This past Halloween weekend saw the return of the runaway hit Netflix series and like last time around, it was pretty dang great. Stranger Things' second season had an average of 4 million viewers per episode on release week and is at the forefront of pop culture news for good reason. This season was a direct continuation of the first with a year passing after the events of the Eleven defeating the Demogorgon. Spoilers ahead! If you haven't seen all of the new season yet then know it comes highly recommended and this review will cover all of the events in no particular order. This review is a little brief, but I think it's because with a show this great you should really watch and let it speak for itself. Seriously, it's that good.
The character development in this season was some of the best so far with very few criticisms to make about the writing as a whole. That being said there couple of things I noticed, particularly the abundance of love triangles and the eventual handling of Billy and Max. I'm willing to forgive the love triangle of Steve, Nancy, and Jonathan, since that could be reasoned as leftover from the first season, however I hated the Dustin, Lucas, Max dynamic. And honestly, I felt that it really sold short Max, because her character just sort of seemed to be there at the end and solely exist to drive a wedge between Dustin and Lucas. However that being said, I felt her inclusion in the party was some of the most organic writing I've seen in a while, and I understood why she was included and even thought it was clever the way the show sets it up with the arcade game. Billy I didn't mind but would've really liked to see his character flesh out, and I didn't really understand what his purpose was this whole season except to challenge Steve (read: keep relevant) for the episodes in between his serperatiok from Nancy and him working with the kids. All things considered though these were really the only nitpick I could find with the writing on the character side of things.
The seasons pacing is amazing, each episode fulfills a distinct goal in moving foward the plot with only one out of the nine feeling like filler, and I'll cover that towards the end. The score along with the classic 80's synthesizer sound was used to great effect and some of the best music put to television in recent memory. While I'm gushing, it should be pointed out that the directors really know how to frame a freaking shot. The cinematography is beautiful. The color scheme is eye catching. Overall the show is a visual spectacle.
The acting is to be commended as well. Noah Schnapp and Wynonna Ryder are the real standouts but I thought Gaten Matarazzo did an amazing job as well. Joe Keery remains my favorite character and really the only one who didn't really stand out to me this time around was Finn Wolfhard and not because his performance was poor (quiet the opposite) but because he received so little screen time comparatively. Sean Astin was there this season and became an unsung hero by the end, and I'm still not over how his story concluded. Dacre Montgomery hits 80's masculinity on the head and none of his scenes seemed unconvincing or over the top even given how familiar that character style is.
The story was as thrilling as before if not left with a little less closure than last time. Will's life continues to suck and he has visions of the ominous villian dubbed the shadow monster who is working through the Upside Down creating a tunnel network with evil roots with the intention of spreading decay to Hawkins. Eleven is living in secret with Hopper in a remote cabin laying low from the agents working at the lab investigating the breach to the Upside Down. Barbara's parents have hired a private investigator to look into her death from the first season and Nancy is striken over these events which leads to her separation from Steve and into the arms of Jonathan. Steve has to deal with being usurped as the king of the school from a new guy named Billy, older brother to Maxine, who is the newest member of the party. Dustin finds Will's slug thing from season one and it turns out to be a self replicating Demogorgon dog monster. Joyce is dating a man named Bob who was an outcast himself in school and connects really well with Will and the rest of the characters. By the end, the lab is overrun, Bob dies, Eleven and Hopper seal the breach, and the activity is all exposed to the public thanks to Nancy, Jonathan, and the private investigator. We're left with more of a bandaid solution to the real problem at the end.
Let me just say, I loved Bob. Yes I have to go there really quick. Bob was a great addition to Will's family and he was the most rational and helpful character to a horror plot pretty much ever. It was wrong to go out the way he did, as well as heartbreakingly brutal. They didn't deserve you Bob. The other hero of the series is Steve. Steve was dealing with some real shit this time around, things aren't going his way in his love life or social life, but he sucked it up and prepared for war against the demo dogs as well as becoming defacto party leader in the raid at the end. Without Steve the kids would've been stuck in the tunnels and died when the breach was sealed. Finally, if I were Joyce, I would move. Why is she still there? This season left the real problem at the end still out there, and it's something I appreciate considering how much closer the first one left us with. When Eleven sealed the gate the shadow monster is still there. It still exists as a threat and I'm glad the show didn't just leave it at that and pretend everything was okay because the gate that we know about was closed and Will wasn't possessed anymore. It leaves a great hook for the show's future.
Besides the love triangles and Maxine character development the only thing I didn't care for this season was that weird episode with Eleven and Eight. I felt that this whole episode had to be set up for next season's world building. It trained El to be ready at the end sure, but it did more to progress a good plot for the future than anything. Pacing wise, it kind of felt out of place as well, I felt episodes six and seven could've been switched but I didn't mind this aspect too much. Besides this one episode, literally all of the other episodes are amazing. Every single one had a compelling hook and every single one drove the plot in an interesting way. This show nails what a mystery should feel like in many different levels, from trying to figure out characters motives and backgrounds to the actual overarching story. That mystery, coupled with the brutality of the deaths and horrific imagery, made this season great and easily on par with the first season. Stranger Things 2 comes highly recommended and if you haven't watched it yet then you really need to put it at the top of your to do list.