Review: Stranger Things (Season 2, Episode 1)

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Upside Down

Hawkins, Indiana is as dramatic as ever as we plunge head first into the very promising Season 2.

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Welcome back to Hawkins, the town with all the 1980s nostalgia and nerve-tingling creepiness. After Season 1’s ending brought almost as much closure as it brought uncertainty, Netflix’s hit show Stranger Things has returned to the small screen to supposedly answer all the questions left hanging. I say ‘supposedly’ because, from the taste the season opener gave me, answering a couple of questions is merely an excuse for asking a ton more.

The Season 2 premiere is an interesting mixture of old and new. While it takes us back to all the plotlines we know and love back, it taps into a dimension of new characters and new conflicts that are just as intriguing as the old ones. The episode starts with the good old chase, introducing a group of youngsters escaping the police by means of impressive superpowers followed by a very familiar nosebleed. Coincidence?  I don’t think so. However, that’s all we get from there, as we quickly travel back to ’80s pop culture dream town Hawkins and its cool kids.

Netflix

Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Will (Noah Schnapp) seem very much like their old selves while they cycle around playing arcade games and beating top scores until a ginger girl comes to town and messes up the ‘natural order’. “Girls don’t play video games!” Dustin loudly states. Well, ‘Mad Max’ (Sadie Sink) does, and she seems just like the type that’s gonna join the gang for some Upside Down fun.

The episode goes on to show us what everyone else is up to. Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is back to her soon-to-get-dramatic love triangle with Steve (Joe Keery) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), Chief Hopper (David Harbour) to his old habits, and Joyce (Winona Ryder) to her kids and her shop. Actually, no, wait, fan-favourite hobbit sidekick Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) enters the Byers’ life as Bob the Brain, Joyce’s boyfriend who is just like a misplaced puzzle piece among the show’s coolest family.

One really enjoyable aspect of this episode is the fact that even if it feels like a new beginning for everyone, it doesn’t take off from a clean slate. The otherwordly events of Season 1 have left scars on all the characters, and the subtle eyes and pens of the Duffer brothers allow us to see that. The focus of this angle is Will, whose constant struggle makes him pay regular visits to a psychiatrist (who, surprise surprise, is up to his neck into some brand new good old monster drama). Being the Stranger Things version of ‘The Boy Who Lived’, Will deals with nightmares, visions, and some classic bullying as he tries to move on from his traumatic experience. Noah Schnapp is a joy to watch as he and Charlie Heaton provide this episode’s most heartfelt scene. Jonathan twists all the labels Will gets into some great big brother wisdom: “Nobody normal ever accomplished anything meaningful in this world.”

Netflix

Joyce is also quite troubled as we see her visibly distressed when the phone rings and she tunes back into her hours of hell spent waiting for news about Will. Mike is also a bit shaken; Finn Wolfhard is spot on as he is shown trying to reach his beloved Eleven just as he had done for the past 352 days, while his family don’t seem particularly happy about his regular slips of behaviour. Big sister Nancy isn’t very happy either as we see her breaking down thinking of missing friend Barb. Steve, however, is there to provide audience-engaging comic relief to the scene: he says “it’s finger-lickin’ good” – KFC’s undying slogan – while enjoying his fried chicken.

What about Eleven? We are already aware of her return from the trailers, and the way in which she does it is a wonderful surprise placed right at the end of the episode for a crowning, slightly emotional “YES!” moment. And this means? Well, many questions have popped up, but one thing is certain: the gang’s all back, folks, and ready for some action. Now please excuse me while I go shamelessly binge-watch the rest of the season.

Check out the trailer for the second season below, and check our website for reviews of the next episodes soon! 

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Editor of The Edge 2018/19, procrastinator, and lover of dogs and words (in this order). Overflowing knowledge of all mainstream entertainment guaranteed, with bonus alternative picks included. Just don't let me touch a gaming console.

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