Netflix’s original series Stranger Things was one of the biggest surprise hits of 2016 so it’s not an exaggeration to say the show’s second season has been one of the most anticipated TV events of 2017.
The second season of a hit TV show is always a gamble: will it be as good as the previous one or will it suffer the dreaded sophomore slump? If you were concerned that Stranger Things 2 would not live up to its reputation, have no fear; at four episodes in, it’s outstanding. After all, there are bigger evils in the world of Hawkins, Indiana to worry about.
Stranger Things 2 maintains the tone of the first season and even keeps some of the same beats. That said, it’s not a rehash of everything that came before. New storylines and new characters are introduced, giving greater depth and perspective to the terrifying events that happened last year in Hawkins. It’s a season that is full of dread and worry—not to mention actual scares—and this feeling is consistent throughout the first four episodes.
It is not all doom and gloom, however. There are a lot of genuinely funny comic moments, not to mention pre-teen swearing, excellent music choices (Tones on Tail!), and one beautifully placed Siouxsie and the Banshees reference. The production design continues to be impeccable; there are few TV shows and movies that have fully grasped 1980s realism like Stranger Things.
Like Season 1, we aren’t always sure who we can trust, and that extends to some of the show’s most beloved characters. Hanging over everyone’s heads is the secret that they were sworn to keep at the end of last year. No one outside of the core circle of characters is supposed to find out what truly happened to Will Byers… or Barb Holland, for that matter.
This means that tensions run high among everyone who knows the truth. They must carry on with their lives as if everything is OK, when it’s often anything but that.
Winona Ryder continues to do some of the best work of her career as Joyce Byers. You see both her anguish and resolve in every facial expression. Even though she has her son back, she still worries about him constantly, and with good reason, because he’s not quite the same kid he was before he vanished. Joyce also has a new boyfriend named Bob (delightfully portrayed by Sean Astin), but the struggle of keeping from him what happened to Will is obvious.
Will was a main character in season one but because he was stuck in the upside down, the audience didn’t get to know him as well as the other characters. This season shows that Noah Schapp is a gifted actor. His trauma and confusion about what’s happening to him are obvious and convincing. We feel his pain with every nightmare and bout of tears. He feels like a freak, which is pretty common for middle school students, but there’s an added layer of stigma and it’s heartbreaking to witness.
His circle of friends have their own problems, most notably Mike (Finn Wolfhard) who misses his friend Eleven and wonders what exactly happened to her after she defeated the Demogorgon. This makes him hesitant to accept a new girl into their circle, Maxine, a.k.a. “MadMax” (Sadie Sink). a red-haired tomboy with a skateboard and amazing skills at beating Dustin’s top score at Dig Dug.
Max has an older brother named Billy who looks like the classic mid-1980s hesher, right down to the wimpy moustache, muscle car, and mullet. Why did they have to move from California and why is Billy so angry? Is it wrapped up in the larger horrors of Hawkins’ main mystery?
Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) is still dating Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) but she’s haunted by the loss of her friend Barb and the feeling that it’s all her fault. Like Noah Schapp, Dyer does a wonderful job of playing a teenager grappling with a situation that would wreak havoc on the life of the most mature and grounded adult.
Hopper is also not doing a good job of dealing with the burden of what he’s been through. He’s hiding from the truth on several levels and it’s obviously eating him away from the inside out.
So much of Stranger Things, especially the second season, feels like a supernatural metaphor for an all-too-common real-life problem: abuse. It’s not just Will who is suffering from PTSD, it’s everyone. As Jonathan tells Nancy, “there’s a weight I’m carrying around all the time.” This statement could be applied to everyone on the show.
All of these characters have suffered abuse and by not being allowed to speak the truth, they continue to suffer. Hiding this truth only makes it worse. It spreads like the rot that has destroyed the pumpkin fields of Hawkins, tainting everything it touches. It’s said that light is the best disinfectant, but it might be a while before that particular kind of light reaches the world of Stranger Things.
All nine episodes of Stranger Things 2 will be available on Netflix on Friday, October 27.
In the meantime, be sure to follow Stranger Things on Netflix as well as social media.