Unless you’ve been living under a pop culture rock, you’re well aware that Stranger Things 2 landed on Netflix this past weekend. Fans rushed to consume the nine-chapter series, eager to spend more quality time in Hawkins and the Upside Down all at the expense of venturing outside or online for fear of having the fun ruined.
Overall, the second installment has been well received despite some enormous pressure and expectations that could have easily sunk a weaker cast and production. Still, as with any kind of media, there were some parts that stood out and some that may have missed the mark.
Fortunately, Stranger Things 2 had far more hits than misses.
Warning: All kinds of Stranger Things 2 spoilers below! Read on only after you’ve wrapped up the ninth episode.
On a personal note, my Stranger Things 2 viewing experience belongs in the “best” category. I rarely binge shows (OK, I never binge shows), but this was an exception. I adored the first installment. So much so that I was pretty fearful heading into Stranger Things 2 both about its content and with speeding through the story in a single night instead of slowly soaking it all in.
Fears aside, a group of friends and I tore through all of the episodes in one night, only stopping for pizza and some awesome themed cupcakes that I wish I could take credit for.
On to the best and worst!
Best: It still feels like Stranger Things
The original Stranger Things was, in my opinion, pretty close to perfect. Trying to duplicate that success while also trying to make things bigger and better is often a losing battle. It would have been easy for Stranger Things 2 to lose the charm which made the original so fun.
That wasn’t the case.
Stranger Things 2 wrote a script tailored to its outstanding cast, adding on to the fun from the original.
Consider one of my favorite scenes:
Stranger Things is at its best when it sits back and lets its main characters interact about trivial situations.
Worst: No new information on Hopper
Hopper’s background, and the fact there’s a much more interesting past lurking behind him, continues to be a mystery. A bit more was teased through some boxes in his crawlspace, but the overall idea that Hopper has a colorful background remained untouched.
It may have been asking a bit too much to try and squeeze more into what was already a busy story, but something a bit more tangible on Hopper’s past would have been a lot of fun.
Why couldn’t El open one of those other boxes too?
Best: The Dustin and Steve Bromance
The Dustin and Steve bromance was so good that it almost deserves to be on this list twice. Steve already had arguably the best character arc in the original, but here he takes things a step further and develops into both an outstanding babysitter and friend. The Dustin and Steve combo is almost too perfect.
Steve giving Dustin advice on girls was awesome, but watching him drop off Dustin at the Snow Ball was gold.
Remember — when your hair is damp (not wet!), use four pumps of the Farrah Fawcett spray.
Worst: No Major Hints for the Future
When Stranger Things debuted, I praised the ending for striking a perfect balance between the stories it neatly tied up and the ones it intentionally left open for interpretation. The ending was satisfying and it left the fans with plenty to discuss.
In the case of season two, there was a different approach. I’m not sure I’d call that bad, but leaving relatively little to speculate over is kind of a bummer. Sure, there was the dead demodog in Joyce’s fridge and the fact both Hopper and Dustin were sprayed by something in the tunnels, but neither carry that much excitement or mystery. The Dustin/Hopper angle particularly seems uninteresting since season two just explored this idea through Will.
The Duffer Brothers said they didn’t want to box themselves in by teasing something and then having to follow it, but one would hope they have a clear direction for the rest of the story to at least tease something more.
Best: The New Cast
Adding new faces into a crowded cast is a gamble. That gamble paid off as Sean Astin (Bob) stole many of the scenes that he was in and was at the center of some of the show’s most emotional scenes. Bob may have broken a cardinal rule in horror (never stop running until you’re totally out of danger), but he can be forgiven for his incredible problem solving and laid back personality.
RIP Bob Newby, superhero.
Billy serves as the human villain the show needed after Steve became a lovable favorite, while Max is a good addition to the party. It’ll be nice to see how the show will evolve with two girls now within the main group.
Then there’s Murray Bauman. I wasn’t sold on him at first. Then he delivered the best line of the series.
Overall, the new characters didn’t take away from the main cast, accomplishing the most important goal. In most cases, they added and enhanced the spectacular cast from season one and drove the original characters to new areas.
Maybe Mrs. Wheeler will finally get some attention too!
Worst: Chapter 7
The production tried something different with the series’ seventh episode, branching off from the main story to tell a one-off about Eleven discovering herself out in the real world. It’s commendable that they tried something different, but this was likely the biggest miss of the series.
Eleven interacting with Eight, the only person we’ve seen who can remotely understand what she’s been through, should have been a monumental episode. It should have shown character development while also making fans question the current bounds of the show, both geographically and in regards to the story, that Stranger Things 3 and beyond could tackle in the future.
Instead, fans were given roughly 45 minutes of a group most have no desire to see again. At 45 minutes, this episode should have flown by. The opposite proved to be true. The time Eleven spent with a group of one-dimensional, outcast, X-Men wannabes fell completely flat. Eight’s influence on Eleven felt like Xavier teaching Magneto, but even more cheesy.
Maybe this episode could have worked if they spent half of the time on Eleven and the other half back in Hawkins with something a bit more familiar. There’s nothing wrong with the production taking a chance on something different, but now that we’ve seen what that something different looks like, here’s to hoping they don’t try it again.
Best: Will (Noah Schnapp)
Will was previously sidelined in the Upside Down, so it was difficult to gauge with any degree of accuracy what kind of acting Noah Schnapp could bring to the table. As it turns out, Schnapp is immensely talented and believes a complete sense of realness to this challenging role.
Possession stories can feel a bit overdone and overplayed, but Will’s possession fell more into a subtle, unique category. Credit to Schnapp for not going over the top and keeping his character mostly grounded and believable in extreme situations.
Worst: A Bridge Season?
To be clear, I thought Stranger Things 2 was just as good — if not better — than Stranger Things. However, when you step back and look at the new season as a whole, it’s easy to see that in several areas it was simply setting up plots for future seasons.
For instance, there was no direct confrontation with the Mind Flayer (giant smoke monster). It was cast out of Will and the gate was closed by Eleven, but the monster itself is still lurking in the Upside Down and was never directly addressed. The decision to resolve things by closing a door makes sense in the context that not every monster needs to be tidily defeated at the end of a season, but it does feel a bit less satisfying compared to the first season.
Season two sort of feels like it was setting up the bigger concluding fight with the Mind Flayer in season three. We’ll have to wait and see if that proves to be the case.
Best: Shifting the Focus to other Characters
Some fans have said they were disappointed that Mike’s role was a bit smaller compared to the original as more time was given to Dustin and Lucas. Personally, I think that was the right call. Mike’s character was thoroughly examined in the first season, leaving the other members of the party (specifically Dustin and Lucas) with fairly little exposition. Without Eleven, Mike is basically a one-note character. The cast and crew even had a running joke, referring to Mike without Eleven as Emo Mike. Fitting nickname.
Stranger Things 2 answers many of the questions about the other members of the party that fans had in season one. What’s Dustin’s family like? What about Lucas? Seeing a bit further into these characters and what makes them tick helps create a richer, fuller environment for the story.
Besides, who doesn’t love Dustin’s interactions with his mom or Lucas’ sister Erica?
Best: The Snow Ball
Fans joked that they hoped Stranger Things 2 should just be nine episodes of Mike and Eleven dancing at the Snow Ball. Those fans had to settle for just an ending at the Snow Ball, but considering how well it delivered, I doubt anyone objected. I mean, how great was Dustin’s hair?!
Mike and Eleven finally danced. A new relationship sparked through Lucas and Max. Will is a freak, but that might be appealing to some girls. Dustin was rejected — twice — before Nancy’s character arc finally had some redemption with a special dance.
Though the season had some miscues, the Snow Ball was a perfect hit that made the wait for Stranger Things 3 feel unbearable.