Created by The Duffer Brothers. Starring Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Noah Schnapp, Gaten Matarazzo, Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalia Dyer, Joe Keery, Sean Astin, Sadie Sink, Dacre Montgomery.
This review contains spoilers from Season One of Stranger Things.
I’m probably late in posting this review, as it would appear from the noise in every corner of the internet that most of the developed world has already watched Stranger Things 2. With Netflix’s previous flagship production, House of Cards, recently “suspended” under the most ignominious of circumstances, it could hardly have come at a better time for the streaming service.
This second season cements Stranger Things’ status as one of the best series in production. That comparison may be somewhat unfair given the fact that, thus far, it comprises just 17 episodes; whether its excellence can persist for as long as that of, say, Game of Thrones will be a welcome test of its longevity, and may ultimately dictate its position in television’s history (in any case, its creators have stated that it is unlikely to progress past a fourth season).
Stranger Things 2 begins almost a year after the disappearance of Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) at the beginning of the first season. Having returned from the “Upside-Down”, the alternate dimension in which he spent the bulk of last season, Will’s life is still far from normal. Post-traumatic stress and his overbearingly protective mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) take a visible toll on him, and his otherworldly nightmares foreshadow the re-emergence of the supernatural in his life.
Elsewhere, however, life is largely progressing as normal. Among the obligatory influx of new characters is Max (Sadie Sink), a new student at school who attracts the romantic interest of both Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), but whose presence in the group displeases Mike (Finn Wolfhard). Also new to the show is Bob (Sean Astin, whom Lord of the Rings fans will recognise as Samwise Gamgee), a solid, reliable sort who has begun seeing Joyce. As was the case in the first season, although to a lesser extent here, the real start is slow to come.
Having captured worldwide attention last year, Millie Bobby Brown’s portrayal of Eleven is once again a haunting spectacle. Although she has a more extensive vocabulary this time around, Eleven is still far from garrulous; Brown must often rely on facial expression to act her part. This she does with flawless judgment. The fact that the actress has only recently turned thirteen is almost hard to believe. The other of this season’s standout acting performances is that of Gaten Matarazzo, who is unerringly charming in his provision of comic relief. His prominence this season comes at the expense of Mike, whose position as the main protagonist has been shared roughly equally among the (now expanded) group.
Plausibility is not a concept that this show places a great degree of importance in. The pubescent leads are impossibly composed for their years, and the timing of many key events is highly improbable. However, in a world where children have telekinetic superpowers and bloodthirsty monsters emerge from rips in the fabric of our dimension, does it really matter? Believability is not the selling point; as a matter of fact, it is quite the opposite. Stranger Things’ greatest attraction is its setting, an offbeat universe that resembles our own, but is profoundly, magnetically different. Rather than scoff at its outlandishness, we must praise its fearlessness.
This story arc travels to darker places than last season’s, and we are shown some very effective use of the horror genre; the show is truly frightening in places. As was the case last season, the soundtrack and the visual effects especially do an outstanding job of creating an atmosphere of menace and terror.
If you haven’t watched it yet, do. And try to overcome the temptation to do so all in one sitting.