The other night I put on the first episode of Stranger Things 2 before bed, thinking I’d watch a few and go to sleep. Big mistake! Obviously I stayed up all night binge watching Stranger Things, never got to sleep and had to nod intelligently in my meetings throughout the day without giving away the fact that if I blinked I would probably pass out instantly and wake up forty five minutes later. That said, watching Stranger Things 2 at night in one sitting is the way to go. Just do it on a weekend. Be prepared. I was not prepared.
I loved the first season of Stranger Things. I actually think I may like the second season even more. It didn’t fall into the common sequel trap of retreading the ground that was covered before, nor was it so much of a departure that it lost what made it good in the first place (I’m looking at you, Kingsman 2). They added just a few new characters, the two new kids who moved to Hawkins, Joyce’s new boyfriend Bob, and a new doctor at the secret government lab, all of whom did a great job and added a lot to the series and the cast.
The brief-spoiler free overview of the plot is this: Will is trying to get his normal life back, but he’s still really weird and he’s still seeing the upside-down. When he sees it, there’s always a black cloud chasing him, filling him with visions of impending doom. Meanwhile, a new guy has moved to the school who’s way more alpha than Steve and is replacing him, and meanwhile the younger kids develop a crush on the new guy’s younger sister because she beat their high score on Dig Dug.
The emotion of the show was spot on, for me. I felt deeply connected to each and every character. Their motivations, challenges and arcs resonated with me and, holy shit, someone get these kids some awards already. I’ll give you some of the highlights. Jonathan and Nancy’s evolving relationship, where the popular girl, Nancy, matures beyond her teenage shallowness and attachment to the high school status symbol of dating the prom king to allow herself to feel real connection (see also: Elizabeth Bennet finally picking Mr. Darcy), and distrusting, damaged Jonathan allowing himself to be vulnerable. The kids and their business, which includes a very cute, innocent, coming-of-age love triangle between the new girl (Max) and Dustin/Lucas, as well as Mike becoming kind of a jerk because he’s destroyed over losing Eleven.
The biggest standout of the whole show to me, though, by far, was Hopper. I think he is now my favorite character on any TV show ever. Not only is his arc about this daddy-daughter narrative, the silver bullet to my heart in terms of TV plots — I have a huge soft spot for this — where he’s too overprotective of her since his first child died, but he’s also consistently displaying this admirable level of healthy masculinity and heroics throughout the show. If someone asks me “What should a man act like?” I’m pretty much going to instantly think of Hopper.
Some brief examples: Eleven throws a temper tantrum like any kid would. The scope of it is terrifying, which you can see in Hopper’s eyes, but he doesn’t back down because he knows she needs discipline. When he goes back, he deeply wants to apologize and repair their relationship but instead doubles down, sacrificing his own wants, as a father should, with discipline saying “Clean this place up before I get back and maybe I’ll think about giving you the TV back”. He’s a good friend to Winona Ryder’s character without trying to get in the way of her relationship with Bob and peel her off. Throughout the show he puts responsibility and honor above himself, all while being a gruff guy who accepts who he is. I really like this character. He’s the father and good example of masculinity many single-parent households are missing. They should teach him to kids in school.
The show is just the right amount of scary. It definitely has moments of incredible tension, like when Dustin is raising what we, as an audience, know is a terrifying fucking monster from the upside-down, but what Dustin thinks is a cute and innocent discovery.
The only thing about the show that threw me, and I understand why they put it in there, is the episode where Eleven goes to Chicago to hang out with some SLC Punk style gangsters led by another experimental, psychically gifted teen. It makes a lot of sense for the development of Elle’s character, but it’s a huge departure in pacing and style from the rest of the show. It feels like an episode of the X-Men or something — I hope it’s not a setup for Season 3 going into this vibe.
I feel like I have to say this, although it’s not directly related to the show. Given all that’s going on with Corey Feldman and Kevin Spacey and the fallout of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, which is very clearly the tip of a very fucked up iceberg, if I find out something happened to the kids on this show I’m going to be so beyond livid, hopping mad I might even develop my own psychic powers.
Overall, Stranger Things 2 is incredible. If you liked the first season, you’re going to dig Season 2. Just be aware that episode… I think it’s 7, is kind of a slog.