The second season of the hit Netflix original TV series Stranger Things builds on the success of the first but doesn’t quite reach the same dizzying heights, potentially due to too many ineffective side stories and not enough presence from the big bad of the season when compared to its predecessor.
A successful sequel, whether it is literature, television or film, builds on what made the original so good and expands on the creative universe. I really enjoy the 1980s setting of Stranger Things, it harks back to a certain era of Horror movies, from the rise of the ‘teen slasher’ to adaptations of works like Stephen King’s It. It also provides an aesthetic that is striking and quite different from a vast majority of its contemporaries. The second season of this show introduces more threats from the ‘Upside-Down’ as well as introducing us to several intriguing characters, friends and foes.
If the debut season of Stranger Things was akin to Alien, where the protagonists are getting stalked by a single terrifying creature that pops up from dark corners and produces a feeling of dread experienced by the audience in anticipation of its appearance, then the second season is the Aliens season. There is a big increase in the pacing of episodes this season and the number of action sequences, which gives it the feeling of upping the ante compared to the first season. An episode close to the end of the season where the protagonists are trapped in a research base, some severely injured, while the monsters lurk around every corridor, typified the change in direction that the writers took the show in. This was also my favourite episode of the whole season and had me on the edge of my seat throughout, something that was only achieved in small parts of episodes in the first season.
On the other hand, I would say that the writers played slightly safer for this season of Stranger Things. It certainly added new elements and expanded on the show’s mythology, one cannot argue with that fact. But this season, especially the first few episodes, built a lot slower compared to the events of season one and I am trying to figure out the reason why. It might be down to the fact that the big bad of this season is a largely unseen force who doesn’t have much of a physical impact on the narrative, with the exception of the impact it has on one character, and so there are secondary enemies squeezed in who don’t feel as powerful as the Demogorgon. Likewise, some of the side excursions the characters go on are hit and miss; Eleven’s search for her birth mother and another girl experimented on for her powers is infinitely more worthwhile of the screen time than Nancy and Jonathan confessing their feelings for each other.
There were several new elements to the second season of Stranger Things that worked really well, most notably the increase in action sequences and the nods to horror films of the time with protagonists being possessed and having to creep through dark corridors to avoid the creatures from the Upside-Down. However, in my heart, I wished that this season would build on the first in a way that felt like a switch in direction of narrative. Too many scenes felt like filler, with side plots being ineffective at times. It was still a good watch, don’t get me wrong, but it lacked the originality and sparkle of the season before.
Star Rating: ★★★☆☆