Season 2 of Stranger Things does something quite rare for a TV show, and actually roots itself clearly as the follow up to season 1. That might like an odd thing to say, obviously season 2 follows season 1, but for a lot of shows each season has its own arc, the previous season’s cliffhanger (if any) is wrapped up in an episode or two while the new plot lines for the new season are established. While there may be minor callbacks to earlier seasons, each season is its own story in the main, just sharing characters and settings.
While I can think of a few exceptions to that rule, Stranger Things is certainly loud and proud among them. Most of the population of Hawkins, Indiana may have moved on but the characters we saw through season 1 really haven’t. Will is being treated for PTSD and understandably that’s affecting both Joyce and Jonathan directly. Joyce also has her own trauma after the loss of Will, and although we don’t see it as clearly from Jonathan there are flashes that show he is still affected by Will’s loss. Mike also seems to still be appreciably affected, and while Dustin and Lucas seem to have moved on in some ways it becomes obvious that in others they are still not fully recovered. Hopper is trying to cope as best he can, trying to support Joyce, trying to keep Eleven safe and working to protect the people of Hawkins as well.
Steve, of all of them, has largely moved on but as we see from the opening Nancy really hasn’t and although Steve might not be the best boyfriend he’s not the worst either and he supports her too as she works for #JusticeForBarb.
All the parts of this past trauma develop over the whole season, while new stories also develop. Some of these come from the new characters particularly Max, Billy, Bob, Kali and Dr. Owens but some come from the fact these kids are growing up. Most of them are not ready for really adult relationships yet, but some of them are starting to be interested in girls for the first time.
And, of course, there is the monster in The Upside Down spreading through Hawkins and trying to reach out and do its evil thing, complete with D&D references to help people understand the nature of the monster they’re fighting against, various odd powers and so on.
Stranger Things worked with an odd mixture of nostalgia and references back to E.T. as well as a good story that worked for people of all kinds of ages. Season 2 doesn’t have that singular film reference, but if you watch there will be a lot of homages scattered throughout, and the feel-good 80’s vibe is present and correct as is the strong story telling.
One thing that I found particularly noticeable is spotting who gets called by name. Joyce and Lucas, for example, hardly have their names mentioned for some reason. Likewise Joyce and Max are very much there as reactive to the males in their lives female characters. But up against that, Nancy is really proactive and shown as both smarter and more able in a lot of ways than the men in her life. I’m not blaming the Duffer Brothers in particular, we see this in a lot of film and TV, and I think Winona Ryder is probably loving playing Joyce - she gets a huge range of emotions and activities to play, and it is a great role in some ways - it just stands out against some of the other characters here that she is purely defined by her relationships to her sons and the adult men in her life, she has essentially no self-emerging agency as a person, neither does Max, while Nancy, and to a lesser extent Eleven, are left to carry all the torch for women as agents in their own right - even Eleven is somewhat denied that role here.
If you enjoyed Stranger Things, season 2 is really worth the 9 hours it will take you to watch it.
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