REVIEW | ‘Stranger Things’ returns with binge-worthy second season

October 29, 2017 - 4:57 PM
Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven in the second season of 'Stranger Things.’

I finished all nine episodes of the second season of “Stranger Things” in one sitting. With a new season of any show, I usually watch four to six episodes, take a break, and then continue with the rest the following day. But this new season of last year’s instant favorite horror series took everything that we loved from the previous season and built on it. They gave us what we wanted without sacrificing its narrative.

The show is about a boy who goes missing in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana in the ’80s, taken by dark and sinister forces from another world. By the end of the first season, we were introduced to a very engaging cast that includes Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder), the mother of the missing boy, Will (Noah Schnapp), and his friends, Dustin (Gaten Materazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Mike (Finn Wolfhard), the police sheriff, Jim Hopper (David Harbour), Will’s brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and her boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery), and a mysterious young girl named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown).

While the first season ended with a satisfying conclusion, the characters had endeared themselves to us so much that we wanted more. The show’s creators, The Duffer Brothers, gives it to us in full force. The new season begins a year after the events of the first season and takes us into the lives of the characters and how they’ve moved on from the forces from the world they call The Upside Down. Problem is the Upside Down is not yet done with the people of Hawkins, Indiana.

The new season gives us more of what is so enjoyable about the show: the kids’ boundless enthusiasm and dynamic personalities; the complex and not easily defined love triangle between Nancy, Steve, and Jonathan; the maternal strength that allows Joyce to become a super-mom when it comes to protecting Will; Sheriff Hopper’s tough and selfless way of protecting Hawkins; and a lot of more of Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven.

The show is also rich in its setting of rural America in the ’80s, complete with an era-appropriate soundtrack, and a healthy and fun dose of nerdspeak.

A monster descends on the small town of Hawkins, Indiana in this scene from ‘Stranger Things.’

But the second season of “Stranger Things” doesn’t just rest on the elements that made it work. It pushes its characters some more. It digs deeper into Eleven’s history, introduces exciting new characters (played by Sean Astin, Paul Reiser, Sadie Sink, and Dacre Montgomery), explores the fine lines between each characters’ relationship with each other, and presents us with a deeper threat that’s as terrifying as before.

The show also emphasizes the difficulties of growing up, coming into your own, and the small-town thinking that comes in a rural setting.

There is just so much joy in “Stranger Things” that even while the show belongs in the horror genre, it never really gets as terrifying as it would want to be. The characters are so fully formed, the world’s mythology so detailed that it’s difficult to feel afraid when you are enjoying the whole experience. There are a few jump scares in the show and that’s the only time it actually generates true fear. But they are used in a clever manner, tricking you into thinking something when something else, something unexpected happens. It’s an interesting way of using jump scares.

And while there is a feeling of dread that builds, the show takes its time building it to fully create each character’s dramatic arc through the show. There are a lot of characters, but because they are all so engaging and interesting, you don’t mind the transitions of the narrative.

Nine hours felt like a breeze to get through because there was so much happening. From the conflicts between characters to the overall problem of the Upside Down returning to Hawkins, each narrative point intersects and intertwines. It keeps the show moving and not one single episode felt like it slowed down the pace.

“Stranger Things” season 2 pushes each of the characters harder than it did last season and the show never feels like it copped out and rehashed what they did before. This feels like a richer, larger world. It’s more ambitious, more complex but it’s still fun and thrilling. It’s great to hear that the creators intend to tell two more seasons of “Stranger Things” before ending it with a definite conclusion.