This review contains light spoilers for the first three episodes…
I’ll say it: Season 2 of Stranger Things starts out weak. The first episode was laden with a few too many sci-fi horror tropes and clumsy 80s nostalgia, not really picking up until the credits stinger. The second and third episodes? They’re just fantastic.
We’re fifteen months on from Stranger Things world-conquering debut and in that time it’s become quite the phenomenon. Mirroring reality, the second season kicks off around the anniversary of the disappearance of Eleven and the reappearance of Will. It’s also Halloween—what better time for things to get spooky?
The Duffer Brothers took a bet on making season two bigger and bolder. While it clearly grapples with being a direct sequel rather than a spiritual successor, it largely pays off. The characters remain well-written and loveable, the 80s innocence is played up with tact, and the overbearing threat is bigger than ever without being ham-fisted.
These episodes are certainly a revelation dump: Eleven is alive and living with Hopper, there’s another girl out there with psychokinetic powers, and Will keeps “experiencing” the Upside Down.
Episodes two and three pose a lot of questions, building upon the established mysteries surrounding the Upside Down and its denizens. The checkmate between Hawkins residents and the government lab also presents its own threat as the shady scientists continue their work in secret.
Like a seasoned Dungeons and Dragons party, the now five-strong main group are warriors facing down a threat larger than Hawkins. New classmate “Mad Max” Maxine makes an interesting addition as a foil for Eleven (and the demolisher of Dustin’s Dig Dug score). And now that he’s back, Will’s increased presence makes up for his absence in the first season.
The performances are, as expected, great across the board. The protagonists aren’t as intertwined as they were before, with the splinter groups of Dustin-Lucas-Max and Will-Mike making for some fun scenes. Meanwhile, Millie Bobby Brown could carry the series with her angrier, lonelier Eleven.
It’s a lot of setup for a nine-episode season and asks more questions than it answers, but if the rest is as consistent as the second and third episodes, it should have no problem wrapping up the myriad narrative threads. Rife with Lovecraft and DnD influences, even more 80s throwbacks and great performances all around, this is shaping up to be a classic.