Stranger Things, Season 2

8 Overall Score
Performances: 9/10
Production: 8/10
Writing: 7/10

More of the formula that made Season 1 a hit.

Too many subplots, and too predictable.

 

Stranger Things
Season 2
Creators: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer
Stars: Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Winona Ryder
Netflix 2017

Stranger Things, Season 2, bravely faced the sequel challenge: Do the same thing again, but better. It won an imperfect victory.

The first problem Stranger Things must wrestle with is that it is a very small universe. The kids live in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana; their range is bicycle range. The Hawkins National Laboratory is in Hawkins. The gate to the Upside Down is in that lab. So Season 2 has little choice for a plot besides, “There’s a monster coming out of the Upside Down to menace the kids in Hawkins”.

But that was the plot of Season 1. What can a team of writers do to avoid just repeating the earlier season? Make it a different monster. Make it a bigger monster. Make it more monsters. This is predictable, but Stranger Things does it with very entertaining energy and élan. The show has got charisma.

Paul Reiser is particularly well cast as Dr. Owens, the new head of the Hawkins Lab, brought in to sweep up the mess. Having already had their sociopath PhD. In Matthew Modine’s Dr. Martin Brenner, Dr. Owens is more like your family doctor who doesn’t realize that he’s in over his head with this interdimensional peril stuff.

Season 2 fails in its subplots, however. Eleven spends a good deal of time investigating her origins. Yes, she meets some people she hadn’t met before, but these meetings do little to change the course of the plot, and she learns nothing that the audience hadn’t surmised by the end of season 1. Traditionally, mysteries have payoffs.

And spoiler alert, the tediously charming romance subplot between Nancy Wheeler and Jonathan Byers winds up with the two teens becoming a couple. One of the things that was most interesting about season 1 is that it did not have the princess wind up with the working-class weirdo, and even painted the beautiful rich boy, Steve Harrington, sympathetically. It would have been very easy, and very 1980s, to make Steve a lout and the obvious bad choice. But then Stranger Things gives all that up, and retreats into the safety of the oddball underdog winning the love of the rich beauty.

These are minor criticisms, though. Season 2’s major, grating blunder is Max, a red-headed Mary Sue who is a new student at Hawkins Middle. Why, why, why do we keep telling little boys this dysfunctional fable of emotional abuse? Boys, when you meet a girl who is openly rude and condescending to you 100% of the time, that is the girl who should enchant your heart! The more she interrupts and rolls her eyes, the truer your love will be! When you ask her to dance, and she blasts you with contempt as she agrees to dance, you will know that she has been sent by Heaven!

Season 2 blazes forward with this nauseating stereotype by making Max into Wonder Woman. She swings a bat better than the boys. She isn’t just good at the video game Dig Dug, she’s not just the best…she is better than anyone had imagined possible! She’s practiced driving in a parking lot once or twice, so of course she can handle a hot rod like she’s Knight Rider.

And she drags along a subplot about her bad home life and her older stepbrother Billy, who is in need of a thorough and therapeutic beating. This subplot goes nowhere in Season 2, although a lot of resources are devoted to it, including the talents of the Australian actor Dacre Montgomery. Hopefully it will acquire some meaning in Season 3.

Stranger Things, Season 2, keeps to the major theme of the series; love. Love among friends and family is the most important thing. One should always rush to rescue one’s tribemate, no matter what danger that might put any number of others in, or even the world. Never mind equipment, never mind training; platoons of soldiers and scientists will die in droves, but a handful of teenagers and one very worried looking mom will save the day with maps in Crayola and Dungeons & Dragons metaphors.

Isn’t that lovely to believe?

 

 

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Brian Downes
Author: Brian Downes View all posts by
Brian Downes is a writer who lives in Orlando, Florida. His novel, The Berlin Fraternity, about a man who hunts vampires for the Third Reich, is available on the Kindle and through Amazon.com. He enjoys pen and paper roleplaying games and geek culture. He clearly remembers waiting for The Empire Strikes Back to hit theaters, and vindicate his opinion that of course Vader was not Luke's father. You can't trust Vader's word!

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