Review: ‘Stranger Things Season 2’ Takes Us Back To The Upside Down

Last year, with little advertisements and barely any buzz, Netflix released probably one of their best original series, Stranger Things.  Blending everything we loved about the 80s, giving us an almost overdose on nostalgia, the show was a certified hit.  Fresh off of Fox’s Wayward Pines, the Duffer Brothers made a show set in the 80s full of horror, action, comedy, romance, and any other great genre that we love perfectly captured from that time period.  We all fell in love with the young actors (who actually could act) and carried the series on their back while excelling the whole time.  Thanks to season 1’s opening weekend word of mouth and strong following afterward, it’s a no-brainer that a second season was commissioned.

The first season ended with all sorts of teasers as not all loose ends were tied up, leaving plenty for us to speculate what would happen to the residents of Hawkins, Indiana.  Eleven went missing after stopping the Demogorgon.  Will was saved from the Upside Down, but something’s still going on with him since he’s vomiting larvae and having flashes of the alternate dimension.  Even though some things have returned back to normal, some things are bound to remain forever changed for the citizens of Hawkins.

But could they strike lightning twice?  Was it a “one and done” type of show?  Would we, the audience, get bored from it would no longer be “fresh?”

Hell No!

The second season of the show simply put is just as outstanding (if not even better) than the first season of the show.  From the opening scene, not only are we treated to we also get to see a pretty cool action sequence, but we also get to see an interesting new character, who helps further explore one of our main characters, Eleven’s backstory a little bit more.  It also answers why she was named “Eleven,” what about the other 10 test subjects before her at the Department of Energy.  This new face is “Eight,” and we get to see more of her later on this season and it looks like there’s hope for more of her, even maybe a spin-off (fingers crossed).

In Hawkins, things are turning back to normal.  It’s been almost a year since Will’s disappearance and the boys teamed up with Eleven stop the monstrous Demogorgon while his mother Joyce and Chief Hopper went to the Upside Down to save poor Will.  Some things have settled back to normal.  All the boys are continuing their normal lives and enjoying life as your normal teenage middle school kids.  However, upon the one year anniversary, Will is being plagued with brief flashes where he’s experiencing the Upside Down.  Given everything that happened last year, the shady Department of Energy is keeping tabs on everyone who was involved, especially Will.  After having an episode at their local arcade, Will has to go for his checkup with the Department of Energy, who insist that they aren’t the bad guys this time around.  If they wanted to fool the audience, don’t have Paul Reiser (who’s basically playing Carter Burke from Aliens again) be the head scientist, trying to reassure Will’s mother Joyce that everything is going well.

Having lost Will last year, Joyce (Winona Ryder) is the textbook definition of overprotective mother.  Will gets dropped off and picked up everywhere he goes.  And who could blame her?  If my child was lost for a few weeks in an alternate dimension of death, I would be hard-pressed letting them out of my sight too.  You can tell it’s wearing on Will, as he wants to not be seen as some sort of freak, a conversation he has with his brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) in private, which causes his big brother to loosen his grip on him a little.  Will just wants to fit in with the rest of his friends.

The boys once again are the best part of the show.  Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) got his teeth fixed, and as a result, makes the funniest Chewbacca growl that he thinks will attack the ladies.  Dustin makes a surprising discovery related to the Upside Down that is at first adorable, then later proves to be downright terrifying.  Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) has a lot more to do this season and is not relegated to the “black friend.”  In fact, we get to see his family finally, and his sassy sister is hilarious as she continues to bring both him and Dustin down a peg whenever she gets the chance to.  Lucas also gets his own romantic side story with one of the new faces introduced this season.  The heart of the story, of course, is Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and his complex relationships with both Mike and Eleven, who he has not seen for almost a year.

Speaking of Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown now with hair), most of this season she is off on her own solo adventures.  She spends a bulk of her time in a cabin in the woods under Chief Hopper’s (David Harbour) care.  After all, the Department of Energy still wants one of their most prized possessions.  Chief Hopper has to keep her under the radar, and still be Chief of Police, not an easy task, especially because she wants to leave and discover who the real eleven is, that means learning about her past, meeting her mother, and even meeting her “sister.”

The Nancy/Jonathan/Steve love triangle continues this season as well.  Nancy is feeling guilt over her friend’s death last season and wants some #justiceforbarb, which causes a rift between her and Steve, just for Jonathan to jump in and go on a journalistic adventure with the woman he secretly loves.  The two team up with an investigative Journalist (Brett Gelman), who has an interesting way of “thinking” of a way to expose the Department of Energy.  Speaking of Steve, he has a fantastic character arc this season.  Steve went from the most hated douchey character in the first season, to the kids’ guardian while being the Anti-Negan wielding his own version of “Lucille” as they fought monsters.

As the boys are now getting older and hormones are kicking in, the newest member of their group is Max (Sadie Sink), who just moved in from “totally tubular” California, and both Lucas and Dustin are interested in.  Max’s easy-going attitude helps orient her for the boys’ crazy world of telekinetic children, alternate dimensions, and four-mouthed monsters.  Her brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery) on the other hand, is another deal.  Billy is a Trumpian alpha male who’s just angry at the whole world, especially Lucas for liking his sister (while being black).  There’s a confrontation towards the end of the season between him and the group towards the ends of the season that gives Max a chance to stand out on her own.

The most welcome new addition is Bob (Sean Astin), former high school friend of Joyce and Chief Hopper, who is now Joyce’s new boyfriends.  The two are head over heels into each other.  Astin has already played Mikey in The Goonies, Rudy in Rudy, and of course, Samwise in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  We’re already used to him playing awesome heroes/underdogs.  Bob allows him to once again tap into that type of character.  Bob’s fun yet boring.  Funny, yet corny.  Clueless, yet intelligent.  Bob has his share of mistakes (like telling Will to stand up to the Shadow Monster and tell it to “go away”), but he redeems himself countless times with his intelligence, his problem solving, and his bravery.

Speaking of the Shadow Monster....

Last season introduced us to the Demogorgon.  It was thought that it was the only creature that existed in the Upside Down and was out big baddie.  Turns out, it’s just one of the grunts.  The Shadow Monster infects everything it touches with its death and decay and as a result, can control it.  Will has more screen time this season (since he’s not lost in the Upside Down), but much of his time is spend as being the “Spy” for the Shadow Monster.  The Shadow Monster is also able to control the “demo-dogs” as Dustin calls them, four-legged version of the Demogorgon, which is just as nasty as the two-legged one that terrorized the town a year ago, and there are lots of them.  The Shadow Monster seems to be the de facto ruler of the Upside Down, and it wants to turn its attention to our world.  Only the kids and the citizens of Hawkins can stop it.

Now there have been some grumblings on social media about one particular episode: “Chapter 7: The Lost Sister.”  I won’t get too in the weeds, but it was a great episode, despite what some fans have said about it.  The episode focused on Eleven (whose real name she discovers is Jane) as she sought out one of the other children experimented on by the Department of Energy where she met “Eight,” a young woman named Kali who was experimented on as well and gifted with extraordinary abilities like Eleven did.  Kali is a little more hardened than Eleven is and wants to enact revenge against those who wronged her.  The two have an inescapable bond thanks to their shared trauma and growing up together and will forever be connected.  The episode allowed Kali to show Eleven to know how to use her power, very reminiscent when Professor X showed Magneto how to use his power in X-Men First Class, which was important for the conclusion of the season.  Kali also gave us some much-needed color as she and her friends were in 1980s Chicago carrying out their activities in her name.  Rest assured, this isn’t the last we’ve heard of Kali.

Season 2 of Stranger Things absolutely nails it in its sophomore outing.  The ending is more than satisfying for these young kinds that we have come to know and grow with over the past two years, who all have wisdom beyond their years.  In fact, the way it ends could have been a series finale by how tight-knit everything ends up for each of our heroes.  Of course, this means that the show will probably be heading a different (and if possible), darker direction for everyone.  Whatever happens, we’ll all be looking forward to season 3!

Rating: 4.5/5