Series Review: Stranger Things 2

Stranger Things 2 release

While Netflix has a record of producing quality programming, the praise it has received hasn’t exactly gained the public’s attention. At least, that was the case, until 2016’s Stranger Things. The brainchild of brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, this science-fiction series slowly gained a following before becoming a cultural phenomenon, adored by Netflix junkies and casual viewers alike.

Although no official figures have been released by Netflix, it’s obvious that Stranger Things has become the streaming service’s most popular series, no doubt seeing a spike in both ratings and subscribers because of it. If there were to be a follow-up to its freshman season, it would not only need to live up to the expectations of its fanbase, but surpass them. And that’s exactly what Stranger Things 2 does.

Nearly a year has passed since Will (Noah Schnapp) was rescued from the Upside-Down, an ordeal which he is still recovering from – even now, he is experiencing hallucinations which take place in the murky dimension, and the doctors at Hawkins Laboratory cannot explain why. While Will is slowly adjusting to normality, he is increasingly frustrated about his family and friends, who continue to wrap him in cotton wool, figuratively speaking.

Meanwhile, at the Hawkins Police Department, Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is having to contend with less-harrowing problems. He is presently concerned about a disease afflicting numerous pumpkin farms in the area, putting a dampener on the upcoming Halloween festivities. Much of Hopper’s overtime has been spent investigating the mystery, rendering him unable to supervise Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown).

Yes, despite being obliterated by the Demogorgan at the end of last season – and to the surprise of nobody – Eleven is alive and well, having been taken-in by Hopper out of concern for her safety. Consequently, she is unable to set-foot outside of her makeshift home in the forest, and forbidden from contacting her friends. As for Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), he longs to see Eleven again, and has devoted many nights to searching for her.

Alongside the characters listed above, much of Season One’s cast is making a return in Stranger Things 2, and being joined by three new faces to the series. Said faces are Bob Newby (Sean Astin), the middle-aged boyfriend of Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder); Maxine (Sadie Sink) or “Max”, a red-haired tomboy, video-gamer and keen skateboarder; and Max’s step-brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery), whose Spinal Tap­-esque haircut masks a sinister persona.

Stranger Things 2 - Will
Will (Noah Schnapp) is feeling like an outcast in Stranger Things 2.

With this swell of cast-members comes an increase in subplots, adding to those left unresolved in the first season. Under ordinary circumstances, this would make for baffling viewing, but Stranger Things is no ordinary show – as with last season, time is evenly devoted to each story-arc without any scene seeming rushed or under-developed. That being said, there are instances where the series takes far too long to deliver exposition, as is the case with Billy’s character.

One of the more frequent criticisms being levelled at Season Two is its seventh chapter. This episode sees Eleven travel to Chicago, there meeting with her surrogate sister Kali (Linnea Berthelsen) in hope of being part of a family. While many have been scathing of the episode for deviating from the central conflict, this author found it to be a welcome change-of-pace, allowing for Eleven to further develop as a character and offering a respite from the scary atmosphere of Hawkins.

On the subject of scares, Stranger Things 2 does a far better job of eliciting fear and terror than its predecessor. This is due to a combination of multiple factors, including an increase in the number of monsters, the characters being split apart – therefore unable to rely on each other for survival – and the audience’s attachment to the ever-so-warm characters. While the latter factor relies heavily on people being familiar with the first season, even those going cold-turkey into Stranger Things 2 will find them a charm.

Stranger Things 2 - Steve
Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) brings his A-game to Stranger Things 2.

The most likeable of all these characters is, oddly enough, Steve Harrington (Joe Keery). Upon first being introduced to the series as Nancy Wheeler’s (Natalia Dyer) boyfriend, Steve was portrayed as the prototypical jock and, to put it bluntly, a massive jerk; since then, he has evolved into a giant softie, open about his feelings and taking care of Mike and his friends. It’s a very interesting, refreshing change for the series, and one which will hopefully continue, should there be a Stranger Things 3.

And these aren’t the only attributes that make Stranger Things 2 worth watching. As with the first season, it possesses a haunting electronic soundtrack, great set design, convincing effects, sharp cinematography and perfect pacing. In terms of other problems, there is issue to be taken with the head-slappingly stupid decisions made by the protagonists, but moments like these are what everybody has come to expect from the horror genre.

Stranger Things 2 is an undisputable triumph, living up to the lofty expectations set by its predecessor. The nine-episode run takes every aspect of the previous season and turns it up to 11, being creepier, tenser and more exciting than anyone could have anticipated. Binge it now – or else!

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