Caution: This article contains spoilers about Stranger Things Season 2
The second season of Stranger Things had a huge task ahead of it.
It came from the first season of a show that was a sleeper hit with not much promo other than word-of-mouth.
It was a season that propelled ‘80s star Winona Ryder back to the top and turned its young leading actors into worldwide superstars.
So, for a show that wasn’t meant to be, for all intents and purposes, arguably one of the biggest television shows of the decade — how do you master a Season 2?
When it’s all said and done, the second season really lives up to the hype.
Clocking in at an easily-binge-able nine episodes, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and company keep us entertained and on the tip of our toes for each second.
While many wanted Justice for Barb (she does, in fact, get justice this season), the main question coming into the season was the fate of Eleven.
Turns out, Eleven escaped the Upside Down early after she defeated the demogorgon, and was on the run for a minute before Hopper (David Harbour) finds her. He takes her in, hoping to rid Hawkins of the Upside Down and get a deal with the government/Hawkins Lab for her to live life as a normal preteen. This was a huge move as far as storytelling, and the pair of Harbour and Brown was absolutely electric on-screen, with both providing emotional performances of this emerging father/daughter relationship. Out of all of the amazing performances this season, Brown and Harbour are absolutely the favorites for Season 2 Emmy consideration. Plus, Brown’s “Ghost, Halloween” line, combined with Harbour's reaction was one of the most hilarious things I’ve seen on TV this year.
Winona Ryder was back and better than ever as leading woman Joyce Byers, and who I’m considering to be the MVP of the season was Noah Schnapp as her son, Will. Since Will’s disappearance was the central story of the first season (and the driving force of the show as a whole), Schnapp didn’t have a huge role to begin with and wasn’t even a main cast member. He was promoted to series regular the season, and his impact was fully felt. Will, brought down by a “virus” from the Upside Down, gives a tour de force performance as a double agent as his family and friends try to pull the evil being out of his body. Finn Wolfhard as Mike is also amazing as usual as he grieves and yearns for Eleven while being disturbed by what’s happening to Will.
As the resident black person (and person of color, for that matter) on the main cast, Caleb McLaughlin held it down for another year as Lucas Sinclair, and also once again proved that he is the smartest character on this show. The show tackled race in subtle (which I’ll explain later) and not-so-subtle ways with Lucas this season. The biggest part was when the gang dressed up as Ghostbusters for Halloween and Mike couldn’t come up for a reason why Lucas should have been Winston (Ernie Hudson’s character, who really wasn’t even a major character) and not him, other than the fact that he was black. The Duffers didn’t let this serve as a backdrop in that scene, but Lucas furiously stood his ground and pointed out that unconscious attitude that his friend held, something that is timely and important in today’s current political climate. While you might not have realized all of this during that scene, it’s super important.
This season also included what I believe to be a purposeful (let’s be real, we know this was an ‘80s homage but Season 1 could have had more color) addition of more PoC in the show. Turns out, there are more black folks in Hawkins than the Sinclairs. But now, we finally see the Sinclairs on camera, including Lucas’ mother, father and sassy little sister, who easily has standout one-liners throughout the season.
It's a beautiful Monday to get roasted by Erica. Tap the GIF to get yours. pic.twitter.com/nXSBLUgW5x
— Stranger Things (@Stranger_Things) October 30, 2017
In my opinion, there was also more dialogue for Mudbound star Rob Morgan’s Officer Powell, who I felt made his presence more prevalent in this season than last. Then we can’t forget about the black family on the farm that the Upside Down started seeping through. They were hilarious scene-stealers, especially that little kid who bartered with Hopper for candy. I would love to see more of the loving grandmother who talked to Eleven on her ride back to Hawkins. Of course, it’s problematic to have only one main character of the show as a PoC, but I’m pointing this out to show how great it would be even if we had some of these roles expanded.
Back to the main story of the show — although I was incredibly angry at the fact that Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) makes incredibly stupid decisions throughout the first part of the season, we find out love and acceptance is the true reason why he kept taking care of Dart. And plus, if he hadn’t, the “demadog" might actually have eaten them when they crossed paths in the tunnel.
Now, to Kali (Linnea Berthelsen), a top-secret story for the season. When Berthelsen was casted A “sister” for Eleven being introduced may not have been the first thing we’d have thought of, but it’s not at all far-fetched. Although the decision to have “Eight” and her gang open up the season might have been a little anti-climatic, in retrospect at the conclusion of the season, it’s respectable. Also, we see the multi-dimensional qualities of the character. She’s bad, but she’s hurt. Yes, she was playing Eleven, but she was most definitely looking out for her as well. I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ve seen of her, and possibly more of their sisters and brothers will come out in future seasons. The Duffer Brothers have defended the Kali/Eleven-centric episode 7 what some critics have dubbed a filler episode. But Kali’s advice and guidance came back to Eleven when she closed the portal at the end, so I wouldn’t come close to calling that episode a filler. I think we should see more of Kali and more diverse brothers and sisters for them. Maybe that could have been a requirement for the Hawkins Lab kids?
Most things this season worked, but one thing I wasn’t convinced of was the inclusion of the new Hawkins kids, Max (Sadie Sink) and her brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery). I have no qualms with the addition of a new kid in the mix and a love interest for Lucas in Sink’s Max, but Montgomery’s Billy is one of the most dispensable characters on a television series in a long time. If you’re like me, you wanted him to be thrown to the demadogs shortly after his first appearance in the season. While many critics have wondered if Montgomery returns in the third season could the character be revived, retooled and redeemed as Steve (Joe Keery) was, but Billy in my eyes is an irredeemable character. With that being said, Montgomery himself gave an outstanding performance in this hate-to-hate role, and the Duffer Brothers should be given kudos for not being afraid to go ‘there’ in the underlying racism behind Billy not wanting Max to talk to Lucas.
Speaking of Steve, we have to appreciate his season-to-season growth, because at one point he may have been the disposable one, but they have absolutely completed the transformation of turning him into one of the show’s most-loved characters. Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Charlie Heaton (Jonathan) finally “did it.” Sans emotive performances from them separately — Nancy coping with Barb’s death and exposing the lab and Jonathan helping Will come to grips with being “zombie boy” — their storyline tracking down the journalist served mostly as comic relief.
Though we liked Bob, there wasn’t much there as far as losing him as a character (despite how gruesome his death was). Thinking ahead to Season 3, could we see a main character go down for good? In a recent interview the Duffers made it a point to say that the show wasn’t for kids, so they weren’t going to avoid deaths like this because of subject matter. There’s also much room to think about as the kids grow, how the storylines will look. At the end of this season, the show went head-first into love stories and nearly all of the actors will be high-school-age when the show returns. The Duffers imagine the cast aging like Harry Potter with the show evolving with the actors as it goes on.
Whatever wild things they have up their sleeves for Season 3, the Stranger Things train shows no sign of stopping anytime soon and we will absolutely be waiting.
Season 3 has been pretty much confirmed, but with its stars booked and busy, we may not see Hawkins again until 2019.
Trey Mangum is the lead editor of Shadow & Act. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org & follow him on Twitter @TreyMangum.