Warning: Minor spoilers ahead – nothing that will make or break the show, but small details hinting at end conditions are present. Paragraphs with these conditions are marked.
The first season of Stranger Things took America by storm, bringing us a combination of 1980s nostalgia and campy horror. I watched it with everyone else and enjoyed it, although I had some reservations that I confess, kept me from jumping right on top of season two until just this month (March).
My reservations were justified.
I haven’t heard as much enthusiasm regarding season two, although there is a vague sense that the show remains “good.” In a nutshell, that’s probably true insofar as it was good enough that I will watch season three, sooner or later. Much like with season two, it might not be the week or even the month it is released.
This show continues to marry 1980s nostalgia and campy horror in a fun if comfortably predictable way. The nine episodes in this season gradually built to an intense finale that had me wondering who was going to die. Wil and Dustin were my top two guesses. I won’t spoil it and say how that panned out.
Season two bridged the gap from season one, bringing out more character and fully redeeming Steve, who I finally decided deserved better than Nancy. The season also tied up the loose ends that season one left behind, including Barbara’s death, and in a very satisfying way. In fact, the way they handled Barb’s death and the surrounding cover up was possibly my favorite part of the season.
The not-so-good and the bad:
The season got off to a very slow start, with the first episode nearly putting me to sleep. Things didn’t get moving until about episode three. Part of the problem with the start and indeed, with the plotline of the entire season: too many main characters trying to steal the show.
As a character girl, I do appreciate depth of character. But as a realist, I know you can’t reasonably do this for over a dozen characters – at least not equally. Which was probably why I didn’t feel that most of the characters were particularly deep; they instead came across like stronger and stronger versions of the archetypes upon which they were based.
Watching this show made me feel like I was witnessing the result of contract negotiations with a dozen actors who all wanted at least X many lines in the new season. There was no focus, nothing bringing them together.
(Minor Spoiler) And bizarrely, they introduced Max (Maxine) and her jerk of a brother who turned out to be completely unnecessary extra baggage. I thought surely they were going somewhere with these two, earning the decision to add even more key cast members on top of an already large cast, but they didn’t. The plot did not require their presence in any way.
(Minor Spoiler) The new Byers love interest, Bob, did have a use – to die. Clearly, from episode one, we knew his role was to make us love him and then die. He did this fairly well, although I thought the writers got lazy with his ultimate demise. They had the opportunity to make it more meaningful and they let it slip through their fingers.
But I think by far my biggest complaint with this season was episode seven, which completely focused on Eleven (Jane) and sort of shone a spotlight on the trouble they had with keeping the actual main character reigned in while they dealt with the backup crew. Eleven IS the star of this show. She was what made the first season interesting, and her character transformations were key to season two. However, almost all of that transformation was squashed haphazardly into episode seven in a way that made it feel disconnected from the rest of the show. Episode seven probably should have covered most of the season.
Look, strange shadow monsters from other dimensions aren’t scary. The monster in the first season wasn’t scary either – the men in the lab were scary. The government running experiments on little girls is scary. In fact, the government is pretty universally scary! (Sidestepping political commentary here.)
This season began with a hint of more scary government stuff – the introduction of Eight, a sister and precursor to Eleven. This was literally the first scene, so not a spoiler. Yet it hinted at the idea that this season was going to expand on the scary government’s role in creating literal monsters, an expectation that was equally well-established by the end of season one. Somewhere along the line, the writers forgot that shadow monsters aren’t scary; the government is scary.
All in all, I found this to be a bit of a mess – focusing too much on superfluous characters and magical monsters rather than on the main character and the monsters (real and figurative) that she’s fighting.