It doesn’t take long for viewers to realize that there’s more to Stranger Things Season 2 than Hawkins, Indiana. In fact, the opening scene alone looks like the start of a Hollywood movie more than anything else via a car chase that hints at what happened to all those kids who came before Eleven (the mysterious telekinetic girl played by Millie Bobby Brown). With all the anticipation and excitement ever since the first season ended, the Netflix phenomenon hits the ground running in Season 2 and successfully moves forward from there. Well, mostly.
After seeing Season 2’s nine episodes, we can safely say that Stranger Things has ramped up the mystery and mythology even more. Eleven takes a back seat in favor of Will Byers, who unjustly didn’t get enough screen time in the first season due to the fact that he disappeared. The actor who plays Will, Noah Schnapp, is easily the star of this second season and doesn’t waste the opportunity he’s been given. Schnapp steals the show every chance he gets, be it in a truly terrifying cliffhanger scene to even when he’s just laying still in bed. It’s an eerie and captivating performance by Schnapp as the young actor absolutely nails the varying emotions the script demands.
Another standout this season is David Harbour’s Officer Hopper. Like Schnapp, Harbour is blessed with an embarrassment of riches this season as he is given a much greater arc to play with. Perhaps no one other than Will in this second season has more character development than Hopper. Harbour gets paired with new and unexpected characters this season, and with each one is able to add another layer to his role. This is arguably Harbour’s best work to date and we wouldn’t be surprised if there’d be an Emmy headed his way.
While the second season does provide a couple of great moments, it’s when Stranger Things veers away from the central plot that the show becomes a bit pedestrian. Particular low points include whenever the show shifts to the budding romance between Nancy and Jonathan (Natalia Dyer and Charlie Heaton, respectively). Instead of being a clever take on John Hughes movies, it becomes an uninspired storyline that lacks chemistry. Also, Joe Keery’s lovable Steve Harrington feels like a floating character at times. It’s as if the writers didn’t really know where to put him, and instead tossed Steve from one group of characters to the next. While Keery does his best with what he’s given, there really isn’t enough charm in the world for his role to make any logical sense in the grand scheme of things. And the season’s newest addition of characters is a mixed bag; Sadie Sink’s Max provides a bit of edge to the kids while Dacre Montgomery plays a one-note bully who’s even more of an asshole than Steve without the likability that Keery gives his character.
While it has its faults, the show is really at its best when it goes big in developing its mythology. The season ramps up when it just goes full sci-fi and heightens the horror. One episode in particular feels like a backdoor pilot for a potential Stranger Things spinoff, serving as a welcome addition to the show’s mythology. While succeeding in capturing a delightful sense of nostalgia in its first season, Stranger Things has come to its own this second season, and the more it focuses on that, the better it gets.
Stranger Things 2 premieres on Netflix on October 27, 2017.