventually reveals that her homelife isn’t ideal, but we could’ve guessed that. We don’t even see her parents until near the end of the season, and this too feels like some sort of mistake, as if they were being withheld due to some big twist that never comes. Overall, the Max and Billy stuff seems needlessly tacked onto an already crowded season.

The crowded element of the season is another issue. There is a whole lot going on here, yet there’s also a strange disconnect. While everything can be tied back to the Upside Down in some manner, none of the threads come together as well as they should. An entire subplot about Dustin growing close with Dart the Pollywog goes absolutely nowhere – it’s all set-up, yet Dart turns out to be sort-of evil in the end. Imagine if Steven Spielberg had spent 90% of E.T. setting up the alien as a cute, benevolent creature only to have it suddenly turn evil in the end. Think of how cheated you’d feel. That’s what happens here with Dustin and Dart. A poor side-effect of this subplot is that it turns Dustin into kind of a jerk; he continuously lies to his friends and puts them in danger just to protect a monster. This seems completely out of character.

The Demogorgon may not have been a very nuanced monster, but it was effective. Here, we get the rather vague Shadow Monster, who is barely a presence, and then there are creatures dubbed Demodogs. The Shadow Monster looks really cool, and having it be more calculated than the Demogorgon is a good movie. But we never really get any sense of just what this thing is, and that makes it less threatening. The Demodogs are just cheap rehashes of the Demogorgon. It’s clear that the Duffers are going for an Aliens homage here – if you thought one Demogorgon was scary, how about a whole bunch of them? But it never quite clicks, and having our first introduction to these creatures be through the semi-cute Dart robs them of most of their power.

One of the biggest issues Stranger Things 2 has is that it keeps Eleven isolated from the main cast for almost the entire season. This is a completely boneheaded move that massively backfires. It calls back the piss-poor Netflix Arrested Development revival, where all the actors were too busy to appear together so they were all split apart. No one wanted that with Arrested Development, and there’s no way they wanted that with Stranger Things. Yes, developing more of Eleven’s backstory is a good idea, but to keep her removed from 90% of this season’s action is a mistake.

While we’re on the subject of mistakes, let’s get to the biggest one this season makes. It’s a doozy. In fact, it’s such a massive miscalculation that you might find yourself wondering if the Duffers are pulling some sort of strange prank on you. Before we get to it, let’s talk about the concept of backdoor pilots. A backdoor pilot is basically a pilot episode for a new show that airs as part of a currently running series. It’s a trick, in other words. More often than not, the idea fails. The Office is a prime example of this: they aired an episode during a late season titled “The Farm” that was meant to serve as the pilot to a spin-off. The spin-off never happened.

Stranger Things 2 opens with a set of characters we’re not familiar with. They pull of what appears to be a heist, which leads to a police chase, and then something surprising happens: one of the members of the gang, Kali (Linnea Berthelsen), is able to use psychic powers to stop the cops pursuing them. A close-up on Kali’s wrist reveals a tattoo that reads 008, similar to Eleven’s 011 tattoo. Kali, like Eleven, was another girl who was experimented on.

On its own, this idea is fine. It only makes sense that the Hawkins Lab would have other test subjects beyond Eleven. But the way Stranger Things 2 approaches it leaves much to be desired. By the time episode 7 rolls around, tensions are high in Hawkins and the main storyline is really picking up steam. So what does Stranger Things do? It airs a backdoor pilot episode where Eleven teams up with the rag-tag gang of punk rock misfits we saw in the opening of the series. Having a plotline where Eleven meets Kali and learns more about her past would’ve been fine, but to have an entire episode devoted to this, so late in the season, doesn’t work at all. It reminds one of those frustrating episodes of Lost that would suddenly focus on members of the tail section when all we wanted to do was get back to the main cast. It doesn’t help that the punks Eleven hooks up with are all generic as hell and unmemorable. This entire episode seems to exist simply to give Eleven a moment where she announces, “I’m going back to help my friends!”

But we already knew she wanted to do that! She spent the entire season thinking about Mike and wishing she could see him again. Adding a subplot where she leaves town and hangs out with some X-Men rejects brings absolutely nothing to the narrative. The only info gleaned from this is that Matthew Modine’s villainous character from season 1 might still be alive. Maybe.

This probably borders on nitpicking, but I want to talk quickly about the ending of the season. Stranger Things 2 ends with a rather sweet sequence where all the kids gather at a holiday-themed school dance. This entire scene is handled really well, for the most part. Lucas and Max dance; Will and some girl we don’t even know dance; Mike and Eleven dance. No one wants to dance with Dustin, so Nancy, who is chaperoning, steps him. It’s a touching moment, and the actors handle it deftly. Yet something about it rings false. Perhaps it’s the fact that Dustin and Nancy have shared almost no time together at all during this season. “Of all my brother’s friends, you’re my favorite,” she tells him, but there’s been literally no indication of anything like this at all. It almost feels forced – in their effort to give everyone a happy ending, the Duffers manufactured this moment out of thin air. The scene remains emotional, but it would’ve been even more emotional had it been earned.

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