TV Show Review

TV Review: STRANGER THINGS: Season 2, Episodes 1-9 [Netflix]

Millie Bobby Brown Stranger Things Chapter Nine: The Gate

Stranger Things Season 2 Review

Netflix‘s Stranger Things: Season 2, Episodes 1-9 was stronger than Season 1 in almost every way expect one – it’s villain. There was no clearly-defined main villain (the twisted father/daughter relationship that Dr. Martin Brenner brought to the table was gone) in Season 2 of Stranger Things, an antagonist motivating and creating perilous situations for the protagonist, the innocent, and bystanders (though a good secondary antagonist was introduced). In a clearly-defined, main antagonist’s place was an amorphous threat, looming and incessant in its thirst for other-worldly conquest. Its harbinger, a small boy, a vessel that it eventually infected and inhabited, like many others. Because of that symbiotic relationship, Noah Schnapp, playing Will Byers, turned in the best performance of his young career during Season 2 of Stranger Things.

Unlike the first season, the plot-line of Season 2 of Stranger Things rested more and more on Schnapp’s shoulders, causing him to emit a series of increasing complex emotional reactions. Schnapp was able to do so with ease (or he made it seem as such) on three pivotal occasions: 1.) the visions of the monolithic creature in the Upside Down, 2.) when the underground tunnels were burned and Schnapp reacted as if he were being burned from the inside out, and 3.) during the remembrance scene, a quiet yet unmatched moment in both seasons of Stranger Things.

In that singular moment, Stranger Things evolved beyond its pop-culture, Steve Spielberg-inspired, 80’s roots. Stranger Things became a well-managed, well-orchestrated single room play, with each actor chiming in on-cue, adding to its intensity.

Though its narrative effect failed (the creature inside Will was still in control at the end of the scene), its artistic and visual effects were successful – it was a beautifully realized scene that blossomed out of nowhere.

While the aforementioned scene was inspired and memorable, Jane Ives / Eleven / El (Millie Bobby Brown)’s backstory directly after the events of last season may have been the best moment of Season 2 of Stranger Things. It was the question mark that fans of the TV series wondered about the most and its answer did not disappoint. It was not only connective tissue, it was intriguing, seeing Eleven alone, calling out and longing for the person that she had come to know, became friends with, and had feelings for, all done while traversing two versions of a blood-strewn battlefield – the real world version and the Upside Down incarnation.

That scene in Chapter Two: Trick or Treat, Freak of Season 2 of Stranger Things ended in a beautifully crafted and emotional crescendo – when Eleven and Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) saw each other through the window of his home at the precise moment that an FBI agent told Mike that Eleven was dangerous.

When the viewer saw that scene, the viewer wanted more, for the scene to be extended somehow, for those moments to continue. That greedy, emotional reaction is the hallmark of a scene written and acted to perfection. No scene in Season 1 of Stranger Things even came close to being as impactful or resonating to that extent.

Then there were little moments in Season 2 of Stranger Things: the multiple references to John Carpenter‘s Halloween – Eleven wearing the bed sheet and Max dressed as Micheal Myers – the Ghostbusters Halloween costumes, the arcade, the fact that the season was part creature-feature (like the previous season), they all successfully added to the 80’s background of Season 2’s narrative.

Speaking of the 80’s backdrop, the Cold War and the fear of Russian plots were excellent subterfuge for the FBI to utilize. Who won’t believe it, besides those that knew the truth, given the Geo-political climate of that time period?

Like Lt. Commander Shelby in the Star Trek: The Next Generation two-part episode The Best of Both Worlds, Season 2 of Stranger Things added new characters that ameliorated its storyline. Unlike Lt. Commander Shelby, Maxine “Max” Mayfield / Madmax (Sadie Sink) and Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery) weren’t new central characters, they were new secondary characters. Though secondary, they were far more interesting than many of the main characters that had survived from Season 1 to Season 2 of Stranger Things. Billy Hargrove was the standout of the two new sibling characters. His anger and AQ-level were Sith-like i.e. he was aggressive to almost everyone around him. When it came to Max, Billy was both protective and volatile. Billy’s unpredictability made him the third most interesting character on Stranger Things behind Eleven and Hawkins Police Department Chief Jim Hopper.

Unlike all of the other characters on Stranger Things, Billy’s backstory, his home life, were second only to Eleven’s. Like Eleven, Billy was the product of continuous violence and emotional abuse. Divergent from Eleven, Billy was also forged by physical abuse. Billy released his pent-up, violence valve on those that displeased him, especially Billy’s step-sister and his would-be rival, Steve Harrington (Joe Keery). Billy was magic on-screen, far more so than anything Steve had achieved in either season of Stranger Things. Billy’s antagonism toward Steve made Steve interesting again (Steve was on-screen in Season 2 but the viewer didn’t get to know any more about him – besides what hair products he used).

When Billy’s fury was finally released in the last episode of Season 2, his face etched in rage, Billy wasn’t hitting Steven Harrington, he was hitting King Steve. Someone that other people looked up to. A male authority figure. A representation of Billy’s father. It was in Billy’s face. There was no reason for Billy to be that angry with Steve. Billy wouldn’t have stopped hitting Steve if Max had not intervened.

Max had her moments during Season 2 of Stranger Things: Max final standing up for herself, for the sake of someone else, was one of them but there was also when Max introduced herself to Eleven – Eleven not acknowledging Max’s outstretched hand and walking past her (a delicious, on-purpose jealousy slight). In comparison to Billy, however, Max was bland (like Kali / Eight). Billy, his personality, and notable moments exceeded Max’s by leaps and bounds.

The viewer of Stranger Things: Season 1 may have assumed that the Barbara “Barb” Holland storyline would be dropped in Season 2. That person or people would have been wrong. Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer took the dwindling Barb strand and blew it up, utilizing it in very clever ways: Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer)’s guilt, the plan that she hatched, the execution of that plan, meeting Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman), coitus (plus the morning after’s hilarity i.e. “How was the pull-out?”), finally being with Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton), and breaking up with Steve Harrington, all wrapped neatly in a justice-for-Barb-Holland bow.

Though Nancy Wheeler’s storyline went from average to good from Season 1 to Season 2 because of Barb, the Season 2 storyline was not without its flaws. How in the world was a civilian, Nancy Wheeler, admitted into a military scientific institution without having her purse searched? She could have had anything in there: a knife, a gun, a grenade, you name it (within reason), it could have been in there. The Duffer Brothers wanted the viewer to believe that no one checked it, that neither Nancy nor Jonathan were patted down or had their things searched before entering a high-end, military-controlled research facility. That plot point made absolutely no sense, especially given the lengths the previous Hawkins Laboratory administration went through to keep their secrets.

Hawkins Police Department Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour), the keeper of those secrets, displayed a huge capacity for compassion in Season 2 of Strange Things, starting in Chapter Two: Trick or Treat, Freak by: feeding, taking in, housing, clothing, teaching, and being a positive parental figure to Eleven. Hopper had really gotten to know Eleven, manipulating her in subtle ways, when the need arose, disciplining, and doting on her as if she were his own. What was never explained was how Chief Hopper, with all of the forest surrounding Hawkins, Indiana, knew where to leave food for Eleven.

The final good versus evil confrontation in Chapter Nine: The Gate of Season 2 of Stranger Things was an aggrandized version of the final confrontation from Season 1. That bespoke of the extra funding this season had received because of the phenomenal success and popularity of the first season but it was also a disservice to the season that came before it. Self-plagiarism happens e.g. the Star Wars films but it didn’t have to with Season 2 of Stranger Things. There was enough original meat on the bone for the season to end any way that The Duffer Brothers desired and not with Eleven thwarting The Mind Flayer. That viewpoint leads to the obvious question: if not for Eleven, how else was that giant doorway between worlds to be closed? I don’t have an answer to that question since the doorway was a specific problem created to be solved by a specific character – Eleven.

What I do know is that the pivotal battle at the end of Chapter Nine: The Gate benefited from two films: Ghost in the Shell: Innocence and X-Men: First Class. The ending to Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, Motoko Kusanagi working, concentrating on a pivotal task while Batou, with a long-rifle, defended Kusanagi and himself from a horde of on-coming attackers, was almost exactly what took place in the final protagonist / antagonist scene in Chapter Nine: The Gate. In X-Men: First Class, Erik Lehnsherr had learned to harness the full potential of his power through emotion, allowing him to do things he formerly could not. It was the same with Eleven in Chapter Seven: The Lost Sister and doubly so in Chapter Nine: The Gate when she thought of key emotional moments in her life, used both hands to focus her psychokinetic energies, and began to levitate.

Though formulaic, like the strong-takes-from-the-weak plot of Avatar, it didn’t matter. The viewer watched the final confrontation in Chapter Nine: The Gate and was more than satisfied. It didn’t disappoint.

Neither did the hero celebration that closed out the episode and the second season of Stranger Things. The Hawkins High School Winter Dance  was humorous, heart-warming, and surprising. Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo)’s opposite sex machinations were the most smile-inducing while the Will / Eleven scene was the moment the viewer looked forward to the most during the dance. A year of separation, though not complete separation i.e. Eleven’s mind visitations, from their first love had been terrible to endure, an unfortunate trial for Will and Eleven that was at its end.

As the final moments in Season 2 of Stranger Things alluded to, however, that peace and exultation would be short-lived. The Mind Flayer was dauntless.

Leave your thoughts on this Stranger Things: Season 2: Episodes 1-9 review and this season of Stranger Things below in the comments section. Readers seeking more TV show reviews can visit our TV Show Review Page, our TV Show Review Twitter Page, our TV Show Review Facebook Page, and our TV Show Review Google+ Page. Want up-to-the-minute notification? FilmBook staff members publish articles by Email, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Facebook.

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About the author

Rollo Tomasi

A Political Science and MBA grad who started FilmBook during an eCommerce B-School course in 2008. Cinema and TV addict. Former writer at Empire Movies, Blogcritics, and Alternative Film Guide. In addition to writing for FilmBook, he also edits the copy published on the website, manages its writing staff, manages the back-end operations, site finances, its social network accounts, and works with publicists, actors, and companies on press coverage and promotions. He has also created ProMovieBlogger.com and Trending Awards.com.

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