Does 'Stranger Things 2' live up to the hype

Our writers debate if the season is bogged down or brilliant

Cast of stranger things.
Credit: 
Screenshot from Netflix

For months, Netflix has been releasing images and trailers to promote the second season of Stranger Things, building a hype the quiet premiere of the first season never had. As the release date of this second season approached, I wondered, could it live up to these impossibly high expectations? After watching, my answer is … not really.

As the only one of my friends to spend my Halloween weekend binge-watching the second installment of Stranger Things, I’ve been bombarded with questions about how it compares to the explosive first season. My answer is always a solid “I don’t know.” Sure, it’s great entertainment, and it’s far from being bad television. But, it’s just not the first season.

Stranger Things 2 emphasizes character Will’s difficult transition back into normal life a year after his recovery from being lost in the alternate dimension known as “the Upside Down”. Will struggles with being labelled “zombie boy” by his classmates and laments being treated like a victim. Though this focus on Will’s PTSD is compelling, it moves slowly and this kind of pacing is not what Stranger Things does best. Unlike the first season, which immediately dove into Will’s disappearance, Stranger Things 2 has a more lethargic start and takes its time to dive into the action. Basically, it lacks the gripping suspense that characterized the first season.Without the action and suspense, it feels as if Stranger Things 2 didn’t quite know what kind of story it wanted to tell this time around. 

Despite its slow start, a highlight of the new season of Stranger Things is Eleven’s relationship with Hawkins police officer Jim Hopper. He’s taken in an on-the-run Eleven and the bond they build together is beyond touching. Eleven has never had real parents, and every loving interaction between her and Hopper is a cry-worthy high point of the season. 

Another highlight is the new dynamic of Will’s friend group. After Will’s disappearance, Eleven became a crucial member of their group, building an especially strong relationship with Mad Mike. With the addition of Max to the group, Mike feels the loss of Eleven more than ever and the exploration of their longing for each other is heartbreaking to watch. 

Despite enjoyable plot lines, Stranger Things 2 lacks the instant suspense and engrossing stories of season one, making it hard to get into and much less binge-able than the original. 

That being said, this season is definitely not bad and if you have the time it’s worth the watch. The 80s movie homages are nostalgic as ever, and the humour is on point, making it a fun escape from the many essays and midterms October has to offer. And, most importantly, Barb might finally receive the justice she deserves.

— Lauren Trossman

To this day, it boggles my mind how long it took me to finally sit down and watch Stranger Things. 

The show was a surprise hit that quickly became one of the most talked about series of 2016, with its charming cast, engaging plotline and 80s theme nostalgia. When I finally sat down to watch season one towards the end of 2016, it instantly had me hooked: I finished the show in a day, and have been eagerly anticipating season two ever since. 

Going into the second season this week, my hopes were to experience a season that echoed the first in its execution, but not necessarily in its plot. And to my joy, I found myself as in love with second season as I was with the first. 

The nine episodes of Stranger Things 2 maintains the 80s nostalgia that was so prominent throughout the series’ first season, through its excellent selections of music, pop culture references and aesthetic. 

I also appreciated a few specific plot points. The recognition of Barb’s death felt conducive to the plot, despite the season taking place a year after the events of the first. In this new season, Barb’s death is used as a means of depicting trauma and character growth for Nancy, rather than pandering to the #JusticeforBarb meme that took social media by storm after the series’ debut. 

As well, they included more female characters that added to the plot. Max is a strong character who doesn’t let others, specifically her stepbrother Billy, dictate her actions or who she associates herself with. As well, Eight is a vengeful but autonomous character who could prove in later seasons to be a solid connection for Eleven. 

The school dance scene specifically was a Hallmark moment for me. It displayed numerous tropes of the 80s that augmented the emotion of the episode, but beyond that, it highlighted one of the main reasons why this show has done so well: the relationships amongst the characters. Will and Jonathan’s brotherly bond, Eleven and Mike’s feelings for each other, Billy and Max’s conflicting relationship — the very real and very human interactions between the characters is what immediately draws you in. The horror, thrills and sci-fi elements of the show are what keep you hooked. 

The show this season was not without its flaws: it’s definitely busier than the previous season and I still think the female characters, while strong, could still have more significant roles and influence in the show. But all in all, the second season worked to build off of the first, and provided a satisfactory continuation of the story of the people in Hawkins, Indiana and the Upside Down.

— Sarina Grewal 

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