It’s not often in movies and TV that the sequel is better than the original. “The Godfather II,” “Empire Strikes Back, “Toy Story 3”—the examples are slim. With “Stranger Things” season two, though, the Duffer brothers succeeded in doing just that. This season’s storylines, character development, and scare factor are all superior to the original.
I’d been waiting with bated breath for season two since the moment the first season ended. I only watched the first teaser trailer so I wouldn’t have any major details of the plot spoiled, so going into last weekend I didn’t have a detailed picture of what was going to happen. But I did have one nagging question in my mind: Has Will become evil? Well, I might have been right.
From here on out, I’ll be talking about specifics from this season, so if you haven’t yet watched all of season two, WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.
There’s so much to like about this season, it’s hard to cram it all into one article, so let me tell you about the 10 best things from “Stranger Things” season two.
10. More-Developed Story Lines
The first season of “Stranger Things” was all about introducing us to this cornucopia of characters in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana. This year we were able to take a deep dive into the relationships between the characters, both central and secondary. It gave us richer stories, more mature themes, and a darker tone than the first season. We saw characters like Will struggle with his identity, Eleven becoming a rebellious teenager, and Hopper become a caring father figure.
9. ‘Mad Max’
This season was (expectedly) full of ’80s references, from the name of the new girl in the gang, to the costumes the boys wore on Halloween, to the great soundtrack. Max, the feisty redhead who drives Dustin and Lucas wild, starts simply as the girl they like, but finishes the season having earned her stripes as an entrusted, evil-fighting member of the gang and Lucas’ love-interest.
You think at the beginning that she’s just the stereotypical rough and tumble girl character from many ’80s movies, but she develops into so much more, finally becoming the gang’s fast-driving “Zoomer.”
8. The Music
The first season of “Stranger Things” was full of great music, with a modern twist on ’80s synth written by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein. Their original score wasn’t the typical horror music you would expect, and that was what made it so great. For season two , they’re back and in fine form yet again.
Their original music and incorporation of ’80s classics fit perfectly with the action onscreen. If you don’t own the soundtrack from season one, you should buy it. Don’t stream it, or listen to it on YouTube or any of the other ways millennials “rent” music these days; commit to buying it. You’ll want to do the same for this season’s work too.
Joyce Byers had it rough last season. Her son was captured by a faceless monster and stuck in The Upside Down. This season isn’t all that much better, as Will is possessed by evil. That’s a lot to deal with, so when we learn this year that she has a love interest it’s a welcome addition to the cast.
Played well by Sean Astin, Bob is a goofy, incredibly kind, and oddly intelligent guy who works at the local Radio Shack (remember those?). He tries to serve as a stabilizing factor in Will’s life, bolstering his confidence, and trying to cheer him up when he’s sick.
At the beginning of the season, I thought Bob might have a secret. Perhaps he was a government spy sent to keep an eye on Will. Thankfully, I was wrong. In fact, in the end he sacrifices himself, as “Bob Newby the Superhero,” to save Joyce, Will, Mike, and Hopper as they escape the lab.
6. The Villains
Last year, Hawkins was being haunted by The Demigorgon, a faceless monster that had escaped from the mysterious local government lab to terrorize and kill the unsuspecting and innocent. For season two the evil is much broader. Instead of one Demigorgon, Hawkins faces a horde of Demidogs, which is at least partially thanks to Dustin’s desire to keep as a pet what he thinks is a inter-dimensional slug (which turns out to be a baby Demogirgon) to impress Max.
The killer dogs are joined by The Mind Flayer, that scary, tentacled creature dominating the stormy skies of Will’s visions and prominent in the advertising. Its hive mind is drilling underground tunnels throughout Hawkins, and within Will’s mind, slowly consuming him in the evil and making the boy a villain himself.
“Zombie Boy,” as the school bullies call him, is struggling with returning to a “normal” life after the events of season one. Will has visions that transport him instantly to The Upside Down, where he’s chased and eventually caught by The Mind Flayer. He eventually is consumed and possessed by the evil himself, becoming a “spy,” telling The Mind Flayer where to send the Demidogs, and who to kill.
By the end of the season, poor Will has had the monster torn from him but not before it has tormented him nearly to death. As someone who spent most of the first season being talked about but rarely seen, Will’s harrowing experiences are one of the central focuses of this season.
As the toothless kid last season, Dustin faced the most teasing from his peers, but this season, armed with his new pearly whites and some growing confidence, he’s a driving force in the plot and a wonderfully developed character. He’s experiencing that awkward phase in any teenage boy’s life, where he’s starting to feel something for girls but doesn’t know what to do to express those feelings.
He unleashes a Demidog on Hawkins that kills his cat, then soldiers, and employees of the lab as part of the larger horde. By the end of the season, and with Steve’s help, Dustin finds the confidence he needs to approach a girl and ask for a dance at the Snow Ball in the show’s final scenes. He gets shot down, but keeps trying, and with his crazy new hairdo he’s sure to snag one eventually.
3. Big Brother Steve
In the first season of “Stranger Things,” Steve, Nancy’s popular-kid boyfriend, starts off the season as a jerk. By the end, he redeems himself and helps fight off the Demigorgon with an awesome spiked bat. This season Steve really blossoms, becoming a big brother figure to Dustin, de facto leader of the gang as they hunt the Demidogs, and the true love of Nancy (even though she abandons him for Jonathan).
He spends a lot of time with Dustin this season, taking him under his wing, even giving him his hair care secrets, which includes Farrah Fawcett products. You reluctantly like Steve by the end of season one, but by the end of this season, you can’t help but love the guy. His growth and leadership in season two are a lot of fun to watch and really illustrate how much he’s grown as a teenager and character.
Chief Hopper is one of the most pivotal members of “Stranger Things,” season two. We learned in season one that Hopper had a daughter who died young. It tore apart his marriage and sent him spiraling back to Hawkins from the big city. This year we learn that Hopper rescued Eleven after the events of last season and protects her by keeping her hidden in a booby-trapped cabin hidden in the woods. The father-daughter relationship they develop is exactly what you would expect: sweet, frustrating, confrontational, loving, trying, and some of the best TV you’ll see this year.
As the father of a headstrong daughter, I saw a lot of us in these scenes. Time and time again, Hopper comes to the rescue this season battling Demidogs, the growing tentacles of The Mind Flayer, and finally helping Eleven close the gate to The Upside Down at the conclusion of the season. As the action-star father of Hawkins, Hopper is fantastic!
Undoubtedly the best part of “Stranger Things” season two is Eleven. Last season she was the shy, mysterious, quiet girl with superpowers who was living in Mike’s basement and helping the boys take down the Demigorgon and “the bad men” of Hawkins’s government lab. This season Eleven blossoms into a rebellious teenager, whose growing emotions and powers lead to trouble, self-discovery, and an ass-kicking ending.
After killing the Demigorgon at the Hawkins school last season, Eleven escaped The Upside Down only to be alone and afraid in the wintery woods outside of town. She’s eventually rescued by Hopper and shuttled away to his off-the-grid hideout, where she lives in seclusion. As you can imagine, being a super-powered teenager experiencing actual cabin fever can be an incredibly frustrating sentence. She so misses Mike that she eventually leaves the cabin to track him down at school, only to find him talking to Max.
In a fit of rage after a fight with Hopper, she destroys much of the cabin, but while cleaning it up she makes a key discovery: documents that may reveal her mother, and even her real name. She sets out to find Terry Ives, the crazy lady we met in season one, who does in fact seem to be her mother. After a peek into Terry’s broken mind, Eleven (whose real name is Jane), discovers she wasn’t the only kid in the Hawkins lab. There was another.
She sets out to find her “sister” and is led to Chicago, where she sadly discovers that her sister, 008, is a vengeful criminal whose Outsiders-like gang tracks down and kills people who worked at the lab. Eleven leaves her sister’s gang and returns to Hawkins just in time to help defeat the Demidogs, save Will from The Mind Flayer, and “close the gate” to The Upside Down. It’s an awesome final battle that serves as Eleven’s X-Men moment as she uses both hands and all her power to save Hawkins from evil once more.
“Stranger Things” season two really is amazing. It shows you there is so much more to the relationships, the personalities, the good and evil in Hawkins, and beyond. It makes you realize is that Eleven is just one of what could be many kids out there who have strange powers, and that they may not all have her heart. It answers questions from the end of the first season, but leaves viewers with more to ponder for yet another year.
Finally, it shows just how awesome the writing and directing of this series really is, as each and every episode has moments that leave you in awe, make you laugh, and endear these characters to you even more. It is the best original content Netflix has made, and another sign that great art can be made on the streaming screen.