It's been nearly a week since we finished watching the second season of Stranger Things, and I've begun compiling my thoughts. While I absolutely loved the show during the time I was watching it, in retrospect, I'm not sure that I can say it was as groundbreaking as season one.
With that, it should go without saying that there will be a ton of spoilers in this article. If you haven't seen the show, then for the love of Pete, go and watch it. It's really good. Come back here after you finish season two.
The cast is still excellent - their characters are each just stellar. I could probably go on at length about just about every character, but I'll hit just a few now. I continue to love the two goofy incompetent sidekick cops (Powell and Callahan) who tag along with Jim Hopper. I was a bit sad that the teacher, Mr. Clarke, got a smaller role this season. He was one of my favorites. But the addition of the tall arcade employee kid with the cheetos and Lucas's little sister were both great.
I also appreciated the additions of Sean Astin and Paul Reiser, both of whom have starred (decades ago) in shows that could be Stranger Things source material: The Goonies and Aliens respectively. It was wonderful how Bob the Brain started out as a dork suitor whom you weren't sure you'd like, and by the end you were really pulling for him. Ditto Paul Reiser's Dr. Owens, whom you'd have to start the season justifiably skeptical about.
Steve really came into his own this season. He grew a lot in season one - from the jerk boyfriend template into a 3-dimensional character. In season two, the growth continued, and he got even better when he paired up with Dustin. His dialog was great. As was his Farah Fawcett hairspray pompadour.
The show addressed race twice: first when the kids in their Ghostbusters costumes argued over which of them had to be Winston Zeddemore, and secondly with Billy's attitude towards Lucas, which is just a single facet of his villany. As terrible as the character was, I did love his flirting scene with Mrs. Wheeler. Hilarious.
Season two also catered to the fans by addressing Barb's disappearance, although having her bereaved family fall prey to a predatory investigator felt like slapping insult atop injury.
And just as in the first season, there were a ton of nods to eighties films. I thought Poltergeist when Eleven used the television static's white noise in the same way she'd used the sensory deprivation tank in seaosn one. I thought The Thing every time someone pulled out a flamethrower to burn alien tentacles. And the Aliens references continued, especially since there was a single Demogorgon in the first season and a bunch of them the second time around. I'm sure there are dozens more.
Lots of characters coupled up in season two. I'm most in favor of Mike and Eleven. That was the only kid couple in the first season, it was established, and it was done very well and with a light touch. Also, Will's mom got Bob, who I really came to like over the course of the season. But I'm not sure about Jonathan and Nancy. Although it's been a long time coming, I'm not sure how I feel about it. I liked them as just friends. To me, the ideal outcome on this is that during season three, they realize that things have gotten weird as a result of their night together, and they now have to struggle to reconstruct a normal friendship. Another weird relationship that they seem to be hinting at is Joyce Byers and Jim Hopper. For much the same reason as Jonathan and Nancy, I hope the show writers don't go there.
I listen to a lot of podcasts, and one I thought had a great discussion about the show was NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. I'll embed the episode here in case you want to give it a listen.
So what's up for season three?
First off, the easy stuff. Next season I'd expect to be 1985. That means Wrestlemania, New Coke, and We Built This City on Rock and Roll. Back to the Future is the big movie of the summer, and in October the original NES is released.
There are a number of loose ends after season two which they'll need to follow up on. Probably the most obvious is Kali, Eleven's sister. That group was on a murder revenge rampage, which didn't come off in the show as nearly as sinister as it should, perhaps only because we've already seen Eleven murder people in season one. We know Kali's motives, but what about her friends? Are they just the type of folks who'd join her in her murder quest because it sounded fun? As much as this storyline is less interesting to me than the Upside Down storyline, it will need to be addressed.
And that's the other half of the equation: The Upside Down. As far as we know, Will is still stuck in between ViewMaster frames, and will continue to have flashes of The Upside Down. And the shadow living inside him escaped and flew off. Will that be back? We know from the final shot that although The Gate may be closed, the upside down is still there. And we've seen that adult demogorgons can tear holes through anywhere they want, which makes me wonder why the gate was even necessary.
Hawkins Lab is pretty much finished, and likely would have been even without the demo-dog attack. Conspiracy theorist Murray Baumann made sure of that. But without Hawkins Lab there to help, only Jim Hopper, Joyce Byers, and the kids know what's really going on. If things go how they appear, they're going into season three without backup of the kind that saved them in the tunnels. Of course, they'll always have Eleven, and that's kind of a problem. She acts as a kind of Deus Ex Machina, wherein she can just swoop in at any moment and act as the ultimate power that will save everyone from any danger they might be facing. During the third season, they'll need to deal with this by injuring Eleven or having her possessed similarly to how Will was.
I love the show, but I have to admit that season two just wasn't as good as season one. And part of me worries that there's just nowhere else interesting to go with the story. Season one was a voyage of discovery. One might call it a curiosity voyage. We met the kids, met Eleven, learned she was telekinetic and clairvoyant, Joyce worked on communicating with Will, we saw some kind of monster, and we slowly learned where it came from. We found out what the Upside Down was, the kids named The Demogorgon, Mr. Clarke taught us about the Flea and the Acrobat, and things progressed. There was a heck of a lot going on. Season two, by comparison, felt less dense expositionally, as we had a foundation to build on. The first three episodes felt like they could have happened in two, and I've heard people saying that episode seven should be skipped entirely. Although I'm not sure I agree with that, I can understand the sentiment given how much a departure it was from the rest of the show's story.
The most exciting bits of the second season for me were the discovery of the tunnels, and Will's time &projected& into the upside down. My hope is that he learns how to use this ability and it becomes something positive. If he can become a superspy able to travel into the upside down at will by controlling his fear, perhaps he'll become a Nightmare on Elm Street dream warrior!
The creeping rot of the upside down's tendrils penetrating into our world and spreading their corruption is probably the coolest thing to come out of this season, and I hope that this threat continues. It feels much like the threat from the forest in Uprooted.
That giant shadow monster (Is that what they're calling the Mind Flayer?) is cool, and very Lovecraftian. But I feel like the show needs to go further with it. I never felt like it was as large a threat in season two as The Demogorgon was in season one. I really hope that season three doesn't feature a small army of pod people who were enslaved in the same way that Will was. I can totally see that happening, and I really feel like it's the wrong direction for this show.
We've got a long ways to go before season three, so all I can do is hope that it's good. In any event, these kids are going to grow up quickly. I can only imagine that they'll look totally different the next time we see them on screen. All I can say about season three is, I hoope it dooesn't suuck!