Right, the weekend has passed, everyone has had time to watch and ponder over Stranger Things 2 and, now, it’s time to talk about it in depth, so here’s my spoiler review of it.

***SPOILERS AHEAD FOR STRANGER THINGS 2***

Back when it released last Summer, I adored Stranger Things. The show took the whole world by storm, literally sweeping the internet in a raging ball of hype and excitement. Over a year on, and Netflix and The Duffer Brothers are bringing us Stranger Things 2 and to say that this was hotly-anticipated by many would be an understatement. I binged the entirety of it in one sitting, and have seen all 9 episodes twice since they were made readily available on Friday morning. The joys of having a site is that it acts as an outlet to discuss, vent, and get excited about all things television and film. And that’s exactly what we’ll be doing with Stranger Things 2 today. But be warned, spoilers lie ahead…. Although, if you haven’t seen the show by this point, what are you doing with your life?

We pick up a year after the events of the first season; we’re reunited with our Hawkins residents, they’re trying to find normality again but still remain quite shaken up by the events that unfolded in The Upside Down, and with the Demogorgon. Most especially, things are off for Will (Noah Schnapp). He’s babied by his mom Joyce (Winona Ryder), his older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), and his friends, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Mike (Finn Wolfhard). He keeps having glimpses into The Upside Down, and it becomes apparent that Hawkins isn’t safe from its looming dangers yet. Meanwhile, Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is chasing his own supernatural leads, all the whilst protecting Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) from the world and those desperately after her. But when everything leads back to Will, and The Upside Down, they must unite and get ready to save Hawkins again.

That is, in essence, the bare bones of what Stranger Things 2 has to offer us. But, really, it’s not even a flavouring of the full palette that we are exposed to within these 9 episodes. We’ve got a slew of romances/love triangles, we get to know more about Eleven’s backstory, we have new friendships developed, there is a subplot about avenging Barb, we have heists and murders, it’s an amalgamation of so many ideas and plotlines all coming together. Right out of the gate, what impressed me – not only about this season, but season 1 too – is the tour de force that is Ross and Matt Duffer and their storytelling and writing power. They are geniuses, and their craft is undoubtedly masterful. What often tends to be a flaw with most series’ is pacing and unnecessary fluff that can drag out any given show – the so-called ‘filler’, if you will. You have a lot of episodes, and a lot of hours to occupy with story and character and to keep engaging too and a lot of shows can meander in episodes – this is certainly the case with Netflix’s MCU shows, all overlong at 13 episodes, and each and every one suffering from those unnecessary episodes there merely for the sake of filling out a runtime quota of however many episodes/hours.
However, Stranger Things 2 is one of those rare shows that just flies by in an instant. It’s so sharp and tight that not a word, nor even a breath, really ever feels wasted. This is 9 episodes of content, and all 9 hours are necessary in one way or another; if anything, the proceedings only get more and more investing with each minute that passes. Even episode 7, ‘The Lost Sister’, whilst not the show’s strongest episode – certainly my least favourite this season - exists with purpose for Eleven. It feels disparate from the rest of the season but it features some interesting development and groundwork for future seasons, nonetheless. The point is, this film utilises its 9 episodes efficiently enough so that it never feels like its too many, but nor does it ever feel like it was too little. There is a lot going on in this story so it’s a testament to the writing for making it so cohesive and seamless in the time they have.

Continuing on from this theme of good writing, not only is storytelling so ace, but the character development is also just as impressive. There are many ingredients that made the first season of Stranger Things so successful, but the prime factor was the superb plethora of characters we were introduced to. What made Stranger Things 2 such an exciting prospect wasn’t the thought of more great sci-fi and 80s nostalgia or another cool monster but just the opportunity to be reunited with such likable, relatable and genuinely great characters. And Stranger Things 2 only builds upon them all further; everyone remains true to who they were last season, all whilst being challenged as people, and growing. Moreover, the show doesn’t just subliminally build on existing characters, but we’re introduced to a handful of exciting new characters too - from the lovable Bob (Sean Astin), to the mysterious Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser), and the step-siblings Max (Sean Astin) and Billy (Dacre Montgomery), new to Hawkins and finding their place (well, Max, at least, Billy is just more intent on making everyone’s life a living nightmare). There’s just such authenticity and heart to our ensemble of characters that makes them all so grounded and charismatic. For the returning players, season 1 did such a good job at getting us to care for these people and their stories and relations and lives that we are already thoroughly invested and rooting for them, which makes their interactions, heartbreaks, triumphs all the more exciting and all hit all the harder this time around.

An example of this is at the end of episode 8, when Eleven is FINALLY reunited with Dustin, Lucas, Joyce, Will, and especially Mike. The first season did such a good job at making her friendship with everyone one so poignant, that we were all so desperate to see her reunited with her chums this season, and the moment is as emotionally satisfying and exciting as we’d hoped – I was certainly cheering aloud at the reunion. It is also particularly the case for the love triangle between Jonathan, Nancy (Natalie Dyer) and Steve (Joe Keeery) that develops. Again, the foundations were established in season 1 and season 2 brings it full circle when Nancy and Jonathan finally end up together. It’s a touching moment, the culmination of a lot of subtle setting up and teasing. However, it’s all the more impactful because of our feelings towards Steve. He wasn’t the best character in season 1, so we’d have happily seen Nancy and Jonathan together to spite him back then. But season 2 makes him so cool and likable that there’s almost a bitterness to seeing him lose Nancy. Sure enough, we can let out a sigh of relief in seeing the start of #Joncy, but there’s also hesitation in it. It’s similar with the Lucas/Max/Dustin triangle too; sure enough, seeing Lucas get the girl is a moment of triumph that will make even the hardest of audience-goers smile but it’s equally as aching to see Dustin left out – the closing moments of the season show him alone, with the girls refusing to dance with him, until Nancy comes over to cheer him up. It’s a heart-breaking moment.

My point here is that Stranger Things 2 has a lot of moments so full of satisfactory spunk and oomph but, because of how carefully everything has been set-up and how much we care for all of the characters, they are moments contradicting with feelings of heartache for other characters. It’s the perfect balance of bittersweet and a testament to the writing of these characters for getting us so riled up that we are able to feel so deeply for the various character interactions and resolutions. But even in the little moments like Steve finally gives Billy a beat down (before, ultimately, getting the shit pummeled out of him), we – as an audience – are so riveted. Seeing Steve punch Billy was triumphant, so much so that it's as if we were the ones there punching him. But when Billy comes back and comes close to killing Steve, it’s unflinching and almost unbearable to watch.

Rarely have I ever seen anything so able to stir me emotionally because of the characters. It’s a big statement but I’d go as far as saying Stranger Things has some of the finest character development I have ever seen in a show, cemented by just how astute Stranger Things 2 is in that area. I would consider this show and these characters – specifically, the kids, Joyce, Hopper, Jonathan, Steve, and Nancy - up there, alongside the greats: Walter White in Breaking Bad; Frank Underwood in House of Cards; Tony Soprano from The Sopranos. They perhaps haven’t had the time to have as well fleshed out arcs as the aforementioned TV giants, but they’re getting there. And the performances are unequivocal. Everyone is stellar. Stranger Things 2 has some of the finest performances from children I have ever seen – Matarazzo; Wolfhard; McLaughlin; Sink all ground their characters with such charismatic performances. Millie Bobby Brown, who stole the show last season, is an undeniable star. Eleven’s backstory goes in some fascinating directions this season, as she is reunited with her mother and her sister (of sorts) and Bobby Brown brings the heart and emotion we’d expect. Moreover, she brings a vulnerability and innocuity to Eleven; she’s still that fish-out-of-water we remember her to be, and the naivety is still there. It’s awfully good work. Of course, Winona Ryder is excellent as Joyce; she’s more dialled down than she was last season, but it works, and Ryder brings enough warmth and soul to the role. Natalie Dyer, Charlie Heaton and Joe Keery are also fantastic; Keery, especially, is delightful as Steve, going from popular teenage boy and captain of the basketball team and ruler of the school to, basically, a single soccer mom that turns up to her children’s games and is rallying them on the loudest and it’s so enjoyable to watch. His relation with Matarazzo brings a lot of heart to the show, as the pair kind of come together when everyone else leaves them; it’s a charming dynamic and so enamouring and warm.

David Harbour, too, is just as badass and awesome as we remembered. His father-daughter dynamic with Millie is easily the best thing about Stranger Things 2; it’s emotional and heartfelt, and adds so much depth to both characters. Given that Hopper lost his daughter, and Eleven’s father was an asshole, it’s a dynamic that just feels right and it’s brilliant watching the pair interact, and watching the magnetic back-and-forth between two powerhouse performances in Harbour and Bobby Brown.  Even newcomers Paul Reisser, Dacre Montgomery, and Sadie Sink all do terrific jobs; they all fit in so well in this world. Sean Astin, too, as Bob, is a dynamite turn. Starting off as a bit of a grating character, the audience is quick to warm to him, and it makes his sacrifice for Joyce and her family so hard-hitting and gut-punching. He brings levity and warmth to a show that is, otherwise, often quite dark. Honestly, forget #JusticeForBarb, because that pales to Bob’s sacrifice; more like, #JusticeForBob it should be. However, this is, without a doubt, Noah Schnapp’s show to steal. The young actor is a tour-de-force knockout. The raw emotion that is required from Schnapp is challenging for any experienced actor, let alone someone as young as him, yet he plays it with such brilliant, haunting conviction! It’s saw a raw, vulnerable performance that is emotionally explosive yet always grounded by Schnapp’s innocuity and heart and this kid is fuelled with such visceral talent: he is going to go far. We believe his fear, and his pain, and it’s portrayed so excellently from this magnetic, scene-stealing star.

We now come to the big bad: The Mind Flayer, as our group fittingly name it – once again, a page out of their D&D antics. It’s a worthy successor to season 1’s Demogorgon. Suitably, it’s bigger and more unpredictable and more frightening. I really like how The Duffer Brothers handled The Upside Down here, and the arrival of The Mind Flayer; using Will as our keyhole to peer into this world was ingenious, and possessing him was equally as great, because not only does it make for some riveting viewing (the episode 4 cliff-hanger was ace, as we see Will hauntingly attacked during one of his ‘episodes’) but it also adds a layer of emotion and tension that would have otherwise been notably absent. As the group come to learn, they can’t destroy The Mind Flayer without destroying Will and putting him through agonising pain and it adds so much nuance to how they go about taking it down, but it also adds a dimension of fear to our big bad that makes it all the more intimidating and antagonising a force than the Demogorgon.
The use of Demodogs was also brilliant; again, following on from a building block placed in season 1, we see the growth of Dart – short for fourth musketeer, D’Artagnan – and his connection with Dustin (of course, the inevitable demise of Mews too - #JusticeForMews). It’s a nice dynamic, again given that Dustin is often left out by his friends this season (Lucas is chasing after Max; Mike is aiding Will in his recovery) so it’s easy to see his love for his newfound specimen and it makes you feel for him – as mentioned, Dustin and Steve’s relationship in the latter half of the season blossoms from this. And, whilst it’s perhaps a played-out trope, Dart becomes an antagonising mini Demogorgon but saves Dustin and his friends due to that connection with him, when he was mothered and fed Nougat. I certainly appreciated the moment a lot. It added a lot, in my opinion. It's a small moment but it's this attention to detail and craft that makes the show so rich.

Of course, The Mind Flayer is brought down in truly epic fashion in a final episode to a season that is as exciting, epic, and satisfying an episode as they come: Eleven and Hopper taking it down is epic and emotional; the kids burning down The Upside Down was cool; Nancy, Jonathan and Joyce expelling the Flayer from Will was gripping; the Snow Ball dance ended things on a light-hearted, warm note, but the cliff-hanger showing the Flayer still alive in The Upside Down and aware of the presence of our characters, particularly El, and he raw power, teased big things to come. It’s a finale that perhaps disappointed many; personally, I think it wraps up season 2 with a bow and cleans the slate whilst giving us enough conclusion to the season as a whole, but still showing us that threat is imminent and that there is more destruction to come – in one way or another – and that, whilst our characters enjoy a moment of resolution now, it’s not to last. There is more to come, but we just don’t know what; it’s as light a tease as they come, not giving anything away but showing us that a third season is coming and that the questions that weren’t fully resolved – why is Billy so tough on Max; what does coming back into the limelight mean for El; what is Dr. Owens doing now; how many other people have been experimented on and where are they – will possibly be answered in the near future. Going back to episode 7 again, it’s exciting in the prospect that it teases the possibility of other characters emerging that have been experimented on – very powerful ones too – and, who knows, some could potentially be dangerous?


I love the world that The Duffer Brothers have managed to create within Stranger Things; season 2 started and we were thrown back into this world and story, as if we had never left. There is a distinctive heart and awe-inspired wonder to it; what made Stranger Things 2 so good (amongst all the many reasons I have already given is that it managed to maintain, and even improve upon, the heart and spirit from season 1. This is a show full of sincerity and it carried over superbly, seamlessly and effortlessly. We are thrown back into the ring, and it feels so good! We are instantly immersed back into this story and back into Hawkins; The Upside Down too, is so expansive and fascinating. There is a remarkable amount of mythos and lore poured into it and Stranger Things 2 built upon it further, expanding it and making it feel so vast and terrifying. The CGI too, whilst already impressive for its limited budget in season 1, is also improved in season 2. Visually, this is a show that pops. It’s rife with colour and vibrancy and the cinematography is luscious and slick; the set and production design is ace too, and the show very much feels at home in its 80’s environment. It fits and it’s easy to believe the setting and the time.

The thing is, Stranger Things 2 takes everything that was so great about the original Stranger Things and builds upon it further – the characters; the heart; the mystery; the lore; the world – but it expels the bad too. Every episode is just so compelling and it’s an easy-binge; again, as I mentioned earlier, I watched the entirety of it in one sitting and then again over the course of the rest of the weekend. There is so much to unpack here too; it’s brimming with more 80s references and nostalgia than you can fathom, but never in a way that is overbearing or too cliched. It’s never merely a pastiche.

The Duffer Brothers have pulled off an incredible feat here, creating a wholly immersive, absorbing and emotionally investing narrative that will challenge you and excite you and stir all your deepest emotions. They have managed to follow-up a great season of television that took the world by storm, with a season that is far superior to its predecessor and, simply put, lived up the MASSIVE hype set by the original Stranger Things. Stranger Things 2 is a triumph. And now the waiting game begins for Stranger Things 3. If it is even half as good as the quality of storytelling we received this weekend, it’s going to be awesome.

STRANGER THINGS 2 IS AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX NOW.

VERDICT:
Stranger Things 2 surpasses its predecessor and lives up to the hype; it makes for some of Netflix's most emotionally investing, riveting and exciting entertainment yet.

About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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