Stranger Things season 2 was an absolute blast and although it didn’t quite reach the lofty heights of the first season, it came pretty damn close. The core cast of characters, as well as some nice new additions, help to drive the story forward with new dilemmas, character development and an atmosphere that certainly is more horror-fuelled and spookier than season 1.
The plot of the season is similar to season 1, but deals more with recovery from season 1s events, developing characters, delving in the history of Hawkins Lab and Eleven’s backstory and adding yet more supernatural threats to the town of Hawkins. It treads a mostly familiar path, but keeps the pacing right, the script tight and the characters solid to ensure that you’re along for the entire ride.
The main strength of season 2 is still the group of children, who form the central cast; Mike, Dustin, Lucas, Will and Eleven are still distinct in their personalities and intentions and most are developed organically as they face new challenges in Hawkins. Will had a lot more to do this season and although he was in the grips of the Mind Flyer for significant parts of the show, I felt like we got to know him more as a character, rather than a ‘missing person’, this season. Dustin and Lucas fulfil their roles of the comic relief and risk take respectfully and their families are also introduced and expanded on, giving them more depth as characters. Lucas was underused last season and I’m pleased that he was given more of the story to tell and his relationship with Max was a nice touch.
Mike had more of the focus in season 1 and takes a back seat here, which was a little disappointing (but understandable to let the other characters shine). However, Eleven comes into her own and has a whole plot driven ‘side quest’ of her own, portraying all of Eleven’s complex emotions often with just simple sentences and facial expressions. Although I enjoyed seeing Eleven explore new elements of her personality and discover more about her past, keeping her apart from the gang until the penultimate episode didn’t allow for their relationships to develop much, which was one of season 1′s highlights.
Another of season 1s successes, were the great characters of Jim Hopper and Joyce Byers. Joyce is still stuck in a ‘worry about Will’ rut (understandably so but felt a little like re-treading familiar ground) but thankfully we get to know Hopper more as a struggling adoptive Dad and secret keeper of the mysterious Hawkins lab. Out of all the characters this season, Hopper’s development and arc have been my favourite, very well written and executed!
Nancy, Jonathan and Steve all return and after a brief love triangle moment, Jonathan and Nancy establish themselves as the unrequited love fulfilled and a detective duo to boot. Steve has probably the best lines of the season and turns from ‘that popular guy’ to the world’s most loved babysitter to the kids. The partnership between him and Dustin was fantastic and their scenes were just great to watch.
New characters of Bob, Max and Billy had little to do overall but Bob was a sweet natured guy who certainly helped when the time came for it. Max was a feisty new edition and a promising team member, but at times felt like a shoe in for Eleven. Billy had little to do, apart from make Steve look a good person and make you feel sorry for Max. Even the abusive parent subplot felt like it was tacked on the end - the season could definitely have existed perfectly fine without him. (Hopefully he’ll do more in season 3).
Aside from the characters, the main difference in season 2 was the darker, more horror driven atmosphere, It certainly felt scarier and the visual effects were more dynamic and creepy this time around, upping the intensity of the show for sure. Will being attacked by the Mind Flyer was a nail-biter of a scene to watch! The Upside Down remained a great setting for the supernatural horrors to live, although I can’t help but feel that mini demo-dogs were a wee bit predictable. Surely there are more creatures about in the never-ending Upside Down?
Perhaps my own real criticism of the season though is the lack of a human villain. Dr Brenner was a cold and intense villain in season 1 and the lack of a human ‘monster’ in the show made the final battle feel a tad flat as everyone was on the same side, humans vs unknown monsters. I’m not counting Billy as a villain (he was barely there), and I suppose you could count Kali and her gang as villainous, but they ultimately posed no real threat to Hawkins.
I am certainly looking forward to season 3, after season 2s lovely ending (I cried), it will be interesting to see how they tie up the few plot strings they have left. Personally, I am hoping for new monsters (both human and supernatural), the chance for Eleven to interact more with the group and more babysitter Steve!