I’m trying to bring more TV coverage here to The Pulse, and I’m a little bit lucky that one of my favorite shows finally dropped a second season, so let’s talk about it! I loved the first season of Stranger Things. While it was a blend of everything that I love like classic Spielberg, Stephen King, Ridley Scott’s Alien, and more ‘80s nostalgia than one show should be able to handle, it also has so much depth. It’s a tribute to everything awesome from that decade, but it can hold its own when it comes to the story and the characters, and that’s what makes this show so enjoyable. Back during the Super Bowl when the first teaser dropped and the show was slated to be released on Halloween, I freaked out a little bit because I didn’t want to wait that long. Well, we finally have it, so let’s see if it continued Netflix’s path to streaming domination!
Stranger Things is a Netflix original series, and this is the second season of a show that took the world by storm back when the first season was released. It stars Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, David Harbour, and Winona Ryder. We’ve caught back up about one year later with Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will. They’re trying to get back to their normal ways of playing D&D, going to the arcade, and riding bikes around town, but something continues to haunt Will. Led by Will’s mother Joyce and the local Chief of Police Jim Hopper, the Hawkins crew will try to find out what the Upside Down has cast into Hawkins, Indiana this time.
In true 80s sci-fi fashion, the second season of Stranger Things goes punch-for-punch with the first season. In a lot of ways, this is the Aliens to the first season’s Alien. That comes from someone who prefers Alien to Aliens, and I do prefer the first season to the second season of Stranger Things, but this is still a darn good follow-up to a season that I had virtually no issues with. First of all, they kept the magic between the friends. The reason that this show transcends genre entertainment and goes above and beyond nostalgia is because of the amazing relationships and characters that it builds. The kids have an incredible bond, and I love them even more after this season, which I didn’t think was possible. They’re always continuing to expand and grow, and their friendship only gets stronger for me. Will was probably the biggest difference from last season to this season. Of course, he was gone for most of the first season, so Noah Schnapp didn’t really get a chance to show off his acting chops. He was one of the best aspects of this season, and he did an amazing job showing the fear and hopelessness that his character experiences. His relationship with Mike grows much more, and we see how Mike’s positivity juxtaposes Will’s view of the situation that has been tainted by the things he was tortured by in the Upside Down.
I also loved the interactions between Dustin and Lucas. While Mike and Will are together, Dustin and Lucas grow closer and closer, and it feels like we’re seeing something new from every character. One reason that Lucas is able to grow is because of the new character named Max, played by Sadie Sink. One thing that I thought was funny was how she responded to Lucas summing up everything that happened in the first season. She broke the fourth wall a little bit by calling it derivative and unoriginal, which was probably the main criticism of Season 1. By herself, she gives a great performance and fits into the group really well, but she also brings out the best in Lucas. Caleb McLaughlin is fantastic, and I bought everything about his performance. I completely buy this group and their rules, so I have a tough time when Lucas wants to tell Max everything about what happened in the first season, but he can’t because of his loyalty to his friends. I love when the show makes the character choose between two equally right and sensical choices, and I think it tells a lot about the character and opens their vulnerabilities. Dustin, who was one of my favorite characters from Season 1, also gets better. Most of the time we see exposition in a show, and it’s insanely boring. In Stranger Things, Dustin is the exposition. Dustin is how we learn about the show’s mythology and how we can make connections between characters, monsters, and scenarios, but he never bores me. Gaten Matarazzo has so much life and attitude and that perfect imaginative sense of wonder that brings every word he says to life, and I can never wait to see it play out.
Another character who I was pleasantly surprised by was Steve. I loved what they did with Steve in the first season giving him the bully persona while also making him a good guy at his core. I actually like him more in this season, and his relationship to the kids as a caretaker and a mentor is amazing. I hope he continues to go that way because it brings out the best in him and in the kids. Really, I loved all of the new characters. I don’t think that there was a single one that didn’t work for me. That leaves us with probably my favorite new character in Bob. Boy, it’s going to be really weird when The Goonies comes out the next year and Bob looks suspiciously like Mikey. Anyways, Sean Astin, who I’m partial to, not because of Lord of the Rings, but because of Rudy, is so great in this role. He’s a character who you can’t help but love because he’s so naive when it comes to the situation, but he’s trying his hardest to show that he’s capable and that he cares. Once you find out his importance to kids, you only start to like him more because he might be the reason that Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will are who they are today. His relationship with Will was great, and his addition to the show never felt convenient or unnecessary. In the first episode, we’re thrown into this new life that Bob is now a part of, and I never questioned it. He belonged. Yes, this is a sci-fi show, and is heavily based in nostalgia, but these characters bring so much heart and emotional connection right inside our homes, and they’re the reason this is one of the best shows on television.
As with the first season, the sci-fi aspects are also interesting, and the visual design still works. It still has the ‘80s science fiction feel with today’s visuals to enhance everything that you see on-screen, and it works beautifully. The references to classic films and pop culture work amazingly well, and they never feel like simple tributes. They always feel like they’ve been bound seamlessly into the story. They’ve also kept the mystery that I loved in the first season. They’ve kept the wonder that kept me on the edge of my seat to begin with. There were a couple of storylines that constantly kept me wanting more and wanting to learn, and I was sucked in by the mythology. The opening scene of the season answered one of the questions I had after the first season, and I wanted to see where we went from there. What happened with 000-010? This season opens that up with a few answers, and even touches on origin a little bit with Eleven’s storyline that takes her on a journey to find her mother. I was also pulled in by the new depth given to the Upside Down. We’re obviously headed for something much, much bigger than what we’ve seen in either season so far, and the way that the show has built up to that while staying confident in what they’re showing us keeps that bigger thought in our head while also keeping us preoccupied with what we’re currently seeing. As with all sequels, it goes bigger than the first, but it doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to keeping the nostalgia, keeping the story, and keeping the mystery.
The first season of this show is one of the few television seasons that I’d consider pushing to the 10/10 rating. While I think Season 2 is worthy of everything that the Stranger Things name comes with, I do think that it’s a small step down. First, Episode 7, “The Lost Sister,” was undoubtedly the weakest episode of the entire show by every single standard. After leaving us on one of the most blood-chilling cliffhangers of the entire series in Episode 6, we don’t address what’s happening there for a single second in the next episode. I was actually excited to see what Eleven was going to do with her sister, but the entire episode felt so disconnected emotionally and story-wise to every other episode. It felt like a filler from one of The CW’s DC shows. I get that the show needed to address this, and I would bet that the Duffer Brothers thought the exact same thing. It’s a necessary episode for Eleven’s character development and to at least touch on the first ten kids who are like Eleven, but I’m not sure it fits in context. Who knows? Maybe when I go back and binge every single episode once the show is over, it might fit, but for right now I really disliked the episode. I was also a bit disappointed in Mike this season. Finn Wolfhard is such a great actor, and his emotional arc while he was away from Eleven was one of the most compelling parts of the season, but Mike takes a back seat to just about everything else, and after becoming a leader in the first season I was hoping to see more of how he adjusted to Eleven’s absence. Finally, my last gripe is a small spoiler, but it’s an obvious thing if you’ve seen either the first season or the first episode of this season. I didn’t love how Eleven returned in the eighth episode. I feel like it was a little bit too convenient and expected, and is the classic deus ex machina used in this genre. When the only person who can save our heroes is needed, she arrives, and the timing is a little bit too clean. It’s a small nitpick because at no point has the show, or should the show, raised the stakes more than it should in the first two seasons, but it still takes away from the suspense of certain scenes.
Overall, this is a worthy second season, and it’s great for a follow-up to one of my favorite seasons of television of all-time. It never slowed or dropped my heart rate, and it expands on the characters I had already attached myself to after the first season. Really, the reason this show is so good isn’t because of the sci-fi or horror elements. It isn’t even because of the nostalgia it brings to the table. It’s because of the characters, and this season managed to make them even better. After literally disappearing in the first season, Noah Schnapp gets his chance to shine, and he gives one of the most impressive performances I’ve ever seen in television. Lucas and Dustin both became so much more interesting and fun to watch, and Steve’s new role suits him perfectly as he grooms more unexpectedly great characters. The new characters also fit in so naturally, and I felt the need for all of them. Bob, Max, Billy, and Dr. Owens all flowed right into this story-world, and I loved the ride. It kept the story complexities brought to us by the first season while also maintaining the classic ’80s feel and references that add to how great the story is. I do think that Episode 7 is an all-out miss for this season, and it comes across more as a filler episode of a show in the Arrowverse. I also would have loved to see more from Mike just because I found his reaction to the loss of Eleven extremely compelling. This season still gave me as much as I could have hoped for, and it shows that Stranger Things is here as a Netflix staple, not just for its schtick, but for its characters and its story. I’m going to give the second season of Stranger Things an 8.7/10.
Have you watched the second season of Stranger Things? Comment down in the comment section and let me know all of your thoughts and/or theories! I’m trying to get more television content out, so tell me what you’d like to see reviews for! As always, thank you, and keep listening to 88.7 The Pulse!