By Martin Shore
On the 27th October was the Netflix event of the year. After being drip-fed trailers regularly throughout the year, I could not wait to load Netflix up and binge the whole season of Stranger Things 2 as soon as physically possible. On reflection, does it come back offering all of the greatness of season one? More importantly, does it live up to its insurmountable hype? Sort of…
The best things about Stranger Things 2 is that the aesthetic and cast are still on top form. The commitment to creating really convincing mise en scène and the effortless 80s vibe has endured, with nostalgia filling the screen at every moment. Similarly, the performances are just as strong. Both new and old characters have been written with genuine, human concerns that make their stories compelling. Jim Hopper has been given a whole slew of development, Steve Harrington is guaranteed to create just as much debate as he did last time, and new fan favourite Bob Newby instantly makes his mark as one of the most charming guys throughout. Moreover, the air of young love has inevitably reared its ugly head, providing a new challenge for the Stranger Things kids to rise to. Quality of construction is not to be questioned, and it makes the episodes necessary to plough through.
Does it live up to its insurmountable hype? Sort of…
Sadly, “ploughing through” is how watching some of the later episodes felt this second time around. Where the first season was a mystery that you slowly sunk your teeth into, the second sees a much greater focus on action. Somehow the pacing feels slower this season? Season two starts off with characters having an evident belief in the mysterious goings on around Hawkins. With the addition of new subplots that interlace between the core narrative, we sometimes are distracted from key plot details for far too long in favour of a flashback or unnecessary diversion. Narrative progression was somewhat hamstrung by the lack of overall mystery we receive.
This commitment to action means that I came away thinking the second season was less memorable. Where I can instantly recall the most pressing scenes in the first season, I struggled to come away from season two with more than a few stand-out moments. I would liken the action focus to the issues I have with The Walking Dead. Once we have seen the threat enough times, the action set-pieces simply feel less threatening. This leads to a lack of suspense, making it harder to become invested in the show, barring a few surprises along the way.
I think why the show loses its suspense is the lack of ‘rules’ that are in place for this second season.
I think why the show loses its suspense is the lack of ‘rules’ that are in place for this second season. Where the ever-present threat of death at the hands of the Demagorgon was very, very real in the original Stranger Things, here we have the more ambiguous threat of this incongruous ‘force’ of evil that we saw in the skies of the Upside-Down in the trailers before release. Where we understood that meeting the Demagorgon meant death because we regularly saw the consequences of what it could do (still praying for Barb’s sudden recovery, obviously), the looming monstrous presence we saw in the trailers just doesn’t have the same prescient threat.
It might sound like I’m being harsh here, as I can’t say I didn’t enjoy watching the show, but it just wasn’t as good as the first season. Whether I am a victim of my own expectations is more than up for debate. Even if sometimes unsatisfying, Stranger Things 2 still has the necessary charm to keep you coming back to it. What season one was acclaimed for is still here in spades, and the story still comes out at the end feeling personal and impactful, even if there’s occasional digressions that can be a little bit annoying. Whether the Duffer Brothers can recapture the essence of their show if we get Stranger Things 3 is something we’ll just have to wait for.
Image: DoWhat via Flickr