Denisa and I finished Stranger Things 2 last night, and I’m here to review the whole season at once. But because this is Stranger Things, it’s hard to review it and not give things away, so I’m embracing the spoilers this time. Don’t read this if you don’t want to know the ending. If you’re just looking for a rating, I gave it a 9/10. There were a few bumps that kept it from a perfect score, but the show still is right up my alley, and I loved it in spite of those bumps. You should definitely check it out.
Before I start the actual review, a disclaimer. Shawn Levy (an executive producer for the show and the director of two episodes last season and two this season) heads up 21 Laps Entertainment, the studio that’s in the works to produce the MEMORY THIEF movie. So am I motivated to have a creepy series with 12 and 13 year-old leads do well? You betcha. I would love nothing more than for creepy middle grade horror fantasy to become a huge thing right now, especially with the MEMORY THIEF sequel on its way.
With that out of the way, allow me to dig in. I think it’ll be easiest to list off the things I loved, followed by the few disappointments.
- The main characters. The show might be about spooky, creepy stuff happening in Hawkins, but what makes it a show we care about is the fact that the kids at the core of it are so well done. Dustin in particular stood out this season. Watching him get his crush on Max, then turn to Steve for advice, and ultimately end up with his dance at the end of the season was just spectacular and illustrates my point. Right before the dance scene is the supposed climax of the season. Eleven closes the gate and shuts out the Mind Flayer, while the rest of the crew narrowly escape death. It was a cool scene (albeit a tad contrived if you start thinking about it too closely), but it had none of the same impact that dance scene did. That managed to capture the nerves of first dates and dances, touching on insecurities and nostalgia and twisting that all up with the characters we’ve invested so much time in. It was wonderful.
- Supporting characters. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to Steve and Bob Newby. I really enjoyed both of their arcs, even though they occurred more in the background. Bob’s death was something that you saw coming a mile away, but I was still genuinely sad when he died. Poor guy. And I was really proud to see Steve become less of an idiot, culminating in him joining the team to go burn the vines out of existence.
- The 80s throwbacks. The show continues to do a lot of fun things with its soundtrack and other 80s references. (I loved seeing the old 3 Musketeers wrappers, for example.) Great details that help flesh things out. True, sometimes the soundtrack is a little *too* spot on, but in the end I just rolled with it. It’s supposed to be a fun ride, I think. And that’s what it delivered.
- The plot. Sure, some of it worked just because characters do stupid things for stupid reasons. Poor Bob Newby ran from the demo-dogs, only to decide to just kind of chill in the lobby at the last second. Kind of a questionable approach to escaping, but hey. To each his own. The plot was solid enough to keep me wanting to binge, which is what it was designed to do. I think it really works because they had actors who managed to make it all come to life.
- The creep factor. From Dart to rotting pumpkins to the demo-dogs, the season did a good job of constantly making me want to squirm. Poor Mew Mew.
- What in the world was up with episode 7? The whole season is this finely tuned machine, ratcheting up the tension higher and higher, and then we have this commercial break of an episode, where suddenly we’re on a road trip with Eleven? I gave it the benefit of the doubt at first, assuming the things she learned from her mom were going to tie into the events happening back in Hawkins. And then she joined up with the punk rock assassins, and I just wondered what in the world was going on. It was like the pilot to a new show I had no interest in watching. The things that attract me most to Stranger Things have nothing to do with punks and hit squads killing people with shady pasts. Did not work. Did not help anything. You could skip that episode entirely and have few questions when episode 8 started up.
- Max’s brother is a caricature. Yes, they threw in the “he’s been abused by his father” scene to try and give him some depth, but it was just too ham fisted. The guy is such a jerk in every scene, and we’re supposed to believe that Max threatening one time to smash his crotch in with a nail-studded bat is going to keep him at bay for the rest of her life? I don’t think so, Tim. But perhaps they’re trying to set things up for later seasons. At least it worked better than episode 7.
As I write about the season more and think it through, I begin to wonder at my initial reaction. My 9/10 rating. There were some definite weak points, and I’m not sure the show would stand up to serious scrutiny. But I’m going to stick with my rating, mainly because I think that’s the sort of thing the show is going for. Campy, creepy, 80s fun. I know it made my Halloween season more enjoyable, and I was really happy to watch it. I also think I’d merrily rewatch the season. I still think about some of the scenes and the characters, and that says something right there.
But enough about what I thought. I’d love to hear what other people thought of the season. Please share!