Review : Stranger Things 2 – Episodes 1-3

Since becoming a hit last year, the ‘Stranger Things’ universe has expanded and become even more popular than Netflix could have imagined. Pulling in more than 15 million viewers in the first three days of the new season’s release, the question still remained for most of us – could season 2 live up to the hype?
It’s been a year, give or take, since the events of the first season and in this first episode entitled
“MADMAX”, we’re reintroduced to the driving force behind this TV streaming sensation – the characters.

The “Party” of Mike, Lucas and Dustin is whole again, with the return of Will from his reluctant adventures in the upside-down but. However, as we know from last season’s final moments coupled with the clips revealed in the trailers; everything is not okay as far as Will is concerned, nor the world at large. On a smaller scale, our four favourite munchkins are troubled/enthralled by a new arrival at their school in the form of Max – the new girl in town who’s a dab hand when it comes to arcade games. So much so, that she’s beaten a longstanding high score that ignites a rivalry and subsequently a love interest from Dustin and Lucas, and so a love triangle begins. Classic. It’s a slow burner but is clearly designed to prop up the storylines that will take motion in the following 8 episodes.

Episode 2 kicks off where episode 1 left us: the return of Eleven. Despite leading audiences to believe that she was consumed by the upside-down when destroying the demogorgan in the season 1 finale, she’s back and has… curly hair? It was great to see her again and even better to see that she’s now under the protection of Hopper (David Harbour), taking refuge in a cabin in the woods. The pair makes for electric viewing and display a complexity in their relationship that offers a nice contrast to her previous arrangement in Mike’s basement. In this season, we see Eleven suffering from a lonely case of cabin fever.

Much like her entrapment in the lab, the cabin offers a strong father figure in Hopper to peak her mood and interest, albeit when he remembers to show up. The episode explores exactly what happened to Elle between the two seasons and, despite offering so much cinematically, the story fails to impress. Am I really surprised that Eleven is back in season 2? Nope. But the episode’s not finished yet – we’re introduced to what seemingly will be this season’s antagonist: The Shadow Monster. We don’t know what it is yet, but when Will decides to run from it during one of his “episodes” (moments in which he seemingly travels between our world and the upside-down instantly) we know, this is one scary mother****r. But Will isn’t ready to share its existence just yet.

Moving swiftly onto episode 3, Dustin makes a discovery that he hopes can impress new girl Max – a creature that we suspect has found its way from the upside-down into our world. Due to its love of Three Muskateers chocolate bars, Dustin lovingly names the creature Dart (after D’Artagnan) and decides to keep it as a pet. When he shows the other party members after school, they’re intrigued but visibly more hesitant than Dustin… and rightly so. Dart escapes and begins roaming around the school after hours, without a hall pass. While searching for the creature, Will experiences his worst “episode” to date as the shadow monster draws ever closer. But this time, following some seemingly bad advice, instead of running away Will bravely stands his ground and tells the monster to “go away”. The monster responds by shooting up each of his orifices, filling him with its upside-down evil-ness. Cut to black.

Glossing over a few other storylines we’ve been introduced to so far, the season opens up with a bunch of punks robbing a bank (I think?), one of which seems to have powers comparable to Eleven’s. The scene felt tacky and I hope they don’t go too far down this avenue. Nancy and Steve are still together (just) but have extremely conflicting feelings surrounding Barb’s death and the fact that she’s still only recognised as missing.

This causes a drunken outburst from Nancy in which she brands Steve, their relationship and, her teenage angst in general as “bullshit” in one of the poorest acted scenes the show has offered so far. Jonathan is going about his life as usual, keeping a close eye on Will and a closer one on Nancy as he shows up after her drunken bullshit-parade to take her home and tuck her in. Finally seeing his opportunity, Jonathan swoops in and offers a shoulder to cry on for Nancy, all the while enabling her to call Barb’s parents with the offer to shed light on their daughter’s disappearance. But someone is listening in on the foolish phone call… Meanwhile, Will’s mother has found a boyfriend in the form of everyone’s favourite hobbit – Sean Austin. I get the feeling that Bob (Austin) has a much larger role to play in this season despite limited screen time so far – why did he tell Will to stand up to the shadow monster? Does he work for Hawkins Lab? Does he still like po-ta-toes?

These episodes are carried by the characters we’re all so invested in as the story fails to hook quite as well as the first season did but, to be honest, with this cast playing these characters, I could watch them debate Marxism and still be entertained. To answer my earlier question – could season 2 live up to the hype? – the answer so far is a resounding maybe, but I’m excited to see what strange things this new season will bring us.

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