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Television Review

Stranger Things 2 – Welcome Back to Hawkins

Things get Stranger for Will and the gang, as the stakes are raised higher than Steve's hair

Stranger Things ― Netflix

After an entire year of frantic speculation, Stranger Things is finally back on Netflix. The fans of the first season will get more of what they loved: more freaky supernatural occurrences, more awkward and charming kids, more Winona Ryder anxiety, and even more nostalgic 80s references.

The well-written characters and their memorable interactions were big parts of what made season one an instant phenomenon. After all, even the best action or horror sequence doesn’t really matter if the audience doesn’t care about the characters involved, and in this respect the cast sure delivered. The young actors especially brought their A game. Millie Bobby Brown’s telekinetic superhero, Eleven, and Noah Schnepp’s portrayal of poor-kid-can’t-catch-a-break, Will, both deserve special mentions. These two performances and their darkening storylines were award-worthy and an undoubted step-up from last season.

Being saved from the Upside Down doesn’t mean all is well in Will’s life. He is still traumatised by the events of last year and will definitely run into a LOT more problems before the end of the season – including being possessed by a terrifying shadow monster – told you the poor kid can’t catch a break.

“Millie Bobby Brown’s telekinetic superhero, Eleven, and Noah Schnepp’s portrayal of poor-kid-can’t-catch-a-break, Will, both deserve special mentions.”

After defeating the Demogorgon at the school, Eleven escapes from the Upside Down and is “retrieved” by everyone’s favourite grumpy sheriff, Jim Hopper. He has the tough task of teaching her how to live in the world outside the lab while still keeping her hidden and her powers in check. Their interactions are both heartwarming and heartbreaking, and their father/daughter relationship is a true highlight of this season. Eleven also embarks on a quest of self-discovery to find her real family and a place to call home, wherever that may lead her.

Credit: Netflix

Another standout character is my nominee for ‘Babysitter of the Year’, Steve Harrington (Joe Keery). His late turn last year from cocky jock to fierce warrior was a wonderful surprise but this season he has become something else entirely. His story will find him dealing with the kids a lot more, especially with Hawkins’ resident goofball, Dustin. Their interactions are both hilarious and sweet, and their unexpected friendship is another great aspect of the second season.

In addition to our familiar cast, new characters are appearing in Hawkins this season. Meet Max and her stepbrother Billy. They’ve just moved to town and it doesn’t take long before Max is quickly dragged into the group’s crazy happenings. Meanwhile, Billy, a walking stereotype of 80’s hypermasculinity and excess (complete with chest hair, muscle car and dangling cigarette) emerges as a new bully for our group of friends.

Another newcomer to the show is Sean Astin’s character, Bob Newby, Joyce’s new beau. His casting seems to be a meta-commentary on Astin’s 1985 role in The Goonies. This is a trope also shared by the mysterious new doctor played by Paul Reiser, in a role uncannily similar to his corporate flunky character in James Cameron’s Aliens.

In keeping with the first season, the writers rely heavily on 80s nostalgia but at least this time around, they manage to avoid repeating season one’s bad habit of leaning too heavily on well-known motifs from the films like  E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. However, references to those storylines still abound, and this provides the greatest thrill and pleasure for the audience.

“Episode after episode, we go further down the rabbit hole and each storyline slowly connects in a very satisfying way, rhythmed by twists and turns that keep you on the edge of your seat.”

Unfortunately, some of this season’s storylines just don’t work as well as others. For instance, Nancy and her quest for justice about Barb’s death and to expose the truth about last year’s events was boring, dragged on for several episodes and took her away from the real action. It seemed to be an attempt to rectify last season’s mistake of killing fan favourite, Barb, with no apparent repercussions (#JusticeforBarb). The storyline would have been more successful had it been an emotional quest for closure over the loss of her best friend.

Another controversial narrative choice was the show’s attempt to expand the setting beyond Hawkins by introducing a new group of characters that we ultimately fail to care about.

But despite its shortcomings, most of the narrative threads throughout the show are very well constructed. Episode after episode, we go further down the rabbit hole and each storyline slowly connects in a very satisfying way, rhythmed by twists and turns that keep you on the edge of your seat.

In the end, the writers successfully recaptured the magic that made the show great and delivered a tight, action and humour packed new story. Season two of Stranger Things is definitely bigger, better and stranger than ever. Stranger Things is already confirmed for a third season and watchers of the show will agree that 2018 just can’t come soon enough. 

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