It may be hard to remember now, but Stranger Things was somewhat of a surprise hit for Netflix a year ago. The 80’s Sci-fi/Horror show was a mash up of Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter rolled up into a Stephen King story. Word of mouth really pushed Stranger Things to achieve smash hit status. It helped of course that Eleven with her Eggos became the biggest Halloween costume.
When season 1 ended with an obvious cliffhanger, everyone started to guess where the story would go for season 2. And the answer is season 2 is both better and worse than season 1.
The Duffer Brothers enter season 2 with a much clearer sense of the main characters and story than they had in season 1. This of course is largely because they are now familiar with the actors and can write to their strengths. They have assembled an incredible cast of performers, largely made up with children, that can seemingly handle any emotional beat they are given. Bad child acting used to be a forgivable excuse given to shows and film, Stranger Things continually proves that need not be the case.
The actors themselves seem to slide back into character with ease. They are all excellent, but this seasons real revelation is Noah Schnapp as Will Byers. Schnapp was relegated to the fringes of season 1 because Will Byers spent so much time lost in the Upside Down. Season 2 rectifies this, as he becomes one of the main focuses. He is given many big moments throughout the season, and consistently nails them.
The main story is also much more focused than in season 1. The Duffer Brothers do not rely on odd subplots that only serve to slow down our main story. They have a firm grasp on how the main arc will develop, and seem much more focused on delivering it episodically. They make the bold decision to splinter many of their main characters up for large parts of the season, but masterfully bring them all back together when needed. The last two episodes are perhaps the strongest thus far.
Despite all the things the Duffer Brothers get right this season, there are a few notable missteps. Firstly, some of the character motivations just seem off or plot convenient. Early on in the season Nancy and Steve are having relationship problems that stem from the Barb’s death. This does come off more as fan service and related the internet meme #JusticeforBarb, then anything these characters would actually suffer from.
Secondly, while the majority of the cast has excellent moments to shine, many of the characters have very little to do in second season. While the idea to keep Eleven separated from the main cast for the majority of the season may be a good idea, it does mean her story just spins its wheels with little movement. When she finally does have her own adventure in the self contained episode 7, it has no barring on the main plot at all, and is basically entirely skippable. The Duffer Brothers also introduce a host of new characters who really have no importance to the story except to be love interests. Two new students arrive to Hawkins High School and Middle School, and while they wedge themselves within the main group of characters, neither have any importance and bring very little to the table. Only Sean Astin as Joyce Byers new boyfriend Bob does anything of consequence, but his fate is sealed as soon as he appears on screen.
And lastly, Stranger Things season 2 just doesn’t have many new ideas. The main story is so tightly linked with the beats of season 1 that you will be able to see many of the twists and turns long before you get there. These scenes show the Duffer Brothers are great at delivering big ideas and spectacle, but may not have figured out what made Stranger Things so special.
However, Stranger Things still has a host of compelling characters, and incredible performances from the main cast. It may no longer be the surprise hit it was a year ago, but season 2 is still packed with enough excitement and nostalgic call backs that it is sure to satisfy the majority of fans. The Duffer Brothers are not just one trick ponies, even if they fall into some of the second season pitfalls that have plagued numerous other shows.