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TV Transfusion Presents:
STRANGER THINGS 2 (2017)
Review by L.L. Soares
After really enjoying the first season of the Netflix original series STRANGER THINGS (2016) (see the Cinema Knife Fight review here), I was pretty happy when it was announced there would be more. But you always worry that something successful will stumble when it comes to recreating the magic, and fall into the dreaded “sophomore slump.” Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I was finally able to sit down and binge-watch all of the second season, simply called STRANGER THINGS 2 (2017), and I’m happy to announce, it’s more of the same 1980s-inspired goodness.
A lot has changed since the first season. First off, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) the kid with psionic powers from the first season, who fell into the “upside down” —that demonic dimension that was the source of all the headaches from Season 1—has found her way back (and she has hair this season!) She was surviving on her own in the woods until Sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour) found her and brought her home. He’s been taking care of her in secret for a year. But they have to keep her existence a secret from everyone, because the government bad guys from the first season would love to get their claws back on her. Sheriff Hooper even has an elaborate series of codes, from secret knocks on the door to signals on a CB radio, to communicate with Eleven and let her know when it’s safe to let him in.
While she’s being kept safe, Eleven is also kind of prisoner, since she can’t contact anyone she cares about, especially Mike (Finn Wolfhard, who was in the blockbuster movie IT! earlier this year), who she’s fallen in love with (it’s mutual). All she can do all day is watch TV (since this is the 80s before the Internet became such a big part of our lives), and she’s starting to get sick of the isolation in a big way.
Meanwhile, Mike hasn’t lost hope that Eleven is alive somewhere, trying to reach her himself on his CB. He still hangs out with his “party” of friends (they call themselves a party instead of “the gang” or whatever, and it sounds odd), including Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Will (Noah Schnapp).
Will, who was lost for most of Season 1 in the upside down, is trying to get his life back to normal, but he keeps having these disturbing visions, where he can see into the alternate dimension he escaped from, including a giant spider-like creature called a shadow monster (Dustin later dubs it the “mind flayer” based on his Dungeons and Dragons manual, just like last season’s monster, the Demogorgon, was similarly “identified”). His mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder), isn’t sure if Will’s problem is psychological or if he’s really seeing something, and of course, this makes her more overprotective than ever. Will’s older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) once again gets the short end of the stick, since his mother is always obssessing about Will and he always seems to get forgotten. Instead of being resentful, though, Jonathan is determined to keep an eye out for his younger brother and keep him safe.
Also back are Natalia Dyer as Nancy Wheeler, Mike’s older sister, who once again is a major player in the plotline. She’s still dating Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), when the season begins, but will feel drawn to Jonathan Byers as well.
There are also a few new characters this season, including the aptly named Bob Newby (Sean Astin), a schlubby guy who works at the local Radio Shack, and who has become Joyce’s new love interest. He’s such a square that he’s kind of awkward at times (his nickname is “Bob the Brain”), but he really cares about Joyce, and the kids (Will and Jonathan) are seeming to warm up to him. I have to admit, I found his character a little annoying at first, but he really grew on me, too, as the season progressed. At first, he doesn’t know anything about the events of Season 1, but as trouble brews in Season 2, you know he’s going to get pulled into the story, and he just might prove to have a little heroism mixed in with all his nerdiness.
Paul Resier plays Dr. Sam Owens, the new guy in charge of the Hawkins lab, the mysterious government facility that was the source of all the horrors in Season 1. The former leader, Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine), was a sinister figure who was one of the main villains of Season 1, but Dr. Owens seems different. He actually appears to be trying to correct the mistakes the lab made previously, and Joyce even takes Will to see Dr. Owens when he has his really disturbing visions. They actually seem to trust him, which may be a good or a bad thing, as the season continues.
Brett Gelman plays Murray Bauman, an investigative reporter who’s working for Mr. and Mrs. Holland, the parents of Barb Holland (Shannon Purser), Nancy’s best friend who disappeared in Season 1. Bauman is trying to unearth what happened to Barb, even though everyone involved in the events of Season 1 have been sworn to secrecy by the government agents.
There’s also a new girl in town, Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink), a redheaded tomboy on a skateboard who is really good at video games (she’s beaten Dustin’s high scores at the arcade, which is how the boys first become aware of her). Dustin and Lucas are smitten with her right away, and compete for her, but Mike resents her trying to fill the gap left by Eleven. Max also has an older brother (or at least that’s what he seems to be at first) named Billy (Dacre Montgomery) who drives a fast car and is pretty much the epitome of a “bad boy.” While he has all the girls in high school talking, he’s also got a sinister side, as he’s always bullying Max, and their relationship seems cryptic for at least half of Season 2.
Another new character is a creature named D’artagnan (Dart for short), that Dustin finds rustling in his trash late one night. It looks like a pollywog at first, and is created using some nifty CGI effects. It grows at an alarming rate, shedding its skin regularly, and goes from being a cute little creature to something more scary. Dustin, of course, has grown attached to it and tries to keep it safe, even when it’s clearly a danger to everyone around it.
The main storylines this time around revolve around Will and his visions. Eventually that shadow monster he keeps seeing will enter his body to become a “spy” in our world, as Will becomes possessed, for lack of a better word. That creature Dustin found is part of it all, as well.
Eleven struggles with being isolated from her friends, but at one point goes on a journey to find her birth mother and another girl she grew up with at the labs named Kali (Linnea Berthelsen). Kali also has powers, the ability to make others see things that aren’t real, and she hangs out with a gang of homeless “freaks” who she leads. Eleven meets Kali and her friends in the notorious Episode Seven (titled The Lost Sister), which has been getting a lot of hate on the Internet, since it is a pretty much stand-alone episode focusing exclusively on Eleven and her interaction with Kali and her gang. The whole Kali subplot seems like an X-Men spin-off and is different than the rest of the show, which is why a lot of viewers don’t like it, but I thought it wasn’t totally without purpose. It gives us more insight into Eleven’s past, and sets up a group of characters who most likely will be returning in future seasons. It also gives Eleven a chance to get a kickass makeover. While I didn’t hate the Kali storyline, I was glad when things got back on track as Episode Eight started the forward momentum to the big conclusion where all of our main characters converge.
If I was worried that STRANGER THINGS 2 wouldn’t be as good as the first season, those worries have been put to rest. The series continues to be well-written, well-acted, and addictive. This is the perfect show to “binge-watch,” since I was pulled into it right away and wanted to keep finding out what happens next. My favorite characters continue to be Eleven and Nancy, and I actually liked Dustin more this time around. I also didn’t find Winona Ryder’s Joyce as grating this season. She’s still an overprotective mom who becomes obsessed with things easily, but she had more moments of (sane) humanity this time around, mostly due to her relationship with Bob the Brain.
The Duffer Brothers (Matt and Ross)—the show’s creators and show-runners—and their creative team have made another winner. The excellent synth-heavy score by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein—channeling the creepy soundtracks of 80s-era John Carpenter and the Goblins—continues to set the mood.
There are still homages to the movies of the 80s, but this show isn’t just about nostalgia. If it was, I wouldn’t be praising it so much. Its roots might be in the past, but STRANGER THINGS has become something all its own, and it’s a lot of fun. If you loved the first season, you’ll love this one as well. And if you haven’t seen either season yet, you owe it to yourself to check this series out.
I give STRANGER THINGS 2 — four knives.
© Copyright 2017 by L.L. Soares
LL Soares gives STRANGER THINGS 2 ~four knives.