Netflix’s Stranger Things, the surprise sci-fi hit of last year, is back for a brand new season. Is it better than ever or did it suffer from the dreaded sophomore slump? TV Source discusses how and why the best part of season 1 became the worst part of season 2. This review will contain some spoilers. You’ve been warned.
****SOME SPOILERS AHEAD. TURN BACK NOW. THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING***
The Downside Up
What Stranger Things did so well last season for me was the special effects. I had no clue what a Demogorgon was before season 1 and afterwards, that thing haunted my dreams. The Duffer brothers went on record saying that they wanted to make season 2 more cinematic. Bigger. Maybe even scarier. And they did just that. This was evident early on in the first episode as we saw that young Will Byers was still having the same types of episodes that we saw in the last minute of the season 1 finale where he was back in the upside down.
As the number of times Will experiencehaven’te of these episodes increased, so did a clearer picture of the demonic presence. Now, I still am still not entirely sure what that thing was. Will referred to it as a shadow monster. To me it looked like something straight out of War Of The Worlds. The last 2 minutes of episode 3 was where you really learn to fear the shadow.
The rest of the season focused on showing that the upside down, which was supposed to be contained at the Hawkins National Laboratory, was quickly spreading to the town and killing crops along the way. Not only were the two worlds colliding beneath the earth, they were also on the surface as Dustin found and adopted a baby “slug” he found in his trash can and named Dart. We later found out this slug was the same thing Will coughed up at the end of last season. While it was cute at first, it quickly turned into a ‘demodog’ and proceeded to wreak havoc in Dustin’s life. RIP to Muse the cat. Like the first, season 2 culminated in a pretty epic battle to save not only the small town of Hawkins but also the world with a little help from friends.
Joining The Party
With a new season came new adventures and new obstacles. It also came with new characters. We start with Bob Newby. Fitting last name. The Radio Shack manager played by Sean Astin from The Goonies was brought in to give a little romance and normalcy to the otherwise wound up tight Joyce Byers. Bob seems like a nice enough guy for the most part but I don’t think I started to like him until halfway through the season when he used his smarts to pinpoint an area on Will’s crazy map to locate Chief Hopper who had gone missing. I was on the fence about Bob for the majority of the show. And the second that I really started to like him, you guessed it, eaten alive by a demodog.
We also were introduced to more of the family of the kids. We saw Barb’s parents who spent almost the entire season thinking their daughter was missing. We also met Lucas’ family for the first time including his adorable scene stealing little sister Erica.
A couple of other new characters who I wish had met the same fate as Bob were step-siblings Billy and Max. If they were given last names, I don’t remember and couldn’t care less. Billy was the older of the two. He spent most of the season being a teenage antagonist for no clear reason other than to annoy me. All he did was drive around in his car really fast, yell at Max and beat up Steve. Ok, the last part I appreciated. Max, on the other hand did serve a small purpose. It just wasn’t a very good one. She was merely there to be the groups new Eleven. Only problem was she didn’t have any of the appeal or history. It was clear that they also wanted to her to be a love interest to either Lucas or Dustin who had been crushing on her most of the season. Color me surprised when Lucas ended up the victor.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I haven’t said much about Eleven yet. The reason for that is she spent all but 2 episodes completely isolated from almost all of the main cast. We found out pretty early that Eleven got herself out of the upside down and back in Hawkins right after the events of the season 1 finale that had everyone thinking she was dead. Not only had she survived, but after a few months of wandering around the woods, she was taken in a hidden by Hopper. She spent the next year staying out of sight, working on her vocabulary and watching All My Children. After a year of built up cabin fever, Eleven decided to break out and go on an adventure of her own. Her first instinct was to go and find Mike who was a bit preoccupied with Max. After a huge fight with Hopper about leaving then cabin, Eleven again decided to take a trip. This time to see her mother. And this is where Eleven’s story went off the rails.
From her mother’s house, Eleven hopped a bus to Chicago to find her “sister.” No, not her biological sister, but another little girl who was also held at the Hawkins lab with Eleven and who had special abilities of her own. It should also be noted that at this point, they are now calling Eleven by her birth name, Jane. I prefer Eleven. Upon finding her sister Kali, Eleven is told that she and her crew of misfits have been tracking down all of the people who worked at the lab and killing them off. It never became clear if Kali’s friends were also at the lab and had powers or if they were just along for the ride. Another hole in the story. Eleven went along with it but stopped short of killing the man who administered what I think was electroshock therapy to her mother. Eleven then hopped another bus and made it back to Hawkins in time to save the kids from what was sure to be certain death.
While I loved the connection between Eleven and Hopper, her being so far removed from the rest of the cast lasted longer than it should have and stood out like a sore thumb. I found myself watching El on her adventure and wondering to myself if I was even watching the same show. Giving her a standalone episode that didn’t really connect to the events going down in Hawkins at the time didn’t seem to add much to the story. Eleven is a vital character so I understand the need to want to branch off of her, but why did it have to be done at the cost of the story as a whole? The best part of Stranger Things season 1 was the kids and their friendships. For some reason, the Duffer brothers thought it was a good idea to break that up for Season 2.
Lucas was mainly with Max, Will was mainly with Mike, Dustin was mainly with Dart and Steve and Eleven was up and down the Midwest by way of a Greyhound bus. The one relationship that did improve from season 1 was Nancy and Jonathan who finally ended up together. There was also a very sweet scene at the end where El finally made it to the Snow Ball to be with Mike.
Overall, I can still say that I love this show. Did I enjoy this season as much as the first? Absolutely not. Will that stop me from watching season 3? Absolutely not. I still think this is one of the best Sci-Fi shows on TV in a time where Sci-Fi isn’t always embraced. I trust the Duffer brothers ability to turn things around given that they acknowledge the shortcomings of season 2. I wouldn’t say this is a sophomore slump, but I would say they stretched further than the audience needed or even wanted. The last scene from this season was much like the last scene from season 1 in that they showed you the other world is still very much a part of this world. And you have to wonder, if that’s going to be the ongoing theme, how do you go about playing the same game 3 times and still be interested?