29 October 2017

REVIEW: Stranger Things Season 2

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It's that time of the year again. Halloween is around the corner, everyone has started carving their pumpkins and of course, Stranger Things season 2 has finally dropped on Netflix.

*This Review Contains Spoilers*

Season 2 is a very satisfying return to already well established characters and familiar territory. Instead of exploring entirely new strangeness Season 2 decided to patch up the leftover plot from season one. Unlike other shows who too often dismiss the events of the previous season, Stranger Things decides to tie up all the loose ends: the gateway to the upside down inside of the lab, the physical and psychological effects of Will's time in the Upside Down, Justice for Barb, Eleven's disappearance. The show takes seriously the post traumatic stress which has worsened in wake of the one year anniversary of Will's rescue and Eleven's apparent sacrifice. Joyce who struggles with leaving Will alone, Will who has to deal with a stream of bullies at school who call him the 'Zombie Boy', Mike who continues to radio Eleven every single day in the hope that she is still out there somewhere. Nancy, who wants justice for Barb, as Barb's parents remain ignorant of their daughters death in the Upside Down.

Unlike other shows, the second season decided not to gloss over and forget the traumatic events of the past season but instead deal with the psychological trauma the events had on Hawkins and our favourite 'nerd party'. 

Season 2 returns with a satisfying strange familiarity, such as the the black room of Eleven's mind used to visit familiar faces such as Mike & Hopper. Season 2 uses the successful artistic direction of season 1 and reapplies it to the characters current situation in a way that isn't boring or repetitive but heartfelt. Other familiar features include the return of a smaller yet equally bad demigorgon, glimpses in to the Upside Down & the lab in which Eleven was raised. We also have references to Dungeons & Dragons, albeit poking a little fun at applying it to their current situation. With that being said the 'nerd party' is right once again and vanquish the evil trial at hand. The show also begins to touch the coming of age topic with the first episode sees Mike having to box away some of his beloved toys, and we dive into the "first love" storylines.

Season 2 also discusses the burden that the characters now carry. The knowledge of the Upside Down and what lies behind the curtain begins to weigh down on them. Nancy, who believes her and Steve are to blame for Barb's death, struggles with the fact that Barb's parents are still searching for her. With the introduction of Max, Dustin & Lucas find themselves debating whether or not to tell her the truth about Will so she can join their party. We also meet Max's step-brother, a troublemaker adamant on picking on Steve Harrington. We see how knowing about the Upside Down affects their day to day lives and the issues it creates when welcoming new people in to their lives. Joyce is also faced with this peculiar issue, as she has a new love interest in her life who doesn't know the truth of their family history. Bob, who first seems suspicious but who turns out to be vital the success of a mission at the end of the season. The introduction of these new characters delivers a new dynamic for both the Byers family & the friendship between Mike, Will, Lucas & Dustin. The newbies show the difficulty the established characters must face moving forward: how to welcome new people in to their lives when they have to keep so many secrets.

Season 2 also elaborates on certain aspects of the first season such as other patients/experiments like Eleven. The introduction of Eight is what kicks off the first episode, however the 7th episode The Lost Sister, which explore the connection between Eleven and Eight is in debate. Dubbed the weakest episode of the show so far, it shows what Eleven could become if she were to follow in Eight's footsteps: using her power for revenge and violence. What-could-have-been. This is already touched upon as we see Eleven harm Max out of jealousy.  

This odd blemish of an episode does make us question how many other people like Eleven are out there. It did allow us a bigger glimpse into Eleven's personality, her desire to find where she belongs, but the choice to separate her from the others for so long was risky especially when she only returns to save the day in the finale. This Eleven-centric episode ends up being a little drawn out, albeit somewhat necessary in terms of Eleven's character arc. She was given a choice thanks to the events in this episode, a choice which ultimately presents the foundation of Eleven's character. Episode 7 also allowed the show to bring in some much needed diversity in terms of casting choices. 

Season 2 is indeed stranger and a lot darker. Will is centric to this season's main story line arc, and Noah Schnapp's performance is nothing short of extraordinary. Will faces nightmarish situations and some scenes were truly difficult to watch. Bullied and called Zombie Boy at school, he is also frustrated at how friends and family are treating him differently. He attempts to stand up to the fears he is facing, but sadly this only makes things worse as the Upside Down gets a tighter grip on him. 

This season, Mike is still struggling with the loss of Eleven, radioing her every single night in the hopes she is out there somewhere. Mike appears to be a kind of anchor to both Will & Eleven who, when trapped in the Upside Down or another psychological state, call out his name repeatedly. These heart wrenching moments put into perspective their friendship and loyalty. An opportunity to see how young kids deal with trauma and their reactions to lies and deceit. Finn Wolfhard once again delivers a heart-wrenching performance, the entire cast is incredible but this season truly revealed the extent of each actor's talent.

Our favourite monster fighting duo, Nancy and Jonathan, team up in order to expose the labs secrets and lies in order to reveal the truth about Barb. We finally we see the two come to terms with their affections for each other. Jonathan has a smaller role this season, as we focus on his relationship with Nancy and how he struggles to accept what is happening to Will. We see a young teen break in the face of his brother's painful experience.

Season 2 allowed for other secondary characters to have more screen time: the unlikely but much appreciated Steve & Dustin team-up and the introduction of Max which causes a rift between Lucas and Dustin. Season 2 successfully depicted the secondary characters' backgrounds, with short scenes of both Dustin & Lucas's families. This family dynamic theme is also central to Hopper & Eleven, who both struggle to come to terms with their situation as past and present issues come in to play. Jim, the father figure holds a tight grip on Eleven in an attempt to keep her safe, and to teach her the consequences of her actions. 

Overall, season two is a very pleasant return to our beloved characters, 80s nostalgia and sci-fi mystery that we all loved so much in season one. It successfully ties up the loose ends of season one, elaborating on certain plot lines whilst revealing a much bigger and darker upside down which is haunting. Although it relies on the previous season's success, it doesn't feel repetitive or drawn out. Despite the hiccup of episode 7 which is currently causing a lot of debate online, season 2 does not disappoint. The acting is haunting, with some truly difficult scenes to watch.

Let's hope Season 3 makes up for the lost time between Eleven and the beloved Nerd Party, and explores Eleven's integration into the real world. With the finale showdown, we will hopefully see more of Eleven's power grow as she learns to control & perfect it. And more Steve Harrington, please? 

Holly & Summer

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