“Stranger Things” season two premiere crawls its way out of the upside down — quite literally
In an effort to savor this satisfying thriller and to avoid spoilers for the entirety of the season, only the first episode of the series will be discussed in this review.
Last year, the Duffer brothers released the Netflix original series that rocked the nation. The first season of “Stranger Things” captivated audiences everywhere with its high-quality suspense and nostalgic, though surprisingly original, premise. Just in time for Halloween, Netflix has finally released the much-anticipated second season of the critically acclaimed series. And if you were looking for some early-Halloween creeps and chills, look no farther than “Stranger Things” series two.
The season finale of “Stranger Things” left audiences with many unanswered questions. Is the Hawkins Institute still operating? Is Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) alive after destroying the Demogorgon? #JusticeforBarb? Unlike many shows of this nature, “Stranger Things” takes swift action in addressing last season’s unanswered questions, responding to the major cliffhangers in the first episode alone. In doing so, we see an upward trend moving with the show — they’re not sticking with what worked before, but instead choosing to expand their horizons by first clearing the table of the old and making room for the new. Not only are our most haunted questions being answered, but we’re also seeing life post-Upside Down for the residents of Hawkins involved in last season’s encounter.
Perhaps the most striking performance of the second season comes from Noah Schnapp (“Bridge of Spies”), who portrays the previously absent Will. Trapped in the Upside Down for the majority of the first season as his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder, “Beetlejuice”) desperately attempted to retrieve him, Will is now rescued and working to readjust to the new normal. Throughout the episode, we see him struggling to overcome the pull of the Upside Down, often falling back into the dimension on a whim’s notice, where he sees danger lurking at every corner and a beast which is only inching closer to Hawkins.
However, he’s not the only one struggling here, as Joyce, too, battles to let Will out of her sight. Though she wants the best for Will, it’s obvious that their time apart, however brief, only serves to deepen her paranoia that he’ll be swept away once more. These aspects add an extra dimension to the series, as we are able to see not only the physical, but also the emotional toll that the Upside Down as taken on Will and those closely connected to him.
Meanwhile, Barb (Shannon Purser, “Wish Upon”), the loveable dork who has somehow managed to glaze her way into an entire internet following after just a few short episodes makes a return — unfortunately, it’s a return from beyond the grave. Last we saw of our favorite shy friend, she was eaten by the terrifying Demogorgon. All of this happened while Nancy (Natalia Dyer, “I Believe in Unicorns”) was getting hot and nasty with our least-favorite douchey hunk Steve (Joe Keery, “The Charnel House”). As a result, Nancy feels extreme guilt over the death of her friend, made even more visible when Steve and Nancy join Barb’s parents for a weekly dinner that only escalates in emotional tension when her parents inform them of their recent developments in the search for Barb, who they believe has simply vanished.
And in speaking of emotion, one of the smallest scenes in the episode speaks the biggest volume. The return of Eleven, or “Ele” (Millie Bobby Brown, “NCIS”), though admittedly expected, included a splash of the unexpected. Chief Hopper (David Harbour, “Suicide Squad”), who lost his daughter in an accident which the series only briefly touches on, takes in Ele as she fights to remain hidden from the insidious Hawkins group. On opposite ends of the table, the two unwrap tin-foiled meals is an oddly emotional scene. A man without his daughter and a daughter lacking a responsible and loving parental figure, these two seem to have found a slice of peace in the madness that is occurring all around them, vaguely resembling a sense of normalcy.
Overall, “Stranger Things” continues to excel as a nostalgic thriller series, growing where needed, but never exceeding its own capabilities. It’s a series that’s not only very good at what it does, but also very self-aware of just how easy it would be to fall into the status quo of throwback series. However, it’s never fallen short in drawing viewers deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. Our hearts break twice when considering that Barb’s parents are continuing to search for a dead girl and once more when Nancy excuses herself to cry silently in the bathroom over her fallen friend, stuck to rot forever in an alternate dimension while life continues on without her. We feel childish joy as Will is able to rejoin his friends in the arcade and when they consequently chase after the new mystery girl, Max (Sadie Sink, “The Glass Castle”), who has managed to beat all of their high scores in Dig Dug and fellow '80s classics. But until we find Eleven eating Eggos and fighting demons from other dimensions with the gang again, we’ll have to settle for wondering why Nancy is still dating Steve.
All episodes of “Stranger Things” series two are currently streaming exclusively on Netflix.