Halloween has just passed and, with it, so have timely releases and re-releases of horror films. Along with them came the second season of Stranger Things. After finishing the show’s first season, my expectations were riding high for season two. The key to my enjoyment of the first season was the perfect blend between paying homage to the past and creating a unique story. From the very first episode, we can see how the show’s creators, the Duffer Brothers, reference older sci-fi and horror films – from using the exact same location as that of Spielberg’s E.T. (Hawkins, Ind.) to having a similar cast as that of The Goonies, the Duffer Brothers borrow heavily from ’80s cinema. However, at the same time, the Duffer Brothers tie these enduring stories together and retell them in a fresh new way with modern film technology to create a masterful sci-fi, horror and fantasy TV show.
One of the most standout aspects of Stranger Things is the Duffer Brothers’ ability to weave a variety of narratives together almost seamlessly to create a world of immense mystery and wonder. The second season of Stranger Things continues as the first did – as a paranormal horror movie, conspiracy thriller and touching coming-of-age story all at the same time.
Quick recap (warning: spoilers ahead): In season one, our group of misfits comprises of Mike Wheeler, the leader, Lucas Sinclair, the skeptic and Dustin Henderson, along with a fourth friend, Will Byers, who had recently gone missing. The four meet Eleven, the daughter of Terry Ives, a woman who participated in a government program known as MKUltra investigating psychokinetic abilities. Ives gave birth to Jane, who was later referred to as test subject “011” (Eleven). In an accident, Eleven managed to make contact with a monster from an alternate reality world called the Upside Down and created a gate between reality and the monster’s dimension. This monster would be nicknamed the Demogorgon. The four friends and Eleven team up along with the town Chief of Police Hopper and a few other characters to defeat this monster, all the while avoiding Dr. Brenner and the government agents trying to capture Eleven. In a twist ending we see Will cough up a slug, signaling an incubation of sorts within his body.
So far, season two of Stranger Things has successfully addressed audience concerns by amping up the horror. In the first episode alone, many seemingly innocent scenes are made out to be much scarier, such as Will’s violent flashbacks to mundane tasks like investigating a pumpkin farm. The new monster terrorizing Hawkins is much larger and brings death and decay along with it. Once again, we meet a new character, this time a proficient video gamer who goes by the username “MADMAX.” Unlike Eleven, who is a shy but powerful individual, Max Mayfield is a sharp-tongued girl who is easily irritated. Though initially distrustful of others, she does lend a hand once she realizes the gravity of the situation. In this case also, we see how the Duffer Brothers can rehash the same kind of story – unknown girl makes friends with group of protagonists – yet adds a twist to keep the story fresh.
More interesting than the addition of new cast members is the handling of the old ones. The persistence of their character development is refreshing for old viewers of the show. We see Will’s mother still suffering from the trauma caused when he went missing a year ago. She takes Will home and often treats him with extra-special care, as if he’s about to break. However, this only serves to make Will feel less human, and, as he puts it to his brother, like a “zombie man.” We see Barb, who didn’t serve the plot much last season and whose parents are now hiring a private detective to get to the bottom of her mysterious disappearance (she was killed by the Demogorgon).
Meanwhile, amongst the high school students, Nancy still struggles with the guilt of leaving Barb alone as Steve remains aloof, creating friction between the two of them. Even characters who seem to have been unchanged mostly during the story have subtle differences that show up much more in season two. For example, Hopper acts much more aloof and serious now, which could also be due to his new role as Eleven’s caretaker. A lot of this can be chalked up to the fantastic acting between the two, in which Hopper conveys both strict anger and deep love for Eleven, who can use her eyes alone to communicate emotion.
There is a definite time shift that happened from season one to season two. We see the birth of video cameras as ways to record information, instead of the phone that Will’s mother used to communicate with him. Despite these technological shifts, the music and environment remain the same, keeping the series firmly grounded in the ’80s.
With great actors and new developments in plot and character interactions, overall Stranger Things has set a high bar for itself, as there are many concurrent stories happening all over Hawkins. It is up to us to see whether season two can deliver on developing all these stories properly, from the shady Dr. Owens who runs tests on Will, to the mysterious Max, to the private investigator hired by Barb’s parents. Something we can be sure of, though, is that we are in for a wild ride of thrills once again.
In season two of ‘Stranger Things,’ new character Max joins Dustin, Mike, Lucas and Will for trick or treating in an already scary town. Photo courtesy of Digital Spy.