I admit that I was excessively tardy to arrive at the table as far as Stranger Things was concerned. Despite repeated admonitions from Tuesday Night Cigar Club chairman Matt Cade, it took the good Doctor just over a year since Season 1 of Stranger Things was released on Netflix before I took the plunge, and plunge I did. My lackadaisical approach to life in general turned out to be advantageous in this instance, as I only had to wait about one month for the release of Season 2. Waiting an entire year would have staked me many a pain. A quick recap of the status quo to bridge the seasons: The demi-gorgon had been vanquished by Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown) who then disappeared back into the baleful purgatory of the Upside Down (Or did she? No, and we learn this in the first episode of Season 2). The warm jollies – or maladies, depending on your point of view – of the Christmas season descended upon the gentry of Hawkins, Indiana and all is good and proper with the world… except for young Mike (Finn Wolfhard), who is mourning the loss of Eleven, and Will (Noah Schnapp), who spits up a slug-like creature into his bathroom sink. It would seem that Will’s psyche, his very existence even, is still intertwined with the Upside Down. And thus, we are ready for Season 2…
Police Chief Hopper, played wondrously throughout both seasons by David Harbour, has entered into an entente cordiale of sorts with the Hawkins Lab spooks. Chief Hopper has agreed to run a smokescreen of interference for the lab and its questionable activities. The Lab, for its part, will attempt to confine its activities so that they do not endanger the town.
Wait a minute, hold on there… government entities have made an arrangement with the chief and his Hawkins co-conspirators that might be mutually beneficial to all? This development makes Stranger Things a fantasy in a way that otherworldly demi-gorgons and telekinesis could never have hoped to. A discovery has been made that government scientists have ensconced themselves in the bowels of a fortified compound… where they perform torturous experiments on kidnapped children with telekinetic powers… while simultaneously housing a gateway to a demonic nether-dimension containing murderous creatures… and Chief Hopper and the gang are allowed to gallivant around town in possession of this knowledge? And the gang includes adolescent children, mind you, perhaps not the tightest of lips to be involved in a conspiracy of such magnitude. I’m fairly certain that if the Doctor and my fellow TNCC cohorts were to uncover a similar plot today, our decaying remains would be found floating amongst well-fed piranha and other detritus somewhere in the Amazon River basin. My skeptical musings notwithstanding, I realize that this framing device was necessary for Stranger Things to proceed and it does not hamper the taut entertainment one iota. Is iota still considered a unit of measurement? I don’t know, but I used it. Let’s move on.
What will Season 2 bring? I shan’t ruin anything, although most of the hardcore fans will have burned through all nine episodes by the time anyone reads this. Here is a cheap tagline, but if you liked the first season then you will almost certainly like the second.
Matthew Modine is gone, having been replaced by the avuncular Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) as the new head honcho at the refurbished Hawkins Lab. The kindly Dr. Owens is overseeing the treatment of young Will. Will’s symptoms include slipping into a catatonic trance, however brief, where he is plunged back into the Upside Down. Once in this state, Will is menaced by horrific visions of a shadowy gigantic tentacled creature that roars in the murky background. What does this mean and what are we to make of it? The continued existence of the Upside Down and what lies therein (and what might come out) remains the permeating fear throughout Season 2. One of the bad guys may have been vanquished but the portal to the other dimension remains open, even if it is still somewhat contained in the Hawkins Lab. This is as good as any idea for keeping the suspense rolling, as far as my two schillings are concerned. It would have been impossible to recreate the initial sense of “what the fuck is going on” mystery and intrigue from the first season, and the show’s creators and writers are clever enough to know they don’t need to try. When you have struck gold, you don’t look for a way to modify it too much. Although there are developments that fans will clamber to see unfold, most will be happy to see how Season 2 plays out.
As with Season 1, there are similar shout-outs to 1980’s film classics but one of the genius attributes of Stranger Things is that these acknowledgements always seem to be treated with the respect or reverence that is deserved. Ghostbusters gets its due when the boys show up to school for Halloween decked out in full ghost busting regalia, only to realize – to their mortification – that no one else is wearing a Halloween costume. A hallmark of both seasons is the fact that all of these characters are so well written and so deftly performed by the young cast. Whether it is the proficiency with which they use obscene language or how treasured their friendship truly is in that awkward time of life, all of the teen actors continue to deliver remarkable performances.
The other new additions include Sean Astin as Bob Newby, the manager of the store that Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) works in as well as filling the role of her new boyfriend. In Astin’s more than capable hands, Bob is a genuinely nice guy who cares about Joyce and her family as they try to somehow move forward with the newfound capricious aspects of their lives. He also serves as an unspoken roadblock for any romantic designs that the Chief may or may not still be holding for Joyce.
The most intriguing newcomers to Season 2, however, are the new kids in town. The spunky, skateboarding Max (Sadie Sink) is the new arrival at Hawkins Junior High, and a couple of the boys immediately start crushing on her. However, any ambitions of adolescent hormonal desire will have to get around Max’s volatile gatekeeper, her high-school aged step-brother Billy Hargrove played by Australian actor Dacre Montgomery. Sporting teased ringlets of hair and tight jeans, Billy is the mysterious out-of-town heartthrob at Hawkins High School and it’s not long before he is challenging Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) for alpha status. Billy is clearly not fond of his little stepsister and he also suffers a rather severe case of what we professionals refer to as “anger management issues.” He isn’t around much, but in a case of Less Is More, Billy is one of the most intriguing characters in Season 2 whenever he appears.
There are other plot points worth mentioning, such as what happens when the slug that Will spit up at the end of Season 1 grows into something much more menacing? Will Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) grow closer as time moves on? There is also an interesting episode where Eleven skips town to briefly meet up with another of her kind, and although the show loses something when we leave the environs of Hawkins, it was still a good episode from a standpoint of overall character development.
To recap, it is difficult to imagine that the legions of Stranger Things fans will be anything but pleased by Season 2. All of the elements that made the first season enthralling are still in place, with a few minor (and welcome) additions. For it all, even though the story, imagination, and environment are all nothing short of top-notch, the tip of the Stranger Things iceberg is the acting. Winona Ryder, David Harbour and all of the youngsters amazingly continue to give wonderful, honest, heartfelt performances that resonate long after an episode ends. That the hardest part of the wait between seasons is that we miss spending time with these characters is a testament to all involved. If you aren’t on the Stranger Things train, I suggest hitching a ride at your earliest opportunity. As always, my friends, The Doctor wishes you all a clean bill of health.