Review: Stranger Things 2, also known as season 2

Caleb McLaughlin, Finn Wolfhard, Noah Schnapp, and Gaten Matarazzo in Stranger Things

Stranger Things is back on Netflix with season 2. It’s hard to say anything about season 2 that doesn’t include spoilers. You’ve been warned.

At the end of season 1 of Stranger Things, we knew Police Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) was leaving waffles for Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). We thought Eleven was lost in the upside down, but her escape is revealed early in season 2. Hopper found Eleven waiting for him next to the waffle hiding place.

David Harbour in Stranger Things
David Harbour plays Hopper, who gets slimed in every possible way

Hopper took Eleven to his grandfather’s isolated cabin up in the hills. He told her to stay hidden and never go outside. He provided her with a TV and went home to her every night.

For most of the season, Eleven was isolated with Hopper. No one knew she was safe, which drove Mike (Finn Wolfhard) a bit crazy. He tried for 353 days to reach her through the static.

When Eleven got tired of watching TV and improving her vocabulary, she explored the cabin. She found some information about her birth and her mother that sent her on a journey. She was off on her own adventure until the last moments of the season. As part of her journey, she met subject 008, or Kali (Linnea Berthelsen). Kali the destroyer – could the name be any more obvious?

Millie Bobby Brown in Stranger Things
Anybody home? Mama, maybe?

Being alone for so much of the season gave Millie Bobby Brown a chance to do different kinds of acting – alone in front of a camera. In case you didn’t notice how talented she is last season, you’ll get there this season.

In fact, all the young actors in Stranger Things 2 are wonderful at their parts. Genuine, unaffected, and convincing.

Will (Noah Schnapp) is back from his journey into the upside down. But he’s not really back. He has nightmares/memories about the thing in this poster.

Stranger Things season 2 poster

Yeah, that thing. That thing is the problem in season 2. It has Will in its clutches. It has the town of Hawkins in its clutches. The scientists cannot figure out how to kill it. Oh, by the way, what if killing the monster meant killing Will, too? Now there’s an interesting what if.

Will’s mom Joyce (Winona Ryder) proves once again she is the best mom ever. She listens to Will and recognizes the clues he gives her about the monster. She believes him over what the scientists tell her.

Sean Astin and Winona Ryder in Stranger Things
Sean Astin and Winona Ryder. Yep, Will’s mom has a dorky boyfriend

In season 2, Joyce plays kissy face a lot with Bob (Sean Astin), but Hopper is still her go-to guy when trouble strikes. Bob had some advice for Will that turned out badly. But Bob came in handy deciphering Will’s clues and because he owned a Radio Shack and knew Basic computer language. Wow, Basic and Radio Shack – those were the good old days.

Will’s big brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) is looking after him very carefully this season. Except when he isn’t, which is when Will gets into even worse trouble.

Caleb McLaughlin, Finn Wolfhard, Noah Schnapp, and Gaten Matarazzo in Stranger Things
Caleb McLaughlin, Gaten Matarazzo, Finn Wolfhard, and Noah Schnapp play the main characters again in season 2.

In addition to Jonathan watching out for Will, the rest of the gang with Mike, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) are out to help. They do their bit to kill the monster and keep Will safe.

Sadie Sink in Stranger Things
Sadie Sink is Max

A new girl shows up at school. She’s Max (Sadie Sink). She beat Dustin’s high score at video games, she rides a skateboard everywhere. She’s really cool. Tubular. Dustin develops a crush immediately. But Max likes Lucas. Oops.

Max’s older step-brother Billy is played by Dacre Montgomery. He’s mean to Max and generally isn’t the nicest guy around. A villain.

The boys like Max enough to let her in on their secrets. She becomes one of the monster fighters. I’m really glad to have another girl in the story. Max was a great addition.

Paul Reiser joined the cast this season as Dr. Owens. All the scientists who were there before when they lost Barb (Shannon Purser) to the upside down were removed. Dr. Owens took their place. We do get some short glimpses of Matthew Modine in flashbacks, so yea for that. But wait, he was the evil scientist. Not yea.

Charlie Heaton and Natalia Dyer in Stranger Things
Charlie Heaton and Natalia Dyer as Jonathan and Nancy want to prove what happened to Barbara, even if the proof is watered down

Speaking of Barb, Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) and her boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery), feel guilty and responsible for Barb’s death. But when Nancy goes off looking for evidence against the scientists responsible for the upside down and the monster therein, she takes Will’s brother Jonathan with her.

While Steve is occupied fighting monsters with Dustin and the gang, Jonathan and Nancy are drinking vodka and sharing several nights on the road. They also make a plan to expose the scientists and the lab with the help of a reporter (Brett Gelman).

The single monster replicates like a virus until everyone and everything is pursued by the hounds of hell.  Only I think of them as the hounds of hell. Dustin insists they are Demo Dogs (Demogorgon Dogs, get it?)

It gets gruesome and bloody in the final few episodes as the fight to survive grows strongest. That battle brings all the characters together in one place.

Eleven shows up, all punked out and looking cool from her solo adventures. Everyone is very glad to see her, especially Mike.

I loved that every character had a role in the final episode’s battle with the monsters. There are no bystanders in this story. Eleven and Hopper make an epic effort to close the gate that lets the monsters roam. Joyce and a few others work to Will free of internal Mind Flyers. The remaining gang go underground to fight with fire.

And they win. Everything seems all right. Will is good, the lab shuts down. Whew. Take a breath.

The last few moments of Stranger Things 2 are a school dance. There’s dancing, a couple of first kisses, and joy all around. Except if you flip the scene 180 degrees to examine the upside down, you realize the monster is still around. Ready to strike. Damn. They didn’t win.

Stranger Things is set for 4 seasons, so the end of season 2 couldn’t be a complete victory over the monsters. Let’s be real here.

What Stranger Things did really well again in season 2 is pay homage to 1984. Video games, Dungeons and Dragons, music, stores, cars, TV shows and movies, presidential races, slang expressions: it was all 100% on the mark. On Halloween the four boys dressed up as Ghostbusters – you remember that really old Ghostbusters movie – the one with guys in the cast? Yep, the 80s live again in Stranger Things.

The 80s were cherished by the Stranger Things writers, producers, directors and creative geniuses The Duffer Brothers.

Of 17 episodes of this series finished now, only one was directed by a woman: Rebecca Thomas. That isn’t quite as bad as it sounds, because only 7 of the 17 episodes were not directed by The Duffer Brothers. But, come on, fellas, you can find more reasons for women directors in season 3, can’t you?

My favorite scenes in terms of aesthetics were the scenes where Eleven was communicating through the static in an alternate universe. They were shot in total blackness on a wet floor. The people and the few props stood out and reflected beautifully against the black background. It made for some exquisitely composed shots.

I thought season 2 maintained the humor, the charm, and the excitement of season 1: a high quality season.

Netflix created a Beyond Stranger Things series. Don’t watch it until after you finish season 2. The creators, directors and actors sit around talking about the show. You learn lots about why things were the way they were, see behind the scenes shots, and hear comments from the actors.

If you are a Stranger Things fan, I’d love to hear what you thought of season 2.

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