Warning: Contains Spoilers
The first season of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” was a love letter to the 1980s, but before its debut, not much was known about what viewers could expect. The series arrived with little to no fanfare, when its first season was released on July 15, 2016. In a short period of time, however, the series created by BAFTA nominees, brothers, Matt and Ross Duffer (Hidden), proceeded to become a sensation. This past year it returned, as all Netflix’s series do, with the complete offering of its second season, released on October 27, 2017.
A year has passed in the lives of five friends: Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard); Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo); Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin); Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), and one extraordinarily powerful female, Eleven, El for short, portrayed by Emmy nominee, Millie Bobby Brown (Intruders). Her character hasn’t been seen or heard from since the events of the prior year, and this leaves Mike, in particular, at times irritable and despondent. Eleven is still an essential part of the show, but for the majority of the season, she has no interaction with the cast members, with the exception of Police Chief Jim Hooper, portrayed by Golden Globe nominee David Harbour. He is hiding Eleven in his family’s secluded cabin in order to keep her safe from those who wish to do her harm. Hooper attempts to make life for her at the cabin, where she spends the majority of her days on her own, as bearable as possible, including always having a supply of her favorite food, Eggo Waffles, for her to eat. As one would expect, Eleven has a yearning to leave the cabin, and especially to be reunited with Mike.
The pacing of the first few episodes takes time to develop, allowing a viewer to once more become fully invested in the fictional world of Hawkins, Indiana, and its denizens. The rescue and return of Will Byers from the Upside Down, which is what a good portion of season one focused on, is not without consequences. Will might be back in the loving arms of his over-protective mother, Joyce, played by Golden Globe winner, Winona Ryder (The Age of Innocence), and kept under the watchful eye of his older brother, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), but something is wrong with him, and it will only get progressively worse as the season moves forward. Schnapp, demonstrates through his acting, that he is up for the challenge of an expanded role. He brings a believable intensity to certain scenes, that left to a less talented child actor, could have come across as either corny or way over-the-top, but Schnapp brings a deftness to the portrayal of his character’s turmoil, that I was impressed with.
Additional storylines focus on Jonathan, Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer), and Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), the three of whom are involved in an unspecified, teenage love triangle. Nancy is having a difficult time dealing with the truth about what happened to her best friend, Barb Holland, who had been played during the first season by Emmy nominee, Shannon Purser (Rise). Nancy feels especially guilty about having to keep the truth from Barb’s mother (Cynthia Barrett) and father (Aaron Munoz). She is made to feel even worse, when she learns that the Holland’s have hired investigative journalist, Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman), to look into Barb’s disappearance, and have put their house on the market in order to be able to afford to pay him. Her feelings begin to cause a rift between herself and Steve, causing her once again, as she did during the first season, to team up with Jonathan. Nancy and Jonathan set out to expose what is really taking place at Hawkins Lab. The plus side of Nancy’s problems with Steve, is that it helps to form an unlikely alliance between him and Dustin that provides for some fun, comedic, as well as action packed scenes. Furthermore, Chief Hooper, like Jonathan and Nancy, doesn’t for a second trust the people at Hawkins Lab. His suspicions begin with a series of destroyed pumpkin patches on farms throughout Hawkins, and grow exponentially as the situation with Will Byers becomes increasingly more dire.
In addition to returning cast members, several of whom have not been mentioned, season two includes four time Golden Globe nominee, Paul Reiser’s (Mad About You) character, Dr. Sam Owens. His character’s motivations remain in doubt for most of the season. In one respect, he comes across as someone who genuinely cares about the well-being of others, and the safety of the town. Conversely, he works for Hawkins Lab, and is not being entirely truthful as to the activities that are taking place there. Oscar nominee Sean Astin’s (The Goonies) portrayal of Radio Shack employee, and Joyce Byer’s love interest Bob Newby, was a welcomed addition. He’s the type of person who always strives to do the right thing, no matter the peril to himself, and wants what is best for the people he loves and cares about. Additionally, there is the arrival of step-siblings Max, (Sadie Sink), and Billy (Dacre Montgomery). Max, is a skateboarder, and a proficient player of the video game “Dig Dug;” her presence catches the immediate interest of both Dustin and Lucas, each of whom vie for her attention. Max’s step-brother Billy, sports a mullet, has a perpetual bad-attitude, and when he’s not causing trouble for Steve Harrington, can be found driving his car at fast speeds while blasting music, such as Ted Nugent, on his tape deck. Lastly, there was the underutilized character, Kali (Linnea Berthelsen). She is someone from Eleven’s past, as well as the leader of a gang that has a clear cut agenda. Kali, like Eleven, also possesses an extraordinary power.
Over the course of season 2 of “Stranger Things,” the Duffer Brothers did incorporate elements from season one, that made the series a commercial and critical success, however, they didn’t keep the story mired in stagnation. The well-written, character driven show, expanded viewers knowledge of existing characters, while also adding the aforementioned fresh faces to the series. What role, some of those characters will play in the confirmed third season is anyone’s guess, but I have a feeling viewers haven’t seen the last of Kali. As mentioned at the start of the post, the episodes take a bit of time to get going, but the second half of the season contains a great deal more action themed and suspense driven episodes, especially the final two. The second to last scene of the season, without getting into what is was, I’ll describe in a word I’ve never used in any of my posts before, at least I think I haven’t, and that word is charming. The second to last scene was charming, and remained so, until the final scene when…..