Stranger Things 2 debuted early this morning on Netflix. I published my overall review of the new season on Monday, noting that it was repetitive and sequel-y — in a way that winds up justifying the silliness of calling it Stranger Things 2 rather than “Stranger Things season two” — but mostly executed at a high enough level that I was glad to have it back, despite initial skepticism.
Now, though, it’s time to get into more specific thoughts on the highs and lows, for the benefit of those who have finished, with full spoilers for the whole season throughout. (If you’re busy with work or school or just life, bookmark and come back when you’re done.) That’s coming up just as soon as I use four puffs of the Farrah Fawcett spray…
Low: Keeping Eleven separate for so long
Far and away the biggest mistake the season makes is to keep Eleven — Or are we all calling her Jane from now on after she found her mother and Dr. Owens legally changed her name to Jane Hopper? — apart from Mike and the other boys for virtually the entire season. Really, it’s only a few scenes sprinkled across the final two episodes, because almost as soon as she reunites with the whole group, she and Hopper have to go off too close the portal.
There’s a lot of her throughout the season with Hopper (more on that in a moment), and with her exploring her past (ditto), but one of the most appealing parts of the first season was watching these three nerds teach a girl who’d lived her entire life in monitored isolation how to be a person. The sequel repeated and/or did variations on a ton of things from last year, yet somehow the Duffers looked at Eleven’s bond with Mike, Dustin, and Lucas and thought, “Yeah, we don’t need so much of that.” Max turned out to be a good character in her own right, but it did both her and the season a disservice in essentially saying, “We can just plug a new girl into the group and it’ll feel close enough to satisfy.”
And as a result, both she and Mike spent most of the season being justifiably bitter about being separated from one another (Mike assuming she was dead, Eleven essentially being kept in a different kind of prison for slightly more benevolent reasons), which was also less fun to watch. A lot of the season is about various characters dealing with PTSD from the events of the first, which was a nice touch and the kind of thing you can do in a TV show rather than the kind of movies the Duffers are paying homage to — nobody knows what it was like for Elliot to go back to school and have to just be a regular kid after E.T. made his bike fly — but Eleven’s forced separation wound up making the whole thing feel darker than it needed to.