Ben Watches Television : Stranger Things, Season Two (2017)
Yes, it's still good.
Of course, the magic of discovering an awesome new show is completely gone in Stranger Things, Season Two, but the Duffer brothers figured it out. The show had to give their audience similar thrills without saying the same thing, but the Duffer brothers figured that out, too. Stranger Things had every reason to suck this year and somewhat it didn't. I'm just as surprised as you are.
Season Two is very much a sequel: it's a little less exciting, a little more predictable and it stretches the initial premise juuusstt a little thin, but it managed to pack the goods anyway. How did it do that?
What Stranger Things, Season Two did right
The ABC of a good sequel
The Duffer brothers were either self-consciously trying to write a strong sequel or had Season Two planned all-along, because it checked all the boxes: the demogorgon is still there, but there's a threat far greater; the dynamic is the same, but each character have changed in their own way; a handful of new characters are introduced and, more important, it doesn't think that it's reinventing the wheel. This is a show about kids fighting monster from a fucked up upside down world and it reaffirmed that up to its last scene.
The boys are growing older, but they're still children. There's a new character joining the gang, disturbing the balance of their structure. Nancy, Jonathan and Steve are still at it, yet the dynamic between them has changed because of the event of last season. Nancy still has feelings for Jonathan, Steve has respect for his rival and Jonathan still has the same greasy fucking hair. Hopper is still fighting ghosts of the past, but in a different way (you'll see). Same, but different. That's how a strong sequel should always be.
Same themes, different angles
Stranger Things will always be a show about childhood. Not a coming of age, but a story where childhood is a skill rather than a burden. Season Two explores that in a deeper and more meaningful way through the Duffer brothers' whipping boy, Will. See, the poor kid is sick. He's suffering from visions and nightmares that isolate him emotionally from other children. The official diagnostic is that he's suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and the doctor recommends lots of love and patience, but we know better than that, don't we? Plus, the doctor comes from the same place where you-know-what happened last year.
Same thing goes for Bob, Will's mother's new boyfriend. Bob is terrific at being an adult. He's responsible, he's got a job at Radio Shack, he knows electronics, etc. But he gives terrible advice whenever it's time to think like a kid. One that leads Will to confront an interdimensional monster alone and scared. You really want to slap Bob sometimes in Season Two of Strangers Things. He doesn't "get" it. But the majority of adults (except Hopper and Joyce) don't. That's the point of the show. Being an adult is trying to fit inexplicable and terrifying events in your narrow vision of the world or even worse, trying to control what you don't understand. Season Two emphasizes the problems of having an adult logic in supernatural circumstances.
Weird religious undertones
That was really cool. I mean, it's not entirely new. Eleven was a Christlike figure even last year: a mysteriously born kid with superpowers which sacrifices herself for her friends and returns to another dimension? Not exactly subtle. Once again, the Duffer brothers push the envelope further in Stranger Things, Season Two. Eleven has her own moment of doubt where she leaves Hawkins to find another fate for herself (and alludes to further development in the series), only to return like a prodigal daughter. There's a lot of crucifixion imagery too, notably involving Bob and Eleven.
The coolest and weridest religious undertones, though are the bizarre parallels the show creates between Will's ailment and demonic possession. That's basically what happens to him there. He becomes possessed by the mind flayer, creating a problem that neither science of religion (adult things) can solve. There even is an all-out exorcism scene in the last episode that will legitimately give you the heebie jeebies, which was a first for me in Stranger Things. Religious faith and sciences are often adversaries in Hollywood, but it's not quite the case here. Childhood requires a different kind of faith and the Duffer brothers offer a refreshing take on an old trope.
Whoever rocks and earnest mullet and introduces himself to Rock You Like a Hurricane has my unconditional love and respect.
What Stranger Things, Season Two did wrong
I'm sorry if you wanted to hear something else, but the protrayal of Eleven in Stranger Things, Season Two sucked. I wanted more like all of you. El's my homegirl, I wanted more for her. And how hard would it have been to write something good after Season One? Eleven disappears in the Upside Down, the boys mount a rescue party for their friend and end up being rescued by her because she's the interdimensional badass and they aren't. It basically wrote itself, didn't it? What happened is not so glorious.
Eleven is caught playing maid in a Misery-like environment for half of Season Two, disappears for entire episodes at the time to finally make her prodigal daughter's return at the tail end of episode eight. She has her own unnecessary origin story for most of the season (setting up future events, I suppose) and we're fed just enough not to scream "DEUS EX MACHINAAAA" at our screens. It's kind of soul rotting, really.
The portrayal of Eleven is symptomatic to a bigger problem in Season Two... and really the only problem there is with it: there's too much going on for too little episodes. There are characters that the Duffer brothers have no idea what to do with. Hopper notably become hostile, confused and creepy until he becomes exactly the same guy he was last year around episode 7. Mike is also put on a shelf in Season Two because Eleven's not there, which sucks. Every kid is terrific, but the world wants some more Finn Wolfhard.
Did you watch the show? What did you like about it or why did you hate it? Leave me a comment either here or on Facebook and let's debate this bad boy.