The Duffer Brothers deliver another solid episode, slow-building tension with tantalising glimpses and teases.
The beauty of Stranger Things is in its nostalgia for the 80s. Perhaps one of the most important decades in film-making, with classics like as The Terminator, Aliens and The Thing, it marked the onset of geek culture, and is rightly celebrated as such. Episode 2 revels in 80s nostalgia even more than most episodes, centring the main plot around Halloween night 1984 in the fictional town of Hawkins and boasting an extended cameo appearance from some really well-made Ghostbusters costumes. Details like these really ground the series in reality for older audiences and advertise the culture of the time for the new generation.
However, plot-wise, the season is still finding its feet and taking it sweet, sweet time. Usually ‘padding out’ a series is referred to as a bad thing (Hello again, The Walking Dead), but it mostly works here. We see all of our favourite characters continuing to deal with the fallout of the previous season, all while the tension is ratcheted up with shadowy teases of a towering monster and the ominous images of decaying vegetation all around the town. I’d argue that if the format of the series didn’t allow impatient viewers to binge-watch at their leisure, the amount of content we get in this one episode is lacklustre, but it seems unfair to judge it upon that basis when the next episode is right at your fingertips.
Sean Astin’s Bob continues to shine as gentle comic relief, although he seems near-certain to cop it sooner rather than later based on Jonathan and Will’s response to him. The rest of the cast continue on strong form, with Milly Bobby Brown (Eleven) and David Harbour (Sheriff Hopper) providing the best performances through their weird surrogate father-daughter relationship which remains frustratingly untold as of this episode, despite featuring numerous flashbacks to last year’s finale. Noah Schnapp also contributes some fine, wide-eyed terror in this episode, proving that he is a capable actor despite having so little to actually do last season. However, the scenes with Natalia Dyer (Nancy) and Joe Keery (Steve) were pretty grating, and the moment with Nancy and Steven in the bathroom seemed just plain out of character, and even made Nancy unlikeable for the first time in the series. It’s a shame that this whole ‘Justice for Barb’ angle feels completely tacked on as a response to those who complained about Barb’s apparently unnoticed demise last year, rather than anything organic or natural.
The episode ends with a whammy of a cliffhanger, but it’s unlikely that anyone feeling curious won’t just watch the next episode immediately, so it feels slightly wasted despite its ingenuity. Overall, ‘Trick or Treat, Freak’ feels like another solid slice of the Stranger Things cake which, lets face it, most of us have already devoured in its entirety. Not that that’s a bad thing.
All 9 episodes of Stranger Things Season 2 are available on Netflix.