Hawkins, Indiana just got a whole lot darker. The Duffer Brothers “pull no punches” with the second season of their hit Netflix series, Stranger Things, and our favorite gang of misfits has returned from the aftermath of the heart-stopping events from last season. Stranger Things 2 picks up a year later with the town still adjusting to the return of Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), “the boy who came back from the dead,” while the rest of those involved struggle to piece their lives back together from last season’s events. Nancy (Natalia Dyer) battles her demons with Barb’s (Shannon Purser) untimely death, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) vie for the attention of a town newcomer, and Mike (Finn Wolfhard) mourns over the absence of his beloved Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown).
Underscoring this season is a sinister presence that haunts Will, triggering him to experience severe post-traumatic stress visions of a menacing “shadow monster.” He faces an intimate, torturous tug-of-war between his physical reality in Hawkins and the mental labyrinth he inhabits in the Upside Down. The sudden inter-dimensional transitions and technicolor nightmares that pervade the season in a slow build highlight Will’s plight and make viewers feel trapped alongside him. Schnapp’s acting soars with his captivating and heartbreaking performances showcasing Will’s internal and external deterioration with a refined nuance that is precise and captivating. Having only briefly appeared in the first season, Will is integral in propelling the plot forward and maintaining the discord in his status as both a victim and a threat. Schnapp hones in on that complex duality and displays a fractured character that viewers can only sympathize with.
Meanwhile, our favorite Eggo-loving heroine has taken up residence at a remote cabin owned by none other than Hawkins police chief, Hopper (David Harbour). After escaping from the Upside Down and surviving on the run, Eleven relies on Hopper for safety, but it is not easy for either of the two as their relationship is tumultuous, with both not quite understanding the other’s needs and motivations. Their faux father-daughter dynamic is littered with strife: Hopper is hellbent on protecting Eleven in light of his own daughter’s untimely passing while the latter feels suffocated in the confines of the cabin in a manner similar to that of her time in Hawkins Lab. The tension between the two is well portrayed by Harbour and Brown. We learn that there is not a right or wrong side, as each character is acting on what he or she thinks is in the other’s best interest.
Other highlights of the season include the introduction of Bob (Sean Astin), Joyce’s too-pure-for-the-heart love interest, who serves as the moral compass of the season and the rekindling of Nancy’s relationship with Jonathan (Charlie Heaton). While more elaborate than its predecessor, this season has a less centralized narrative. However, the added dimensionality provides a greater sense of realism into what life is like for each individual.
A “viewer bonus” is a look into the background events that led up to Eleven’s time at Hawkins Lab. Eleven’s reunion with her catatonic mother Terry created an avenue for Eleven beyond the confines of Hawkins and connection with Kali (Linnea Berthelsen), the eighth project from the lab. This offered her the chance to build the family she lost at birth. Brown perfectly captures the melancholy and conflict Eleven felt when having to choose between the life she could have and the life she was in. This storyline into Eleven’s past is something that viewers have eagerly awaited and one that will hopefully make an even greater appearance in future episodes of the series.
If the first season was focused on finding Will, the second season is focused on saving him. However, this time around, we are able to get a look into layers of each character that we were not privy to last season. We saw Steve (Joe Keery) develop from a stationary meathead to a defensive, caring guardian. We witnessed Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) evolve from a doubtful, closed-off child to a matured, confident adolescent. Stranger Things 2 took more liberties in how it wanted to portray the story of this tiny town with dark happenings and gave room for the characters to explore who they were and what they wanted to be. With each character comes a different set of problems and emotions: romance, anger, loss, family, friendship, and strength. All of this ties back to the human side of the story; amidst all the supernatural elements of the series, it is the relatable personalities of each character that keeps us invested. At the end of the day, they are simply trying to overcome a problem that they were unfortunate to become involved with and return to some sense of normalcy. The season ends with an almost complete tying up of loose ends, but with the show already renewed for a third season, we can only imagine what the next mystery will be for Hawkins, Indiana.