Deeper Dive: Strangers Things 2
Stranger Things 2: Big, Broad, and Binge Worthy
Our favorite adventure-seeking kids are back! If you are unfamiliar, in Summer 2016 Netflix gifted us with Matt and Ross Duffer’s (aka The Duffer Brothers) incredible 1980s sci-fi thriller, Stranger Things, the overnight world-wide phenomenon. Set in the seemingly mundane suburb of Hawkins, Indiana, the first season was centered around the mysterious disappearance of a young boy, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). Unwilling to accept her son’s death, Will’s eccentric mother (Winona Ryder) leads an investigation into the unknown, enlisting Will’s equally odd brother (Charlie Heaton), the police chief (David Harbour), and Will’s nerdy yet lovable group of best pals, Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin).
The search to find Will uncovers a terrifying, decaying parallel universe, a flesh-eating monster the “Demogorgon” and Eleven: a peculiar 13-year-old girl with telekinetic powers (Millie Bobby Brown). While the end of the season finds Will returned to his friends and family, many questions remain unanswered in the next installment. If you are not caught up, here is your warning: SPOILERS LIE AHEAD!
Meanwhile a Year Later in Hawkins
Almost a year has passed since the incident, and while the gang has certainly not forgotten the trauma, it seems there is a [momentary] sense of normalcy. Zipping across Hawkins on their bicycles to the video arcade, Will, Mike, Dustin and Lucas are more concerned with the perils of teenage life than monsters. When they discover that the new top scorer in Dig Dug is a girl named "Mad Max", (Sadie Sink), the boys find themselves in completely uncharted territory. Mike’s big sis Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Steve (Joe Keery) are going steady, much to the dismay of fans hoping to see a romance between Nancy and Jonathan (keep watching). Joyce Byers (Ryder) may have her son Will back but remember that slug thing that came out of his mouth at the end of Season One? Apparently Will brought the Upside Down back with him. Through a series of recurring seizure-like episodes Will [virtually] returns to the Upside Down to see an enormous, spider-like "Shadow Monster" posing a potentially catastrophic threat to Hawkins. Joyce must to trust the new head of Hawkins Lab (Paul Reiser), who pledges to evaluate Will for his protection. Hmmm, we'll see sketchy lab guy.
The whereabouts of our favorite telekinetic fugitive is discovered: she is alive and well, eating Eggos and watching television in Hopper’s cabin in the woods. Chief Hopper is showing us flashes of his sensitive, parental side (cue the heartbreaking story of his lost daughter from season one), as he shelters her from the Hawkins Lab team. Unfortunately this means she is unable to reunite with Mike and her friends for the time being.
Don't Get Comfortable
If you thought things were going to stay calm and peaceful, you came to the wrong show. Alas, in the world of decaying parallel universes and untrustworthy government agencies, nothing good can last.
The story begins with the kids dressing up as the Ghostbusters for Halloween, going to parties, facing down bullies, but quickly rivals the first season with bigger, more complicated monsters and subplots. Max tests the boundaries of bro code among the boys; Mike grows increasingly irritated by how quickly his friends have moved on from her Eleven's departure; Eleven grows increasingly impatient with both the mystery of her past and waiting in Hopper’s isolated cabin in the woods; the weight and guilt of BFF Barb’s (Shannon Purser) death takes its toll on Nancy’s relationship with Steve; Will’s continuing [virtual] return to the Upside Down is more frequent and terrifying. All of this comes to a chilling climax on Halloween night when Will's vision of the Shadow Monster reveals its master plan of destruction.
In one of the most unexpected turns of the season, we see a standalone episode in which Eleven leaves town for Chicago in an effort to find another former patient of the Hawkins lab with whom she spent part of her childhood. The addition of this new character, Kali, a.k.a. Eight (Linnea Berthelsen) was polarizing to some fans, and the showrunners took a big risk in the delivery of her abrupt entrance and their uncharacteristic approach to spending an entire episode on this storyline (Tara’s oceanside jaunt in Walking Dead anyone?). However, it serves as an opportunity for us to witness Eleven’s true instincts. In this episode, the Duffer Brothers make their audience squirm watching their beloved yet dangerous Eleven grow into an independent adolescent who is beginning to grapple with a new identity: a punk-inspired street criminal.
Two Small Beefs
Beef one: The charm of the first season was the kids: the four (ultimately five) best friends and their adventures. In Season two the attention of the boys shifts from board games and walkie-talkies to finding ways to impress girls. What is scarier than going head to head against a Demogorgon? Asking a girl out and getting rejected. This is inevitable but it forces the storyline to split into groups of storylines thus dragging the plot(s) out over several episodes which, all Walking Dead fans know, can be pretty frustrating.
Beef two: The other genius of Season One was the Duffer Brothers ability to capture the nostalgia of the 80s without simulation or sentimentality. There were odes to the great kid-hero films like E.T., THE GOONIES and STAND BY ME but never rip offs of them. Season two is not so subtle in its appreciation for iconic 80s movies.
Thanks to some pretty cool VFX, the killer 'Shadow Monster' l is huge, menacing and scary but it's hard to miss its resemblance to another famous movie monster that Sigourney Weaver likes to called BITCH (ALIENS). The Shadow Monster also functions as a Queen with hive physiology/capabilities so all of its minions are connected to it as if it were the mainframe of a network controlling all the others. The Demogorgon has morphed into the Demodog, so coined by Dustin. The Demodogs have that same Little Shop of Horror’s killer plant head but dog-like bodies. They are all synched up to the Queen badass and it can dispatch them to kill on command. One of the best sequences in Season two takes place at the Hawkins Lab where many of the characters have to fight off a swarm of Demodogs. Sadly, not all the characters get out of this fight alive.
Inevitably, yes, kids grow up, we get that, and by that respect it makes sense for the story to grow with the characters. The kids branching out into their own mini storylines make for some pretty cool character development. Look out for Steve Harrington as the babysitter of the century, Dustin as a sensitive romantic, Lucas discovering first like with Max, Eleven exploring her dark side and coming to terms with her past.
Not all villains or “stranger things” of this season come from the Upside Down, or even in tangible, biological form. Newcomers Max and half-brother Billy, (Dacre Montgomery) a bully who initially poses a bigger threat to the boys and Steve then monsters, are welcome additions. At first glance Billy is a standard Bully but his and Max's back story reveals more. Montgomery delivers an intense and layered performance that will be fun to explore in Season 3.
This season recognizes the difficulties of growing up that exist in the unique situation of this group of characters having to fend off supernatural evil, and accept these emotions of anger, jealousy and betrayal as a hindrance to the success of the group. As difficult as it is to watch some of our beloved characters struggle emotionally and deal with the difficulties that come with the awkward tween-years, it is part of what makes this season successful as a working sequel and not merely a follow-up adventure to the first season.
Ultimately Strangers Things, Season 2 delivers the justice we fans have longed for including #justice4Barb. David Harbour is phenomenal as Chief Hopper, Millie Bobby Brown continues to strut her considerable acting chops and although I (slightly) slammed the boys for losing charm, they’ve still got it. Stick around, you'll get a big dose of said charm when the boys (and girls) get their dream dates at the annual Snow Ball.
This fan is eagerly awaiting Season 3.
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