Stranger Things Season Two: The Best and Worst

by thethreepennyguignol

So, another season of Stranger Things behind us (oh, and a film site that I just started that you should check out, but whatever)- and last year’s biggest zeitgeist hit turned into this year’s most-anticipated sophomore season. I loved the first season of Netflix’s eighties-indebted horror original, so much so that I was prepared for the second season to be somewhat of a let-down because, well, how do you hit all the things that made the first season successful without regurgitating them? Or, failing that, how do you expand the world without losing sight of the smaller stories of season one? Having finished the nine-episode run last night, I want to talk about the best – and worst – parts of Stranger Things season two. Happy Halloween, one and all!

Best: Will Byers

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Will Byers is both at the centre of the first season and, at once, hardly in it: vanishing off to the Upside-Down in the first episode, he only really reappears in the final episode to provide a sting in the tail to set up season two. But across these nine episodes, he’s an inescapable presence, and a brilliant one: Noah Schnapp puts in a gruelling, towering performance as Will, and his frailty and his newfound power play off each to create one of the most interesting, contradictory characters on TV this year.

Worst: Johnathan Byers/Nancy Wheeler

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Ugh. UGH. One of thing things I enjoyed most about last season was the way subverted the “nerd gets the girl” trope as Nancy ended up with Steve Harrington, a one-time jock who goes through a series of personal transformations over the course of the show and wins her heart with real character growth despite his evident mistakes and flaws. Nancy and Johnathan had a fraught but intense platonic relationship as they bonded over the fight to save their siblings from the Upside-Down, a plot much more interesting than anything romantic.

But this season just can’t resist sticking Nancy and Johnathan together in a plot so thin I can literally see through it; Johnathan, who I’m not saying is a stand-in for the Duffer Brothers as he waves his camera in everyone’s face and espouses the awesomeness of being a freak but who certainly could be read that way, and Nancy embark on a mission to expose the truth together and of course end up boring – oops, I mean boning. Oh, did I mention that in season one, Johnathan took pictures of Nancy undressing without her knowledge and never apologised for it? Yeah, fuck this show for framing that as the beginning of their romantic relationship. I thought Stranger Things was better than this kind of creepy bullshittery, but here we are with Nancy and Johnathan exchanging shy smiles in their final scene of the season while I scream “HE TOOK FUCKING PICTURES OF YOU IN YOUR KNICKERS WITHOUT YOUR CONSENT, WOMAN!” into the void of the Upside-Down, never to be heard.

Best: The Kids

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No-one would argue with the fact that the foursome at the centre of the first season (Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Eleven) were one of the finest parts of Stranger Things’ initial run, and here the show does what it should with a second season and delves into these characters a little deeper: Dustin gets a great, MVP-worthy arc packed with pathos and hilarity, while we get a deeper glimpse into Lucas’ home life as well as spending time with a new member of the team, Max (who’s arc is interesting but often feels like it exists outside the main plot, but anyway). The writing is tight, the child actors brilliant, and the show knows what we want to see from everyone’s favourite prepubescents as it focuses in on more individual plots

Worst: The Kids

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But, on the other hand, it kind of sucks to have a group with such amazing chemistry split up for most of the season: I think the show does well with Mike and Will’s intense friendship, but the rest of their stories feel out of step with each other – which I guess is sort of the point, but the show struggles not having their warm, natural chemistry centred in most episodes to carry everything along.

Best: The Music

There was an Oingo Boingo song in the first episode, for fuck’s sake! OINGO BOINGO!

Worst: Eleven

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Yes, this is going to be controversial, but I found a lot of Eleven’s plot pretty flat this season – most notably, her one-off episode that revolved around her finding her sister, another woman who was tortured by the laboratory that enhanced her powers. El’s plot felt a lot like a superhero origin story, which made sense as that’s as valid a part of the pop culture that was around at the time that Stranger Things is set in as anything else it homages – but that doesn’t mean I’m not sick of seeing origin stories by now. Millie Bobby Brown is still excellent (and looked dope as hell in her post-punk outfit), but her stories were often thinly written, featured 2D characters, and felt extremely rushed. Her relationship with Hopper was well-drawn and interesting, but everything else failed to live up to the standards set by the previous seasons.

Best: Visual Effects

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Once again, Stranger Things is one of the best damn looking shows on TV – whether it was the portentous worlds of Will’s fantasies, the labyrinth beneath Hawkins, or Steve (hashtag Team Steve) fighting off a bunch of demidogs with his signature weapon, Stranger Things is still strikingly, originally, and unmistakably itself.

Worst: Sean Astin

No, not Sean Astin necessarily, because who doesn’t love that big-ass Samwise Gamgee motherfucker? No, it’s his story that annoyed me – he was so clearly brought in to die that I called it in the first episode, and when he went it felt like a way for the show to avoid a more meaningful killing and hang on to all the fan favorites while still getting the impact of a death. It felt cheap, and dammit, I liked his dorky lameo ways and wanted more of him!

So, that’s my take on this season of Stranger Things: overall, I still liked it a lot, but the first season was just too good to top and this season suffered both in comparison and with just some odd choices that didn’t work for me. What did you make of it? Hit me up in the comments below, or head over to Twitter to let me know there.

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