The gang returns in Stranger Things, season 2
There is a boy lost in the woods. This is the beginning of a horror story. A year ago, the Duffer brothers and Netflix brought us Stranger Things: The story of Hawkins, Indiana, the abduction of Will Byers by paranormal forces, and the group of plucky Dungeons-and-Dragons-playing nerds who saved their town from the things that go bump in the night. The cult classic show received such wide acclaim that Netflix jumped to greenlight it for further seasons. Now they return: The kids, the horror-movie teens, the shadowy government conspiracies, and the eyeless horrors of the evil dimension known as the Upside Down.
The year is 1984. One year ago, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) was rescued from the Upside Down by his friends, his mother, and a psychic government lab rat known only as Eleven. The kid may be out of the woods, but the darkness is not done with Will yet; as the year draws closer to the anniversary of his disappearance, he has begun to suffer immersive hallucinations to the Upside Down and a horrifying eldritch creature known as the Mind Flayer. Hallucinations which may not be flashbacks, but portents of the future.
Meanwhile, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) has returned – but the mysterious government conspiracy that created her has no plans to stop hunting her. Sheriff Hopper (David Harbour) discovers that the gate between worlds has only stretched wider, and something sinister is seeping into Hawkins. The teens (Natalia Dyer, Joe Keery) are still coming to terms with the death of Barb in season one. And the kids (Finn Wolfhard, Caleb McLaughlin, Galen Matarazzo) struggle to cope with Will’s increasingly dangerous episodes – and something else that has hitched a ride with him out of the Upside Down.
New additions to the cast include Bob Newby (Sean Astin), a loveable goofball and surrogate father figure for the Byers family, as well as new students Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) and her rebellious stepbrother Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery). Episode one introduces us to Kali (Linnea Berthelsen), a runaway with a dark past that connects her to Eleven. As the insidious Dr. Brenner was apparently devoured at the end of the first season, the conspiracy to contain the Upside Down – and to recapture Eleven – is now headed by Dr. Sam Owens (Paul Reiser).
After a year in development, we finally have the answer to the burning question fans have been waiting to know: Is Stranger Things still set in the eighties? The answer is a resounding yes; everyone’s critically acclaimed cult classic Netflix series has only grown exponentially more eighties during its sabbatical. The first episode alone welcomes us back with Reagan/Bush signs, clunky plastic electronics, cheeseball anime arcade games, jean jackets, mullets, DigDug, Ghostbusters, Scorpions, Devo, David Bowie, Kenny Rogers, and of course, Winona Ryder. The soundtrack features more shameless eighties bops than ever, including Ted Nugent, Motley Crue, and Duran Duran; the rest is gorgeous, inexplicably satisfying synthesizer, courtesy of Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein.
Fans of the first season will immediately feel at home; the characters are still multi-dimensional and loveable, and the writing remains exemplary. The horror remains excellent; season two does sometimes rely on generic jump scares and startling piano chords, an aggravating habit that Hollywood horror movies use as a crutch, which is annoying from producers who normally do horror so well. When the Duffer brothers turn up the heat, however, the results are original and chilling; in particular, the Mind Flayer, in all its alien glory, is sublimely horrifying to look upon. The first season drew heavy inspiration from The King, but the second season fields from a variety of classics, including Ghostbusters, E.T., Jurassic Park, The Exorcist, and the works of John Carpenter.
The return of Stranger Things has received overwhelmingly positive reviews, reaching 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and soliciting acclaim across the board. However, some fans have voiced criticisms that the pacing of the second season is uneven. The first few episodes are slower, in contrast with the manic manhunt for Will Byers that made up the beginning of the first season, and some later character-focused episodes can disrupt the series’ momentum. Fans should also be warned that the Duffer brothers have retained their habit of introducing loveable characters, then slaughtering them with barely-disguised glee them as soon as the audience grows attached. Whether this qualifies as a flaw or a perk is left up to the viewer.
The second season of Stranger Things is now available to watch on Netflix.