STRANGER THINGS Season Two Review: The Nostalgia Machine Strikes Back

Evan and Mandy take a look at what's happening in Hawkins this year.

SPOILERS for Stranger Things season two!

A year has passed and Stranger Things season two is finally here. The first season hit almost like a fully formed manifestation of a self-aware zeitgeist, but can Netflix and the Duffer Brothers pull it off a second time? Will the needle drops be chronologically possible? What’s going to plague Hawkins this year? Will we finally get justice for Barb? Is Dusty going to be as likable with a full set of teeth?

I got together with Stranger Things SuperFan (unless she doesn’t want me calling her that) Mandy Jeronimus to discuss the ups, downs and upsidedowns of Stranger Things season two, which we both binged the shit out of, but then waited an extra day to review so we could party like crazy last night. Happy Halloween, everybody!

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EVAN: Good morning, Mandy! I want to get right to the most important Stranger Things season two question there is. Do you think season two gave Barb the justice she deserved?

MANDY: I think Barb definitely got her justice. I had heard all sorts of theories about what they’d do with Barb, from becoming a demogorgon queen (my favorite one to hate) to being the trite “vision of a ghost guiding their dumb dreams”. What they gave Barb was much more satisfying, and actually, one of the more human aspects of the season. Nancy carried a lot of guilt that Barb’s parents were left wondering what happened to their daughter (sidebar: those parents looked NOTHING like her!), and knew that she had played a big role in Barb’s demise. (Girl rule number one: never split from your friends at parties. If your friend wants to bail, see her to her car and THEN go have sex with Steve Harrington.) Barb didn’t get her truth revealed, but she got justice and her parents got closure. Although, part of me DOES wish she’d been a queen of the underworld. I’ll save that for my next Stranger Things fanfic. What do you think? Was there justice for Barb?

EVAN: Culturally, I’m not sure we even needed Justice for Barb. I liked the character and thought she offered season one some much needed stakes (and I also liked that bit where a creepy crawly came out of her corpse’s mouth). Narratively, however, I was happy they finally gave her death some closure and used it to motivate Nancy.

With Barb out of the way, perhaps we should set the table a bit. Stranger Things season two picks up a year after season one. The boys are a tiny bit more mature. Poor Will has some PTSD issues he’s working through with the certainly not shady government guy Doctor Owens (Paul Reiser). Nancy and Steve are still a thing, but there’s trouble in paradise. Joyce has a new boyfriend, Bob (forever-nerd Sean Astin), and Hooper is trying to raise Eleven in a secluded cabin. Shit goes down when a giant shadow monster takes over Will’s body and Dusty befriends a cute lizard creature. Did I miss anything, Mandy?

MANDY: I’m kind of shocked, Evan. You forgot your favorite new character: Billy, the mullet bully!  He’s the mysterious new bad boy challenging Steve for the title of school alpha, and then there's his stepsister Max, who becomes involved in a teen love triangle with Lucas and Dustin. These characters both add a good deal of obstacles and tension for our S1 crew and are one of the few bits of exposition left to unpack in season three.

EVAN: Oh my god, I loved Billy from the moment I laid eyes on him. He’s such a glorious cartoon. The scene where he basically porno-seduces Nancy and Mike’s mom was my favorite of the entire season. They MUST hook up in season three!

His sister Max made less of an impression on me, but I did like her addition to the group, if only because it gave Lucas so much to do. I thought he - and holy shit, his little sister! - really stood out as one of the season’s best characters, while the kids you thought would get the most attention, Mike and Eleven, kind of got sidelined.

I’m cool with that when it comes to Mike, but I thought season two’s Eleven problems were hard to overlook. What did you think of her season two journey? Particularly the choice to give her her own episode right when shit was getting serious back in Hawking?

MANDY: I wasn’t against having an episode dedicated to learning more about the Numbers, but the execution was lacking. So, Eight just shows up, teaches her to harness her anger, give her a makeover and peaces out? Where are Nine and Ten? Or 1-7, for that matter. And is her aunt good or evil?  I guess you could say I’m left wanting from that episode, and the Hawkins Lab experiments are one of the most intriguing parts.

EVAN: I was just surprised they took that character on such a solo adventure. I doubt that’s what anyone wanted out of season two. But if the groundwork you brought up about the other wacky lab kids pays off in season three, maybe it was worth it.

You asked if Eleven’s aunt was evil, and that’s an interesting point to bring up. Season two seemed unwilling to let anyone be an antagonist. Even the cartoon bully gets a sympathetic moment. I kept waiting for Paul Reiser or Sean Astin to go bad, but they just got more and more kind! Even the season’s big bad, that cool, Lovecraftian shadow monster, was underused!

Maybe the biggest expression of this is the way the show treats its love triangle between Nancy, Jonathan and Steve. I’m not saying it’s bad, but the decision to make both guys worthy of her affections is interesting, if sort of confusing. I’m Team Steve, by the way.

MANDY: I’m getting the same feeling off of Hopper/Joyce/Bob. Why did you make me like all of them, only to kill Bob and have Joyce and Hopper just end up bro-in down over cigs. I was in the same boat as you with Sean Astin, Evan. Especially after his horrible advice to Will that basically escalated the whole mess and ultimately led to his demise. #justiceforbob, by the way. What did you feel like was one of this season’s red herrings?

EVAN: #justiceforbob, indeed. Honestly the biggest red herring for me was that Doctor Owens was such a nice guy! I’m all in for liking Paul Reiser, but given season one’s government stooges AND the show’s ‘80s fetish, I was certain he’d just be an older version of his Aliens character. I was pleasantly surprised that he wasn’t. And you’re right, Sean Astin’s advice totally screwed Will over. And speaking of Sean Astin being the worst, we both agree he died a virgin, right? I buy that he and Joyce might have cuddled a bit, but no way did they go all the way.

Let’s get to the big question: did you like the season? How did it compare to season one for you?

MANDY: No way did they have sex. They kissed and watched movies. That's it.

I liked this season very much!  There were flaws for sure, but the spirit of the show still remained intact and I’m excited to see where next season goes! Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to start my rewatch.

EVAN: I liked the season too, maybe even better than the first. Where season one was somewhat tied to its influences (something Max herself picked up on in a joke that was maybe a bit too cutesy), season two kind of got to do its own thing more. In some cases, to its detriment - I was disappointed in Eleven’s story and felt the ending was a let down. But for the most part I was surprised by and excited about the choices made this year, even if most of it feels in service of setting up season three. If nothing else, I was reminded how fun this show is when it’s not just a pile of memes. Having said that, I am here for all the Billy memes the internet can muster.

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