“Stranger Things 2” Review (SPOILER ALERT)

Happy Halloween, everyone! Netflix has finally released the hotly anticipated second season to one of the most popular TV shows in recent memory, “Stranger Things 2.” It’s been almost a year and a half since The Duffer Brothers gave us the first season, but I actually got around to watching it about a week ago in preparation for the release of the sequel. Now, I’ve watched all nine episodes of “Stranger Things 2” . . . twice . . . and I’m going to give my full review of the entire season. If you didn’t gather from the headline, beware that I’m going to be going into SPOILERS with each episode so if you haven’t watched the show yet, watch it as soon as possible, and then come back to read my review. I have a lot to say about this one!

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Thoughts on “Stranger Things” Season 1:

Before I get to “Stranger Things 2,” I feel like I should first quickly give my thoughts on the first season. Like everybody else, I loved it! As someone who is a huge fan of stories centering around a group of kids in an 80’s setting like “Stand By Me,” “E.T.,” “The Goonies,” and recent films like “Super 8” and “IT,” this felt right up my alley. I instantly fell in love with the characters and was invested in each and every storyline that was going through the season. The Duffer Brothers did an incredible job at bringing in a perfect balance of sci-fi and horror while flooding it with 80’s nostalgia that didn’t overpower the depth of the narrative. The chemistry between all the kids was wonderful, the humor was always well placed, the score by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein adds so much to the 80’s feel, and the style was so beautifully cinematic. It’s an outstanding debut that left me beyond excited to see what would come next for the people of Hawkins and what new terror from the Upside Down would arise.

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Chapter One: MADMAX

As the town preps for Halloween, a high-scoring rival shakes things up at the arcade, and a skeptical Hopper inspects a field of rotting pumpkins.

While I did really like the opening with Eight and it was intriguing to see the show take it’s first steps in worldbuilding outside of Hawkins, “Stranger Things 2” really started to hook me once we got back into that small town. Seeing Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will get together again, it instantly brought a sense of warmth. The introduction of Max, played by Sadie Sink, is a welcome one as she fit right in with the rest of the characters. It was also great to see the seeds start to be planted for the looming threat of the Shadow Monster that Will sees in the Upside Down. And lastly, of course I got incredibly excited with the reveal at the end of the episode that Jim Hopper has been taking care of Eleven, leading into one of my favorite aspects of this season.

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Chapter Two: Trick or Treat, Freak

After Will sees something terrible on trick-or-treat night, Mike wonders whether Eleven’s still out there. Nancy wrestles with the truth about Barb.

I love the continuing development of the father/daughter bond between Hopper and Eleven so much. David Harbour and Millie Bobby Brown work off each other so well, building upon the depth that was already established with both characters. In addition to that, I was happy to see that the death of Barb still leaves an impact on Nancy. It added another interesting layer to her character arc for this season beyond the love triangle between her, Steve, and Jonathan, which in itself was even more investing this time around as it was last season. As for the cliffhanger, it was a great, hilarious note to end the episode on, making me so excited to see what’s next for Dustin and the strange thing he found in that trash can.

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Chapter Three: The Pollywog

Dustin adopts a strange new pet, and Eleven grows increasingly impatient. A well-meaning Bob urges Will to stand up to his fears.

Man, this episode teased me so much! I got so excited to see Eleven go out to try to see Mike, even if it was going against Hopper’s rules. That moment of her seeing Mike briefly having a bit of fun with Max was so frustrating, but in a good way. As for Dustin’s creepy new friend, D’Artagnan, it’s definitely cute at first, but you just know that it’s gonna cause all kinds of havoc later. But lets face it, the real reason why this episode works so well is because of what happens to Will. Seeing the Shadow Monster completely take over him was beyond horrifying and a pitch perfect note to end the episode on.

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Chapter Four: Will the Wise

An ailing Will opens up to Joyce — with disturbing results. While Hopper digs for the truth, Eleven unearths a surprising discovery.

It wouldn’t be “Stranger Things” if we didn’t have the Byers house completely covered with something. Last season, we had the Christmas lights, this season we have Will’s expansive map, and it’s awesome. While he was already great in the first three episodes, this is where I really started to take notice at just how incredible Noah Schnapp’s performance as Will is. He’s carrying a huge portion of the heavy drama that this season has and he handles it perfectly. On the note of discussing incredible performances, Millie Bobby Brown and David Harbour are absolutely outstanding in the scene where Hopper and Eleven argue over whether its safe for her to go out of the cabin. It’s one of the most emotionally powerful moments of the entire series, leading into Eleven’s journey into finding out more about her mother and where she comes from. But dammit, it was beyond upsetting to see Mews be brutally eaten by D’Artagnon.

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Chapter Five: Dig Dug

Nancy and Jonathan swap conspiracy theories with a new ally as Eleven searches for someone from her past. “Bob the Brain” tackles a difficult problem.

Right up top, I must mention that Andrew Stanton, the director of “Finding Nemo” and “WALL-E,” directed these next two episodes which was incredibly exciting for me, especially considering that they’re my two favorite episodes of the season! Not only does Nancy and Jonathan’s storyline of attempting to take down the Hawkins Lab get a boost when the hilarious Brett Gelman enters the story as Murray Bauman, but when Eleven (Jane, I guess, but I’m sticking with Eleven) finds out the tragic backstory of her mother is heartbreaking and beautifully told here. It was also wonderful to see Joyce finally bring Bob in on what’s going on as it’s always great to see Sean Astin and he’s so good here. But of course, the way this episode builds as Joyce, Will, Mike, and Bob go find Hopper in the tunnels of the Upside Down, culminating in an absolutely terrifying final shot that has become the stuff of my nightmares of the past few days…

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Chapter Six: The Spy

Will’s connection to a shadowy evil grows stronger but no one’s quite sure how to stop it. Elsewhere, Dustin and Steve forge an unlikely bond.

This episode! THIS EPISODE! I love everything about this! The balancing between storylines here is just pitch perfect. The bond between Nancy and Jonathan, while I expected them to eventually kiss, felt more natural than ever in this episode. Lucas taking the initiative to bring Max in on the action after explaining everything to her in the last episode was very satisfying as Max is my favorite new character to be introduced this season. Pairing up Dustin with Steve Harrington is another super fun part of the show, giving me a bigger appreciation for Steve as a character, and adding some great comedic moments. But man, that last 10 minutes are intense as hell! Between the multiple Demodogs coming to attack Dustin, Lucas, Max, and Steve, the discovery that the Shadow Monster is using Will to spy on the soldiers from the Hawkins Lab, and the cliffhanger of the Demodogs finally reaching the lab about to wreak havoc, this show was getting things to an all-time high . . . until . . .

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Chapter Seven: The Lost Sister

Psychic visions draw Eleven to a band of violent outcasts and an angry girl with a shadowy past.

This episode has become the topic of a lot of discussion since the new season dropped as many fans have considered it to be the worst episode of the series . . . and unfortunately I agree with them. It’s not that this is a bad episode. It’s actually a solid one on it’s own and the emotional journey for Eleven as she spends time with Eight and her gang is integral to the main narrative. My biggest problem here is that this episode was horribly placed. The cliffhanger of the last episode was such a nail-biter that this feels like more of an unwanted detour. Had it swapped places with the last episode, I feel like it would have flowed better with Eleven’s arc, especially considering that she doesn’t even show up at all in Chapter Six. On top of that, the end of the episode where she can see that Mike and Hopper are in trouble would have been a nice way to foreshadow the terror that they would be facing. That being said, this episode by itself does still have problems of its own even outside of the main story. Outside of Eight herself, the rest of the gang didn’t leave a good impression on me and it felt too much like it was setting up their probable comeback in “Stranger Things 3.”

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Chapter Eight: The Mind Flayer

An unlikely hero steps forward when a deadly development puts the Hawkins lab on lockdown, trapping Will and several others inside.

Right back into the awesomeness! The Demodogs add so much horror and tension as they destroy anything and everything in their path. Now I’m not gonna pretend like I wasn’t expecting Bob to die in this episode as soon as he volunteered himself to help everyone escape the lab, but it was still tough to watch. But once they do escape and get back to Joyce’s house to figure out a definitive way to stop the Shadow Monster, now named the Mind Flayer, it was so great to see Will try to communicate through Morse Code, and Noah Schnapp continues to do incredible work here. And of course, I LOVE that we finally have Eleven reunite with the entire group at the end as a fantastic cliffhanger to lead into the final episode of the season.

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Chapter Nine: The Gate

Eleven makes plans to finish what she started while the survivors turn up the heat on the monstrous force that’s holding Will hostage.

What a finale! Epic doesn’t even begin to cover just how satisfying this finish was. The Duffer Brothers seamlessly go back and forth between Mike, Dustin, Lucas, Max, and Steve try to distract the Demodogs still at the Hawkins lab by burning the center of the tunnels, Joyce, Jonathan, and Nancy trying to burn the Mind Flayer out of Will, and Eleven attempting to close the gate to the Upside Down. Every aspect of this climax had a high level of intensity. It was nothing short of spectacular. To finish it off, ending the season with the Snow Ball at the school was so much fun to watch and I love that Jane is now able to live a normal life. We’ll see how that holds up once that Mind Flayer finds a way to get out of the Upside Down next season!

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Final Thoughts:

It’s safe to say that “Stranger Things 2” totally lived up to the hype for me! It does what every great sequel should in that it expands on the mythology, adds more depth to the characters, raises the stakes, and highlights the strengths of what worked before. From a technical standpoint, this season has a stronger style than most Hollywood blockbusters this year as the cinematography and visual effects are breathtaking, especially for television. Once again, Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein do amazing work with the score that I’ll be listening to a whole bunch for who knows how long. All the performances across the board are amazing with Noah Schnapp, Millie Bobby Brown, and David Harbour being the standouts that should be getting all the awards consideration imaginable. While I still stand that the show does lose points for Chapter Seven being such a distracting detour despite being a solid enough episode, pretty much every other aspect of this season improves upon its predecessor. “Stranger Things 2” is a huge slam dunk for Netflix and I can’t wait for Season 3. Here’s hoping that we don’t have to wait too long for it to come.

4.5/5

Thank you so much for reading my review of “Stranger Things 2.” I hope you enjoyed it. This weekend, I’ll be reviewing “Thor: Ragnarok” as well as ranking the films released in the month of October so keep your eyes open for that.

If you want to stay updated with all my reviews of films as soon as I see them, follow me on my Letterboxd.

Thanks for reading!

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