This spoiler-free review is not brought to you by Kellogg’s Eggo waffles.
Almost a year after the events of Stranger Things 1 (2016), the second season of the Netflix supernatural science-fiction series revisits the mysterious town of Hawkins, Indiana. You can then imagine my confusion when I hit “Watch Season 2 Now” and my Netflix started playing a random episode of Season 1. But I digress.
If you’re like me and you fell in love with Stranger Things because of the super 80’s themes, music, wardrobe, etc., then fret not! It’s all still here. The Duffer Brothers completely knock it out of the park and deliver another masterpiece of a season. But in true Stranger Things fashion, rather than answering Season 1’s questions, it begins by asking even more.
Thankfully, as we saw in the trailer(s), new characters help develop a new story while building upon fan favorites from last season. With the story continuing a year later, many of these new relationships were believable thanks to amazing casting… others, not so much. Here are some of the new players:
Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) – Yes, that Will. But wouldn’t you agree that he was more of a cameo last season? I mean he was missing almost the whole time! In Stranger Things 2, we get to really meet Will for the first time and see how he fits into the Party. We get solid lines and great acting from Noah – and as expected from Season 1’s finale + Season 2’s trailers, Will plays an important role in everything that goes down in Hawkins.
Bob Newby (Sean Astin) – Could Samwise Gamgee be bad? I don’t know, but he instantly won me over! As soon as he was cast as Joyce Byer’s (Winona Ryder) new love interest, my curiosity was piqued. I honestly haven’t seen Sean Astin in many roles, but he always has that right amount of believability. And his chemistry with Winona is spot on!
Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) – Are we sure this is the same Paul Reiser from the 80’s & 90’s comedies I grew up watching? We’re introduced to Dr. Owens right away and the mystery surrounding him isn’t incredibly obvious. I credit this to his acting and his charm. He was a wonderful surprise to this season’s cast and if all goes well with his character, I hope we see some more of him next year!
Maxine (Sadie Sink) – I’ll be frank… when I first read Sadie’s bio, it said that she was cast in the highly coveted role of “Maxine”. Highly coveted? I immediately started to have my doubts. But just as anyone else who encounters the Party, she gets dragged into the nightmare that is Hawkins and the Upside Down. The boys in the Party are a tight-knit group – both on & off screen. Will Maxine/Sadie be able to fit in?
Bill (Dacre Montgomery) – From Jason (the Red Power Ranger) to Billy (not the Blue Ranger), the newest kid in Hawkins High. But there’s an unusual secrecy surrounding him. Who is he really and what’s his story? Not much was revealed about Dacre’s character leading up to Stranger Things 2 but all will be revealed in due time…
Kali/8 (Linnea Berthelsen) – One of the first people we see on-screen this season, but one of the last we actually learn about. I was beginning to worry that we would never see her character again! But at the same time, I found her to be just as easily forgotten. As I’ll explain below, I thought the storyline surrounding her was weak and needless.
General Premise: The Upside Down continues to threaten Hawkins with unseen dangers. Not simply being just about Will’s disappearance anymore, we begin to discover bigger “why” & “what” questions. The plot definitely thickens!
The Good: As previously mentioned, the cast was basically perfect! Diving one year into the lives of the Stranger Things characters is risky business because the chemistry with the new cast (above) may not be as cemented as that of the vets. But thanks to some amazing writing and direction, the Duffer Brothers made it completely plausible. The story was well-paced and revealed little nuggets at a time, making binge-watching the entire season all the more justifiable! And though some focus was lent to the new characters, we didn’t lose out on fan favorites from last season (Hopper, for example).
The Bad: Some choices made in direction and writing confused me because it’ll throw you off of the “real” storyline. It’s very possible that the Duffer Brothers have a bigger plan in mind and they want us to have a big “aha!” moment later on… but the execution of Chapter Seven (The Lost Sister) was poorly done, in my opinion. It felt so out of place and played such a trivial part in the grand scheme of things (so far). But in general, between both seasons, the best episodes were those both written & directed by the Duffer Brothers.
Initial Verdict: It’s a close call! I think the first season was more captivating because of the suspense of it all: new characters, new threat, new mysteries… And while Stranger Things 2 played it safe with many familiar themes & ideas, it did manage to keep things fresh with some twists here and there. Plus they triggered some amazing 80’s feels at the end of this season. But I’d be interested to see how Stranger Things 3 (and going forward) will offer something brand new.
I’ll definitely need to watch the whole series again leading up to 3. But I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!