The Duffer Brothers had their work cut out for them with season two of “Stranger Things” after the first one received widespread critical acclaim. Viewers expected bigger and better, and with the acting chops of their cast as well as several ‘80s pop culture references, the show delivered.
The delicate balance between youth and danger is what makes the show so addictive, and the Duffer Brothers have managed to walk that fine line throughout the second season. Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) showed the multifaceted nature of his character in the face of physical and emotional trauma surprisingly well for his age. This trait is reflected in the rest of the teenage cast as Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) forms a connection with the audience through her character’s extreme emotional fragility even though her character barely speaks English. Despite the uncertainty that constantly looms in the background, the comedic relief provided by the main cast serves as a reminder of their characters’ ages.
A host of new characters made their debut this season, including Bob Newby (Sean Astin) and the new kids Max (Sadie Sink) and Billy (Dacre Montgomery). This influx of newcomers made me worried that their backstories would overshadow the plot of the season, but their storylines complement those of the other characters. Newby is the epitome of the suburban dad and possesses skills that prove useful to the existing cast. Billy and Max’s turbulent home life is completely opposite to that of the main characters, providing a look into the non-supernatural underbelly of Hawkins, Indiana.
The cinematography throughout the season is aesthetically pleasing and showcases a variety of film styles from a rotten pumpkin patch that looks like something out of a horror movie to the use of VHS camcorders in an homage to the show’s time period. The real masterpiece lies in the special effects as this season delves deeper into the Upside Down. The darkness of the alternate dimension shows off the texture of the set design and the Demogorgon as well as the movement of the ash-like particles that resemble snow in a cold and uninviting world.
This season also cements Mike’s (Finn Wolfhard) role as the leader of their young group by showcasing his emotional maturity after Eleven’s disappearance. Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer), finally assesses her relationship with Steve (Joe Keery) and makes a decision between him and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton). The character development in this season causes unlikely bonds to form and puts them to the test in the finale.
Overall, this season outdid the first, a feat that I personally thought would be impossible. The final episode provides a bittersweet ending that contrasts John Hughes’ coming-of-age movies with the looming threat of the Demogorgon, which sets the stage for season three and leaves viewers wanting more.