STRANGER THINGS 2 gets 8/10 My brain is hanging (in the) Upside Down

Stranger Things – Season 2
Creators The Duffer Brothers
Starring Winona Ryder, Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard

8/10

Blending elements of ET, Steven King, H.P. Lovecraft, Steven Spielberg and D&D together, Stranger Things hit a rich vein of 80s pop nostalgia in its audiences. The series became one of the most talked about new shows of last year, seeing many fall in love with the rather nerdy group of children (and their families) from the fictional town of Hawkings, Indiana. Now it’s so cool the guys doing the soundtrack (S U R V I V E) are coming to play Laneway Festival.

With Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) having seemingly sacrificed herself to defeat the Demogorgon at the end of season one, the second season has us wondering what new threats the Upside Down has in store, and will the Eggo loving telekinetic return?

Almost a year has past since the Demogorgon was destroyed and Will (Noah Schnapp) was rescued from the Upside Down, and life in Hawkings is returning to normal. Yet with the anniversary approaching Will is haunted by visions of that other world, and a giant creature looming over it’s foetid vista. Is this just fear, or is it a premonition of things to come? If this “mindflayer” is coming, then how will “the party” (Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin) deal with its disruptive influence without Eleven’s gifts?

The return to Hawkings is an immensely satisfying experience, mainly due to the charisma of the actors and the charm of the script. True, it does settle into a similar plot to the first season with a few things tweaked and the stakes raised, but there is enough development by the Duffer Brothers to make it more in the vane of a good sequel, rather than just a repeat of what has happened.

Then there is also some rather important world-building going on to set the stage for the seasons to come. Although pilloried by many of the fans, episode seven sees us break at a crucial juncture in the events in Hawking, to pursue Eleven’s relationship with her equally powerful “sister” Kali/ Eight (Linnea Berthelsen ). Kali’s group of misfit friends owe more to cliché street punk, than small town nostalgia of Eleven’s circle of friends, who are pursuing a more aggressive agenda towards the cabal that created Eight and Eleven.

Given the much vaunted X-Men #134 reference in the first season, and the possible ties that could suggest between the Dark Phoenix saga and Eleven’s arc, then could the illusionist Eight serve the role of the comic book villain Mastermind in future seasons? As the Duffer Brothers make homage to, rather than directly lift from their influences, it’ll be curious to see how this does play out (especially as there are many call outs to Grant Morrison’s excellent comic series The Invisibles scattered amongst the graffiti at the gang’s hideout).

Besides Kali, there are a number of other new arrivals to the cast that add a lot to the proceedings. Max (Saddie Sink) stirs “the party” dynamics up as a skater girl relegated to small town life, adding fractious tension between the group of friends. Max also brings her rebellious older step brother (Perth actor Dacre Montgomery), who besides borrowing heavily from The Lost Boys wardrobe department, brings a story arc for the rather neglected Steve (Joe Keery). Paul Reiser replaces Mathew Modine as the head of the shadowy cabal, bringing a different take on things. Sean Astin rounds out the newcomers with a charmingly dorky performance as Joyce’s (Winona Ryder) new love interest.

In short season 2 offers all you could want from Stranger Things, with 80s nostalgia, strange other worldly horror elements, and the occasional D&D reference. It hits many of the story elements of the first season, while producing something that is distinctive in its own right. More evolutionary than revolutionary, it has set the foundations for what is to come in future seasons, and remains entertaining while doing so.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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