Season two of ‘Stranger Things’: Barb, Eggos, the Upside Down

Millie Bobby Brown in 'Stranger Things.' (Netflix via Tribune News Service)

Spoiler alert: This article contains plot information from the recently released  season of “Stranger Things.”

Almost a year has passed since Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) defeated the Demogorgon, and the small town of Hawkins, Indiana is peaceful and quiet once again. Or so it seems. What everyone’s favorite TV kids are about to discover will confirm their greatest fear — the Upside Down continues to lurk just underneath their feet, steadily growing deeper and deeper, and has given rise to a new monster, one much darker and more threatening than the last.

Mirroring the first, season two opens with Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Will (Noah Schnapp) — he’s back! — playing a game. Instead of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), however, (though D&D is indeed revisited this season) the four stand crammed together around an arcade machine. The game, Dig Dug, is significant for a couple reasons: first, the name itself foreshadows Hopper’s (David Harbour) literal unearthing of the Upside Down. Arguably more important, however, is that it introduces a new character to the series. Max (Sadie Sinks) initially grabs the attention of the boys because she is different from any girl they have ever met. Who knew girls could skateboard or play video games? Due to her negligent parents and abusive stepbrother, Max is tough and resilient, qualities which earn the friendship, trust and respect of the boys and prove to be formidable in the final battle against the monster.

Ever since Will returned from the Upside Down, he has been tormented by recurring episodes in which he is yet again trapped in the other dimension, chased by a vine-like shadowy creature. Whenever one of these episodes occurs, Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Hopper take him to a doctor, who tells them there is nothing to worry about; unsurprisingly, the ‘doctor’ is actually a scientist on a research team monitoring the gradual expansion of the Upside Down. Scared and unsure of what to do, Will asks Bob (Sean Astin) — Joyce’s innocent and naïve yet caring boyfriend, whose enthusiasm for puzzles is a tremendous help in solving this season’s mystery — for advice. Bob regales Will with a tale from his youth, when he had nightmares of a clown who only stopped when he stood his ground and yelled at it to leave him alone. Unfortunately, when applied to the shadow monster (or Mind Flayer, in D&D terminology), this tactic leads to Will’s possession. The Mind Flayer is a virus of sorts, and he becomes its host. Poor Will — while last season he was trapped in the Upside Down, now the Upside Down is inside him.

For the majority of the season, Hopper is the only one who knows Eleven’s whereabouts; he feeds her (mostly Eggos) and lets her “watch television” (which really means visiting Mike in the black space) and in return only asks her to follow three simple rules — the “Don’t Be Stupid” rules. The police are on the lookout for Eleven, believing her to be a Russian spy — good old ’80s paranoia — and these rules are intended to keep her safe. However, Eleven begins to equate Hopper to “Papa,” and runs away to her mother. While there, Eleven learns of Kali (Linnea Berthelsen), another girl who had been abducted by Hawkins Laboratory. Eleven seeks her out, and discovers that she and her friends hunt down and kill the people who abducted and experimented on her. Kali trains Eleven to dig down deep inside herself —digging seems to be a motif this season — to find the anger necessary to defeat her enemies. Kali is basically the Yoda of the show. Kali also unintentionally inspires Eleven to return home and help her friends fight the Mind Flayer. In the end, Eleven not only rekindles her romance with Mike, but also becomes Hopper’s legally adopted daughter.

Meanwhile, love triangles abound. Both Lucas and Dustin are interested in Max, but due to more well-intentioned advice this time from Steve, Dustin pretends to ignore her. Lucas, on the other hand, eagerly welcomes Max into their friend group and opens up about the events of the previous season, thus winning Max over. The bromance between Steve and Dustin develops because Steve also has a shattered heart. Though Steve and Nancy both know they cannot tell Barb’s parents what really happened for fear of the Hawkins Lab men targeting their families, Nancy is overwhelmed with guilt and reaches a breaking point at a Halloween party, drunkenly claiming that everything, including their relationship, is “bullshit.” Jonathan is the one to take Nancy home… surprise surprise. Later he plans to go with her to tell the truth to Barb’s parents. Although the two are intercepted by spies from Hawkins Lab and threatened, Nancy records everything that is said. Their visit to a conspiracy theorist proves fruitful, not just because he helps them succeed in shutting down the lab and leaking the truth to the public, but also in that he is the one to finally convince Nancy and Jonathan to face their feelings for each other. Lastly, although Bob sacrifices himself so the others can escape from the lab (#JusticeforBob), his death opens up the possibility of a relationship between Joyce and Hopper. Although that would make Will and Eleven step-siblings, which might complicate things.

In the end, Eleven closes the gate to the Upside Down, and everyone is tearfully reunited and Barb finally gets a funeral — closure at last! A month later, it’s winter again, and the kids all dress up for the school’s Snow Ball. Nancy and Jonathan are adorably awkward together, and Lucas and Max share their first kiss. Even Will is asked to dance but his partner calls him “Zombie Boy,” which seems like a red flag. Dustin, who once again took Steve’s advice, is a despondent wallflower, but Nancy invites him to dance with her and comforts him, telling him that everything will be okay. However, Nancy might regret making this promise, since in the final shot the camera leaves the merry atmosphere of the school and slowly rotates 180 degrees, showing the Mind Flayer skulking in the Upside Down, red and blue storm clouds raging all around it. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another year and a half to find out what strange things happen next!


Summary

Stranger Thing's much-anticipated return doesn't disappoint, providing closure for season 1 while introducing new mysteries and new characters.

4.5 stars
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