Stranger Things set the bar high for itself with an excellent season one that crashed through records and cleaned up at the Emmy’s. It’s part of what showed us that yeah, Netflix can really deliver, and not just in dramas. They can do spooky-scary too – but not so scary that us wimps couldn’t sleep at night after binging the whole thing in a day.
Season 2 promised getting to know the characters we’d all grown to love even better, more stomach-clenching time spent in the Upside Town, and probably a bunch more Emmy’s while they’re at it. So when the whole world sat down to binge the second season, learning nothing from the year before, the creators – and Netflix – must have watched with baited breath. Would their hit show turn out to be a one-hit wonder?
At first, it started off slow. The plot was stale, as we were handed a slice of life story and a whole lot of flashbacks that seemed very “Here’s what you missed in the last year!” After the first episode of season 1 kicked things off with a bang, the random Pittsburgh and subsequent “everything is chill but Will Byers is a little bit unchill” made the second season’s first episode feel anticlimactic. It was great that Hopper had become Eleven’s adoptive dad, but I wanted drama. They were sowing seeds all along, of course; Will became less chill, for example, as he kept having these creepy flashes into the Upside Down. But for a little while there, it seemed like the Big Bad was going to just be my own personal boredom.
Of course, it was a psych-out, because all of a sudden, holy shit, there was this huge monster and it was in Will, and Hopper was being slowly suffocated to death underground by slimey worms or whatever, and then Dustin had a few very relatable moments.
Even though it picked up, it still struggled with pacing. One minute things were racing along with the whole monster thing, and then the next minute it was this slow-build mystery where everything just gets slowly more and more concerning. The new side plot with Max and her creepy older not-brother Billy who we were all super attracted to until he beat the crap out of our new favorite father figure, Steve Harrington, left something to be desired. Max was basically there to balance out the series gender-wise, and her brother gave her character some intrigue – but the fact that nothing was revealed about them until over halfway through the season meant that it was just frustrating rather than, well, intriguing. And as for how that storyline turned out, I truly expected Billy to make some sort of turn-around – but instead it was basically revealed that he was even more awful than he had seemed.
In contrast, the shocker of the season goes to Steve Harrington for turning out to be a total babe. Nancy who? All of the Internet is pining for him now, which is certainly a change from season 1. He used to be kind of annoying, and even though I was personally torn about wanting Nancy to end up with Jonathan (because I have a firm ‘no creeper photos from the bushes while a girl is undressing’ stance), I was pissed they weren’t together. She obviously wasn’t into Steve, and I was kind of wishing that Steve could just die off…
As before, the show remains very character-driven. The plot this season was slower than before, but what sticks isn’t the monsters or writing or scares. In fact, plot-wise, season 2 was weaker than the first. We didn’t really have those bone-chilling moments from season 1, like Joyce communicating with Will through the Christmas lights, for example. Eleven’s rise in the last episode, closing the gate forever, was pretty badass, but that was the closest we got.
If you came for the plot in season 1 and stayed for the characters, then you’re probably a happy camper with how season 2 turned out. But season 2 gave us a glimpse into how difficult it can be for shows like that to get sequels, and that maybe – just maybe – some things were meant to be one-hit wonders. I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy season 2, and more time with all of my new adopted children is always welcome, but I have to wonder how they’re going to keep momentum going in season 3. And, for that matter, how they’re going to solve some crucial problems that they had in the first two seasons.
While this season made strides toward introducing more young female characters, they were small. Max and El not liking each other was frustrating, for one, basically fighting over a boy, or a place in the party, or…whatever. It’s a long-abused trope that we need to lay to rest once and for all, because you know, women can be friends with each other without getting jealous, and a genuine female friendship isn’t really something that we’ve seen on this show. Unless you count Nancy and Barb. Which I don’t.
And while we’re talking about representation, the show is still supremely white. The fact that there is one person of color in the main cast is a little sad, and there are no women of color (unless you count Lucas’s mom?). Fortunately, Lucas did get better treatment in this season, and he got a girl, but still.
No matter its faults, fans are still here for it. There are memes and videos and we all have to defend the actors from creeps because this is 2017 and everything’s on fire. And either way, next year, we’ll all be sitting around ready for whatever season 3 has to bring us.