Returning to Hawkins Gets Stranger in Stranger Things Season 2
The beloved residents of Hawkins, Indiana, return in Season Two of Netflix’s uber popular Stranger Things. One year after the events of Season One and the gang’s still all here. Yet things aren’t actually back to normal. Far from it, in fact. The death of Barb has left Nancy shaken, while Will and his family are struggling to deal with the stresses of his recovery process. None of these events are going well, either. A predatory investigative journalist prays on Barb’s family, while Will’s PTSD episodes are only getting worse by the day.
As assurances from scientists of the Hawkins National Laboratory state that no further harm is being done to the community, the truth of the matter comes to light quickly. Crops are dying, and the effects are spreading. As the local flora is reduced to blackened, slime encrusted husks, Will is plagued by a giant black monster that fills the night sky, and visible only to him.
Furthermore, Eleven, believed to be missing, is actually hiding out with sheriff Jim Hopper in an old family cabin under house arrest. This, of course, is more for her own safety than anything, but Hopper takes the protective parenting to the point of forcing Eleven to rebel. It makes for some tense moments as both characters show uglier sides of themselves, too.
Basically, the place we left our friends in Hawkins, IN is not where they currently reside. Things are getting darker, and it’s going to take nine long episodes to sort this out.
What’s New and Who’s Who
Let me just emphasize the word long here for a second. Season Two of Stranger Things gives us one episode more than the debut season: nine, instead of eight. However, it felt like Season Two didn’t really know how to execute that time succinctly. It takes nearly five episodes before things start to get into the zone. Then, we must endure a filler episode of Eleven running off to Chicago to meet up with an old “sister” from the national laboratory? While this in itself wasn’t bad, it severely offset the tone of the series and I found myself less pleased with it than I would have liked.
Fans of the show will no doubt be delighted about the new additions in the series. Sean Astin joins as Bob Newby, the love interest of Joyce Byers. Bob is about as square as one can get, but still manages to be delightful. His good-natured interest in the wellbeing of Jonathan and Will Byers makes him charming despite his nerdiness and bad jokes. We don’t know much about Bob, but we’re willing to forgive him that much because he’s somehow such a good fit to the team.
Other new additions are Dacre Montgomery as Billy Hargrove, and Sadie Sink as his stepsister Max – also known as Mad Max. We meet Max after she beats the kids’ high score on Dig Dug. All but Mike end up falling for her, but her attitude and abrasiveness make her unapproachable to everyone but Lucas, and even he struggles wearing down her walls for most of the season. As time goes on, Max makes herself part of the group whether the guys admit it or not, if for no other reason than the audience accepting her as such. Billy, however, serves as a minor antagonist for the season, but ultimately adds little to the story at large. Both kids are from California, but the reasons for their move are as of yet unclear. It’s hinted that it may be Max’s fault, but Max alternately insinuates that the fault lies with Billy. That mystery remains unsolved.
What’s Going Down
As things start to finally heat up, our party begins to put together some of the strange happenings going on in Hawkins. Dustin (now with all his teeth) has found what he thinks is a pollywog camping out in his garbage cans. Despite the fact that it’s growing at an alarming rate, he names it Dart and moves into his turtle’s aquarium. Upon showing his friends at school, Will reveals that it might be a creature from the Upside Down. In an attempt to kill it by Mike, Dart escapes. Then, in the process of looking for it, Will has another episode and is overcome by the monster in the sky.
Hopper makes a reappearance at the Byers household, and we discover through Will that what is actually killing the crops and plant life of Hawkins is a series of vines growing beneath the town. They’re all coming from the National Laboratory. Hopper attempts to investigate, but nearly winds up dead when he becomes trapped in, not vines, but a series of tunnels. Upon rescue by Joyce, Bob, Mike and Will, the lab staff shows up and starts to burn the tunnels. This results in Will having something akin to a seizure. Both Hopper and Will are taken back to the Laboratory for testing.
Unfortunately, things break down and the team must now flee the laboratory. Casualties ensue, the most notable being poor Bob. Heartbroken, Joyce sets to rid Will of the monster’s influence once and for all. Meanwhile, Hopper and Eleven go to close the gate once more while Steven and the kids set fire to the tunnels below Hawkins, putting an end to the Upside Down for good. At least, so everyone thinks.
Who You Gonna Call?
Stranger Things hit out of nowhere last year, much to the pleasure of most Netflix streamers. Original, eclectic, and oddly nostalgic, adults and kids alike loved and related to the story we got in Season One. Season Two captures most of the same sentiments we got in Season One, they’re just slower to develop. I liked that Hopper and Eleven were a sort of broken family, but we never really saw their relationship as anything other than awkward until the last two episodes of the season. It’s clear Hopper cares a great deal for El, but her opinions on Hopper are uncertain. Does she consider herself a daughter figure or a prisoner? And given El’s background, does she even know the difference?
Since we don’t really need to develop the relationship between Mike, Dustin, Lucas and Will anymore, our focus is less on them as a group and more on their own individual journeys. Coincidentally, Dustin spends a lot of time this season with Steve Harrington, the now ex-boyfriend of Nancy Wheeler. Steve becomes the unwitting protector of not only Dustin, but Lucas and Max as well. We still don’t learn much about Steve though, which makes him a pseudo-outsider despite having been here since the beginning.
There’s also the mystery of Kali, or 008. Kali was Eleven’s “sister” in the Hawkins National Laboratory. Much like Eleven, Kali has a special ability that the lab wished to harness. However, she was able to escape and create a life for herself with a street gang that now feels indebted to Kali for undisclosed reasons. We only get one episode with this group, and a brief moment in the season opener. Aside from that, we know nothing else of Kali, or if there are others like her out there.
What Comes Next?
While this season was slow, it still wasn’t bad. People will simply have to suspend their expectations somewhat, as Season Two is definitely different. We don’t really see the Upside Down at all, and, though Dustin’s new pet proves to be something similar to a demogorgon, we don’t have a real physical manifestation to fight against. The mystery of just what the monster in Will’s visions is also remains. The kids call it a Mindflayer out of (speaking of manuals) the D&D handbook, but that only scratches the surface of its abilities. The Mindflayer seems to have some sort of intelligence, and at the end of the season it isn’t dead, but merely trapped. So what does that mean?
Who knows! The future of Hawkins and its residents remains uncertain. Will seems to now be free of his connection to the Upside Down, save for perhaps the visions he gets from time to time. What does this mean for future seasons, though? Will there even be one? Where we can go from here is unclear. Yet what we do know is that the lab is now closed (supposedly), Hopper is now the legal guardian of Eleven, and the gate has been sealed.
While this season wasn’t as fun or intense as the first, it did a good job of steering the characters into new places. I’m excited to see love blossom between Lucas and Max, and for Eleven to finally have a home. I’m also really happy that Nancy and Jonathan are an item, though it makes me wonder what will become of Steve.
Mostly, like everyone else, I’m just wondering what comes next.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Stranger Things Season One and Two are currently available for streaming on Netflix.