By Billy Jepma ’18
When Netflix premiered Stranger Things in the summer of 2016, it became a phenomenon almost overnight. Its nostalgic aesthetic, endearing and realistic characters, and layered plot were received with almost universal acclaim, and it is no surprise that Netflix ordered a second season from Matt and Ross Duffer, the creative minds behind the series.
However, when it comes to following up a sensation, the odds are often that things won’t be as good as they were the first time around. The first season of Stranger Things was so familiar and yet so strikingly fresh that to replicate that kind of lightning-in-a-bottle a second time seemed impossible, and yet, the Duffer Brothers seem to have done just that.
Stranger Things’ follow-up season takes everything that worked the first time and propels it in a direction that feels perfectly appropriate. The series could have stopped after season one and still been a success, but it takes everything a step further and tweaks the formula in initially subtle but increasingly dramatic ways that subvert the false sense of security it tricks the audience into believing.
Everything and everyone is deeper this time. The characters are still their lovable, endearingly profane, and passionate selves, but they’re now also damaged. Without delving into any details, the plot of season two immediately makes clear that things have changed for the characters, and not all of the changes have been good. The events of the past still linger over the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana like a shadow everyone can feel but few can see. For some characters, like Will Byers, it is an oppressive, haunting force, while for others it manifests itself in more subtle ways, like a whisper of a memory better left alone.
The new additions to the cast are also handled well, and while the first couple episodes introduce a lot of new themes and figures into the story, it is balanced with an admirable amount of grace and thoughtfulness. The audience is never overwhelmed, but rather, is enticed by the mystery of the unknown. Some plot threads take a little too long to really pick up steam, and there’s one new character who never quite feels at home in the cast, but when the season does so much right, it is not hard to accept the few stumbles in favor of embracing the many leaps in which it does succeed.
Special mention needs to be made of the cast as well. Much like the first season, it is truly remarkable how compelling and realistic they are as the characters. The young actors wonderfully carry out the difficult job of being both the heart and the soul of the story while still maintaining their integrity as honest, messy, and disruptive teenagers. They convey so much with so little, and it is a testament to the writing and the actors’ delivery that there is rarely a line that ever falls flat or feels out of place. Everything flows naturally and seamlessly, and it does wonders in pulling the viewer into these relationships, the conflicts, and inevitably, the flashes of near-horror that lurk around every corner.
Stranger Things had every opportunity to rest on its laurels with its second season, but it never does. By embracing what works and smartly evolving it in realistic and comfortably predictable––but nonetheless compelling––ways, season two is able to actually surpass the original and set up an even broader world of intrigue and mystery.