Hearing the opening theme song of Stranger Things for the first time in over a year brought back a heap of emotions — apprehension, heartbreak, fear and anger. The emotions that came with following the story through the first season returned all at once. Most of all, I felt a sort of excitement to see a show that I hadn’t experienced since waiting for Sunday morning cartoons as a kid. It’s the exact sort of nostalgia that Stranger Things does such a profound job of creating through the music, scenery and the familiarity of the kids’ (non-supernatural, of course) adolescent experiences. There was a part of me that suspected that this new season couldn’t possibly live up to the ingenuity and novelty of the first season, but season two manages to build upon the electric vibe of the world they had created last year.
This season focuses as much on developing the eerie supernatural threat of the “Upside Down” as it does on developing the lives and personalities of the characters, taking turns between yanking at heartstrings and sending chills down the spine.
Of course, as in so many sequels, the producers of Stranger Things go overboard in trying to expand the storyline in new directions. By bringing in a multitude of new characters while trying to round out the existing ones, they end up throwing in personalities that aren’t quite wholesome enough to resonate in the overall story.
Characters like Max and Kali are built up right off the bat in a way that suggests they could become pivotal — and then in an instant are cast aside to pursue another avenue of the storyline. Max has the potential to join the ranks of Nancy and El as powerful female characters, finally balancing a seemingly male-dominated show, but she never gets an earnest chance to shine. I fully expected her to have a true heroine moment where she saved El, for example, to solidify her role in the group going forward. However, that opportunity simply never came. Seeing how Max really seemed eager to find a home in her new friends, I almost felt dejected and bitter for her at how easily she was cast aside.
One character that seems rather rudely out of place was Max’s older brother Billy. He seems entirely too concerned with looking at himself in a mirror or driving obnoxiously to partake in any significant part of Max’s already-minimal development in the friend group. Basically, it seems he is a superficial persona intended to flesh out another poorly developed character.
This season brings into play the incredibly relatable personal struggles of adolescence that the group has the cope with while fighting the threats of the “Upside Down.” El’s and Mike’s struggle with being separated from each other especially strikes hard and the sense of loss practically radiates through the screen.
Seeing Lucas and Dustin begin to navigate their own insecurities and friendship in the face of sharing a crush, I realized their characters as being deeper than adventurous kids battling the monsters. They have weaknesses, down moments and most importantly they lift each other up like any real friends.
The story put caps on most of the supernatural dangers by the last episode, but there’s an exciting prospect of new threats, personal drama and alliances put into place for the next season. It is clear viewers can look forward to the story only getting deeper, darker and more captivating.