No television premiere has had me this excited. Ever.
The return of Stranger Things on Netflix has been all anyone’s talked about for the last six months, and it’s finally here! It’s clear that the Duffer Brothers haven’t lost the vision that they set out with, during season one; a lot of the same motifs, the aesthetic, the humor and pop culture references return, but the world they’re crafting is getting much, much bigger than any of our characters had ever hoped for.
As always, though, this is a spoiler-free review, so kick back, relax, and bask in my fanfare…
The road from season one to two—of any television show—has always seemed like a difficult one. You have an idea for a first season, one that usually sums everything up pretty well, and then it ends and you’re left (as the creator and as the audience) wondering where it’ll go next. In this case, “only God knows” takes a radical, real-world meaning; only the Duffers could come up with something so hair-brained, yet absolutely captivating, as the premise of Stranger Things 2. I can definitely see the bond that the characters have, after the events of season one (spoilers for the first season to follow; if you haven’t seen it by now, what are you doing reading this review?). The reveal and eventual come-uppance of a seedy government black-bag op right in their hometown, the showdown with and defeat of the Demogorgon, Eleven’s stake in all this—everything that pulled together these many disparate people from all walks of life in Hawkins has given them a Losers’ Club-style familial bond that everyone else in town is oblivious to.
Getting into the character roster this season, of course we have Winona Ryder’s matriarch, Joyce, returning in full vigor, as well as her male equal, Sheriff Hopper (David Harbour). The kids are back and even better than in season one; perhaps it’s the time that’s lapsed, in-universe, or the fact that they’re all older now, but their characters seem to have done some real growing up in the time that’s passed since we saw them last. I connected a lot more with Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) this season, and have a lot more respect for Harbour’s character, as well. All are fantastic, though, down to Mike (Finn Wolfhard)’s tortured bereavement of Eleven.
Speaking of Eleven…
There’s been a lot of talk floating around the internet about Millie Bobby Brown, and whether Hollywood—specifically this show, but among others—are growing her up “too fast”. Funny as it sounds, because this is set in the 1980s, this isn’t the ‘80s; she’s a grown little kid, sure, as she has to be, inherently, in show business, but she’s also not as young as some others that started out and went down the chute. Take the Olsen Twins, for example—thrust into the limelight when they were toddlers on Full House, they’ve been exposed to it longer, even before they were fully-there, mentally. It’s had longer to seep in, and, thus, do more damage; being older, Brown has had time to adjust, to see and be prepped for what the industry can and does do to people.
If there’s any place for a young, aspiring actress to make her start—and name—though, it’s here, on a critically- and fan-lauded show.
She reprises her role of Eleven this season, but with a new mission: Finding herself. El is, essentially (no spoilers) “born again”, and for safety’s sake, must keep a low profile to keep out of the Bad Men’s clutches. She has help along the way—some good, some not so much—and you’ll see what I mean when you actually start watching. Her return in the latter few episodes to get this trouble in Hawkins sorted, though, makes for one of the best moments in the entire series, thus far, let alone this season. It’s a very emotional ride, but the pay-off is excellent.
Guest stars this season include Matthew Modine—whom featured prominently in the first season as the antagonist, the leader of the MKUltra experiments taking place in Hawkins that originally opens the rift to the Upside-Down—Sean Astin (The Lord of the Rings trilogy), Dacre Montgomery (2017’s Power Rangers), and Paul Reiser (Aliens), whom I got really attached to, despite his character being an obvious, wormy call-back to his days as the Weyland-Yutani weasel in James Cameron’s 1986 masterpiece. Of all those involved in this season, what I enjoyed most is they all contributed something to the plot; of the named characters, none of the potential is wasted, and those that survive, I’m hoping will have a bigger impact on the seasons to follow (two more slated for the future!). Sadie Sink as Max—a new-comer to the group of kids—I thought to be a red herring, early-on (and that’s not a joke about her hair color), but came from behind to be a name-taker rival only to Nancy in her go-getter attitude as stuff starts to go down in-town. I look forward to seeing her again, too, next season.
The craft of this season is phenomenal, as well. The framing of characters in certain shots, the cinematography and scope of the story, the soundtrack, and the thought put into driving the series forward in a positive direction are all high-points, for me, and give me a sense of security that the Duffers won’t let their show be hijacked. This is their baby, and they’re still in the captain’s seat, so to speak, which I’m glad for; the day they surrender creative control over their cult classic is the day that everyone tunes out for good.
Talk about cold-openers… This new season is not ashamed to kick off with an action set-piece and never lower the bar until the final cut to black in the last ep. From the first scene, I knew some big revelations were to be unearthed in this season, and I was not disappointed. As I said earlier, the world becomes a lot bigger and more menacing to our beloved characters than they would’ve hoped for, but such is the new norm in Hawkins, Indiana. Those famous cliff-hangers that the first season utilized so well are back—a tool to keep us watching, as the next episode’s opening is just as intriguing as the last’s close. There’s a wide-spread connection of events between the two established seasons; clear bleed-overs of events and outcomes of the first are felt all throughout this one, and are a testament to the smart writing employed by the Duffers and their team. There’s a linearity to the story, and arcs that have yet to fully come to fruition. Jam-packed with all the ‘80s nostalgia, film references, self-criticisms, witty dialogue and sub-text, and nail-biting tension and mystery, this is TV for TV’s sake. Honest-to-goodness entertainment that the creators didn’t allow to fall into cheap cash-grab territory. One of a handful of “good” television still left on the market.
Stranger Things 2 has exceeded my expectations, and I can’t wait for the next chapter in this epic journey. I’ve never cried so hard at a season finale, but it’s never been more well-deserved. Bravo, Duffers, you’ve done it again.
Final ‘Risk Assessment: *****/.
Next review: Justice League (2017; Nov. 17th)