Home Arts & Entertainment Review: Stranger Things 2, stuck in the upside down

Review: Stranger Things 2, stuck in the upside down

Stranger Things

Lucas, Dustin, Mike, and Will meet up in their school’s audio-Visual room, assessing the situation regarding the Demogorgon.
Photo courtesy of Netflix

By Andrew Gregg
Copy Editor

Stranger Things 2, the followup to the hugely popular original Netflix series, recently debuted to widespread critical acclaim and massive viewership, with 15.8 million people watching the first episode within the first three days, and a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 94 percent.

The second season takes place a year after the events of season one, building on and expanding them, presenting much graver danger for the characters.

The Upside Down is featured more prominently, and the previously shadowy Hawkins Laboratory — the epicenter of the trouble plaguing Hawkins — has become a more neutral setting.

The main crew (Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will) encounter a new addition to their group: Maxine, a skateboarding California transplant. Going by Max, the new girl complicates the friendships within the group. Dustin and Lucas both develop crushes on her and compete for her attention, while Mike, still pining for Eleven, resents Max’s inclusion into their group.

Joyce, attempting to hold her life together after the traumatic events of season one, is still gravely concerned about Will, who has been experiencing “episodes” — apparent flashbacks to The Upside Down. During these “flashbacks,” Will sees something far larger and more threatening than anything faced in season one.

Sheriff Jim Hopper, played by the outstanding David Harbour, has become Eleven’s guardian, and the father-daughter connection which develops between them is one of the more compelling relationships in the series.

Stranger Things 2 twines together the natural and supernatural, drawing heavy inspiration from the fiction of Stephen King, Dungeons and Dragons, and totally tubular 80’s nostalgia. It is expertly paced, slowly building upon the mystery of the evil loosed from the Upside Down.

But Stranger Things 2 is no cheap genre thriller; it is vital and brilliant storytelling, suffused with genuine humanity. Taken as a whole, the show is sleek and seamless, both visually and aurally beautiful.
While its ostensible theme is the supernatural — with an alternate, sinister dimension, predatory monsters, and telepathic children — it is the true-to-life human drama at the center of Stranger Things which keeps it from being forgettable pap.

Stranger Things 2 embraces the gooey, feel-good tropes without shame, and renders them beautifully; it is a welcome relief from the irony and cynicism which overwhelm social media, politics, and modern life in general.

Even when the show (throughout both seasons) does veer into the cliche — predictable moments when bullies get their comeuppance, bitter disputes between friends are resolved with Hollywood grace, and heroes survive impossible odds — it is genuinely charming and triumphant, rather than embarrassingly naive.

What makes Stranger Things 2 a cut above the average show is its dexterity with story lines that might seem overly-familiar to veteran entertainment consumers. Most viewers have seen tender-hearted dramas chronicling the ups and downs of youth. And some may notice in season two similar themes and character arcs that were used in season one. But if the show is sometimes lacking in originality, it makes up for it with heart.

There are only so many different themes and techniques which storytellers have at their disposal. The challenge, then, is making them believable and genuine. And this is precisely why Stranger Things feels, for all its comic book fantasy and throwback 80’s aesthetic, like truly timeless art, rather than cheap entertainment: its characters are multidimensional and believable, and its drama is abidingly human.

The moral of Stranger Things 2 is that the only way to survive the darkness of life — and the monsters which inhabit it — is by virtue of the bonds people have with one another. Whether it is friendship or family, the only thing keeping the characters of Stranger Things from being swallowed whole by the darkness is the devotion they have for one another.

This season was an excellent follow-up to an excellent first season. And there are, thankfully, already plans for another two seasons. With plenty of storylines to pursue in greater depth, endearing characters and high quality writing, it is unlikely that they will disappoint.