Created by: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer
Starring: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Joe Keery, Sadie Sink, Dacre Montgomery, Sean Astin
The Duffer Brothers bring us the second season of Stranger Things, one of the most enjoyable surprises of 2016. Season 1 (please, forgive my old writing style) was a major success, leaving the stakes high for its follow-up.
This time around, the citizens of Hawkins, Indiana are still recovering from the damage caused by the Demogorgon and the Hawkins Lab. Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) was rescued from the Upside Down in the previous season, but a dark, sinister link to the "other side" threatens his and everyone's lives.
I love the first season of Stranger Things! At the time, my only issue with the series was that its homage to Steven Spielberg and the 80's classics sometimes crossed the line and it essentially imitated some iconic scenes. Besides that, it was flawless and notably captivating, benefiting from a standout cast that still rules the show in this second season. It is the main source of entertainment due to the amazing actors and actresses that elevate the story.
Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven) continues to be phenomenal and she is quickly becoming a huge star, but this time she is not the main one ... Noah Schnapp is unbelievable as Will! The amount of powerful, disturbing and emotional scenes that he has to act through, are insanely tremendous. There are several moments where I genuinely thought "how in the hell is this kid doing this?", because his display is something that I don't imagine an adult actor doing easily, less alone effortlessly like Noah seems to do. Please, give this kid every award that is! Magnificent!
Back to Millie Bobby Brown, she is also incredible, as expected. Her face expressions are really detailed and every time that she needs to push herself further, she does. Bone-chilling passionate moments are a major part of her performance and she nails every single one of them. Eleven's mysterious backstory is thoroughly explored and it is the most intriguing subplot of the season, but unfortunately, it ends up being wasted in the end (more on that below).
What really works is her new relationship with Chief Hopper (David Harbour), which is definitely one of my high points. Hopper has a lot of great action sequences (very well shot), but Harbour brings his character to a whole other level in every scene he shares with Millie. I did not blink an eye during every piece of dialogue between these two, they are extremely captivating and their script is exquisitely written, filled with heartfelt and compelling lines. David Harbour deserves some nominations this year, what a superb performance!
As for the rest of the cast, Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler), Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas Sinclair), Charlie Heaton (Jonathan Byers) and Sadie Sink (Max, one of the few new characters), all have great performances, but they still are a few steps below the astounding displays of Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin Henderson), Natalia Dyer (Nancy Wheeler) and especially Joe Keery (Steve Harrington), who surprised the hell out of me! His character goes through such a vast improvement since the beginning of the show, that I can affirm he is now one of my favorite characters.
Winona Ryder (Joyce Byers) continues to be fantastic, but her character does not. If Steve started as my least favorite character and he is now one of the best, Joyce goes the other way around. Winona is a wonderful actress but all I get with her character are headaches with so much screeching and yelling. She is becoming annoying and I hope that the Duffer Brothers change something next season, otherwise she is going to be intolerable. Sean Astin is a pleasant addition to the series with his portrayal of Bob Newby, Joyce's boyfriend. What an outstanding performance and a lovely romance, very well-developed and with the right amount of screentime.
The screenplay is very engaging and exciting, switching from very dark tones to more lighthearted ones and well-balancing the drama, comedy, romance and horror incorporated in the story. Will Byers' narrative is the main plot and his connection to the Upside Down is well-developed throughout the show, keeping the enthusiasm and emotion high. The provincial environment elevates the cinematography by making it seem more realistic and practical.
The storytelling process is astonishingly well executed. The Duffer Brothers know exactly what they are doing and every episode's opening is their cinematic proof. Their method is very interesting and the way they handled the love triangle between Jonathan, Nancy and Steve, is brilliant. Their relationships evolve naturally and the actors never look to be forcing anything. I can't remember the last love triangle that I actually enjoyed, so kudos to you all.
Despite all of these qualities, Season 2 is not as flawless as Season 1. Even though it remains quite story-driven, it does not have that feeling of urgency. The show takes long to figure itself out, consequently dragging the first bunch of episodes and slowing down the pacing too much. Once it picks back up, the build-up generated is awesome and the ending pays off, but the first episodes persist a bit slow.
However, my main issue, probably the same as everyone, is Chapter 7: The Lost Sister. Until this episode, anyone could say that Stranger Things only has from good to awesome episodes, but not after this. Like I mentioned above, Eleven's backstory is the most mysterious and captivating subplot of the season due to the development of her unknown past. This episode completely ruins something that was building up since the very first FRAME of the season by simply throwing away ... well, everything.
Once they reach the climax of the subplot, they basically give up on it. A character that supposedly is meant to be very relevant, is disregarded and just put on hold for the next season. You can totally skip episode 7 and you won't miss anything slightly relevant to the main plot, besides some costume changes to Eleven. Such a huge potential that is ultimately wasted. Disappointing.
In addition to this, I also hate Dacre Montgomery's character. In a season already filled with too many high-school cliches, Billy Hargrove just makes everything worse. He is that cliche bully who has to treat everyone like their inferior because he has some OBVIOUS problems that I can't say which, since they are only "revealed" in the last few episodes. Her sister, Max, is already a character who I think I enjoy more than I should. So, Billy definitely crosses the line and he is by far the worst character in the whole series.
All in all, Stranger Things: Season 2 is not as impeccable as its debut season, but it is still a hell of a ride! Once again, its ensemble cast is perfect in every way, but Noah Schnapp takes the crown from Millie Bobby Brown this time around, with an incredible performance, worthy of every existent award. Beautiful cinematography, gripping storytelling, exciting main plot and several compelling subplots, especially Hopper-Eleven's relationship. However, Eleven's backstory, while intriguing, ends abruptly with a terrible episode and a missing opportunity to produce something special. There are a bunch of high-school drama cliches, including a flat character, but in the end, the show lives through.