When it premiered on Netflix last year, Stranger Things took a lot of people (including yours truly) by surprise. As an affectionate love letter to Eighties pop culture and movies (particularly of the sci-fi, fantasy and horror genres, courtesy Steven Spielberg and Stephen King), series creators Matt and Ross Duffer made a zeitgeist that also stood on its own with compelling stories of small town police chiefs, secretive government agents, a broken family looking for a lost boy, friends who stand up to bullies, and an unusual girl with telekinetic abilities named Eleven.
Since the teaser for Season Two premiered during the Super Bowl earlier this year, I've eagerly been awaiting to see what would be in store for Chief Hopper, Joyce Byers, Mike Wheeler and company. When it finally premiered last month, I did something that I never do. (And I mean never.) I binge-watched the entire season within 27 hours!
A few questions I had, between both seasons, were as follows: What is that big thing Will begins seeing that's coming into Hawkins? (The 2017 Comic-Con trailer finds Hopper stating, "Whatever's happening is spreading to this place.") Speaking of Hopper, what deal did he make with the agents? And finally, what happened to Eleven?
|Millie Bobbie Brown does return as Eleven. And she still loves Eggos.|
Set one year after the events of Season One, Upside Down-survivor Will Byers begins having premonitions of not only said place, but also of an impending evil force in the sleepy town of Hawkins, Indiana. And, of course, the same cast of characters, plus new ones like Radioshack owner Bob (Sean Astin), high-score arcader Max (Sadie Sink), and some unexpected allies try to figure out what's going on, along with mysteries behind rotting pumpkin patches, government conspiracies, telepathic connections, some gender theories, and why nougat is a popular Halloween candy. (Okay, maybe not so much that last one.)
A few things this season does are completely unexpected. Besides the "One Year Later" notion, Eleven (the amazing Millie Bobby Brown) does return--the trailers make that very clear. This time, she sports Sigourney Weaver-like hair! Plus, she and Will (who was barely in the first season) seem to switch roles, in terms of being around the three main kids/friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard, whose screen time this season seems like Michael Keaton's in Batman Returns), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin). Speaking of Dustin and Lucas, we do get to see their home lives and family lives as well.
And of course, since this series is set in the Eighties, I went gaga for the countless nostalgia and homages on display. First and foremost, the Ghostbusters costumes that Mike and friends wear for Halloween, complete with specially-made "proton packs," are a stroke of genius, including the dialogue where Mike and Lucas banter and argue about who should be Venkman and who should be Winston. Also, the residue Hopper and others find in the woods could echo that scene in the original movie, in the library and possibly the famous Slimer ghost. Speaking of residue, there are echoes of many creature features as Gremlins, Aliens, The Mist, and even Evil Dead, what with shocking revelations, more creatures, more menace, and more action and effects, including the aforementioned creature Will begins seeing, known as the "Shadow Monster" (or, in "Dungeons & Dragons" terms, the Mind Flayer"). Plus, classic arcade games like "Dragon's Lair" get some screen time, as does Eleven's favorite food, Eggos, Dustin's favorite, Three Musketeers (nougat, anybody?), and JVC tape recorders and adapters. Finally, with Sean Astin's appearance, there should be a reference or two to his famous role in The Goonies. (Why wouldn't there be in the Eighties, after all?)
|Who you gonna call? (l-r) Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Mike (Finn Wolfhard), |
Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Will (Noah Schnapp)
As far as the status of the show's returning characters, what I will say is they do explore different sides of themselves. (One episode, in particular, takes a radical departure from the overall tone of the series--a deliberate choice by the Duffers.) Again, Eleven does return, but not in the way most fans would think. There are some children here, particularly newcomers Billy (Power Rangers' Dacre Montgomery) and step-sister Max (The Glass Castle's Sadie Sink), affected by divorce, and who show more than explain who they take their anger and frustration out on. But there's uncertainty about other characters, such as Bob (considering a story he tells Will about facing his fears) and new Hawkins' Lab head Dr. Owens (who seems to echo a famous role of the actor who plays him, Paul Reiser, from Aliens), what with his surveillance and apparent cover ups of past mistakes.
Many other characters face post-traumatic stress, including Nancy (over her friend, Barb), Mike (over Eleven, whom he still radios via walkie-talkie everyday), and, of course, certainly Will, who never feels the same, not to mention "normal," after being in the Upside Down. But his brother Jonathan reassures that ("Nobody normal ever accomplished anything in this world"), as does his mom, Joyce ("This is not a normal family," she tells Bob). Mr. Clark, the Hawkins science teacher and A.V. supervisor, mentions "The American Crowbar Case" of Phineas Gage, the story of a man who survived a head injury and appeared normal afterwards but not so, mentally.
|Something new is coming to Hawkins|
This season does suffer from a case of "sequel-itis" at times (meaning, "more is better"), as well as some less witty (and more profane) dialogue. Eleven's vocabulary, for one, includes a new vulgarity. I do also think the season kind of plays it safe at times and rushes just a tad without some serious conflict, despite the overall atmosphere--darker and more intense, especially with the "Demo-dogs" and the overarching Shadow Monster. (Chapter Seven has some particularly graphic images, including one they really didn't need to show.) But the Duffer Brothers sure know how to pack an emotional and cliffhanging punch, not to mention unexpected twists. Here's to whatever they come up with for Season 3.