The recent stress of assignments and exams led to a complete binge-watch of the newest season of Stranger Things in the space of two days from release. Take all of this review with a pinch of salt, because I believe that shows aren’t digested as well when they’re binged, but I think I’ve captured most of it in my mind. (Minor spoilers for Seasons 1 & 2 of Stranger Things)
Stranger Things 2 is more of what made the previous season great, but at times can feel too rooted in following the route of the original, and can feel like originality is lacking in a show that was one of the most unique in 2016. Character development is the main focus of this season, and it works quite well for most characters except for Eleven, who grinds the overarching plot to a halt in places. The scope of this season is larger than the first, but slips when it can’t depart from the original.
When Stranger Things gained traction in the Summer of last year, it was *the* show, everyone was talking about it. From the soundtrack to the quality of acting from the central characters, who were all kids, everyone was impressed – it was inevitable that a second season would be on the way. The main question I had going in was how Will would fit into the show, and how they adjusted the dynamic of the group and the show to fit his character in what was my favourite thing of the season. The acting range of Noah Schnapp as Will should be commended, and his performance was among the highlights. The Byers family displayed a significant amount of character development that brought along their arc, and sets up a different family dynamic for season three from what they started as here. I would argue that the Byers are what the plot revolves around this season, similar to how they were in season one, yet I’m still a bit confused as to the focused plot of season two. At times, Stranger Things ran itself a bit thin, with so many characters being all over the place, and this can feel a bit slow, with the payoff for the majority of these subplots being rich enough.
Eleven as a character is my biggest gripe with this season. When we become aware of the pivotal issue of the season, it becomes clear that the collusion of Eleven with the rest of our central cast would result in the season ending quite quickly, so she goes on her own soul-searching quest. It stuck out that they were just keeping her elsewhere while the cogs of the other subplots worked and clashed together, and when it became convenient for her character to return she does. The episodes, for the most part, are at a high level of quality, but when you reach the Eleven-focused episode something is off – whether it’s the producers meddling, or the showrunners thinking ahead. It was perfectly clear that her episode is nothing to do really with the current season, and is just there as a starting point for season three.
One of the best additions to the season is the introduction of Bob. I mean, this is the most lovable man ever. He’s played by Sean Astin, or as you may know him, Samwise Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings films. While I have been a bit critical of the new season so far, I must admit I have a distinct appreciation for the use of character in this show. Across both seasons – and especially this season – the blend of 80’s stereotypes and unexpected characters is ridiculously entertaining – for example, at the end of season one when Steve flipped the bat, he instantly became the best character in the show. Well really, if we look at Steve, he is a multi-faceted character who isn’t just insert douchey jock character here. Steve’s role to the show is explored further in this season, and out of all the characters, when the season ended I was extremely satisfied by his character. So to summarise Steve is still the best person in the show, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he features in his own spin-off series in the future.
My biggest gripe with the new season is this unnecessary repetition that occurs – what happened in season one basically has a season two equivalent, and in most places it works, but when it doesn’t it is quite apparent. One of the most memorable things from the first season was the Christmas lights covering the Byers’ household, but this season takes a similar stab at recreating this, and for me fell completely flat. Most conflicts that do carry over are justified, but for me some just didn’t feel like they picked up where they left off, namely the Nancy/Steve/Jonathan love triangle. A lot of the sub-plots that do carry over are clearly based off fan reaction after the first season, I assume it’s why Barb got more of focus this season than she ever did in the last.
I’ve been a bit cynical towards Stranger Things 2, but after the first season set the bar so high, I think it’s only fair that I must make comparisons. When Stranger Things 2 is good, it has your attention undivided, but when the show slips from the standards it had previously set, it just feels disappointing. Something I took away from this season, and series as a whole, is that any Netflix series that becomes mildly successful is going to have a long-term plan for further seasons – so it is abundantly clear watching Stranger Things 2 that there will be a third and fourth season, and this will likely be replicated by the likes of 13 Reasons Why, setting up a season three once that returns in the New Year. I am still looking forward to what the next set of episodes brings for season three of Stranger Things, but I wouldn’t say I have an absolute craving like I had when I finished the first season. The newest season will have to innovate, and justify the sub-plots it set up in this season, because a third season that follows the same formula will leave a bad taste in people’s mouth. I enjoyed Stranger Things 2, but it left me wanting more: not more episodes, but more moments that left me in awe of how unique and fresh the original season was, I truly hope the third season can recapture this feeling for me.