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Review: ‘Stranger Things’ still strange as ever

Review: Stranger Things still strange as ever

The long-awaited second season of Netflix original “Stranger Things” made its debut to all on Oct. 27, four days prior to its intended release date. After the sweeping success of the first season, many believed the creators, Matt and Ross Duffer, should have left it as a single season show. When a second season was confirmed, fans feared a decline in the uniqueness it offered and that it would hit the common “sophomore slump” among popular television shows.

With Winona Ryder as one of the only big names in the show as the first season premiered with very little marketing, few people expected the show to take the world by storm. But just weeks after its premiere, “Stranger Things” became the it show of summer 2016. Along with its nostalgic ’80s look and distinctive story line, “Stranger Things” partially reached its success from the outstanding talent showcased by the main characters, none of them over 15 years old. One of these characters is played by actor Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler) who made his first big appearance aside from the show in the film remake of popular Stephen King novel “IT” just months before the release of season two.

Immediately after the show’s first success, the Duffer Brothers got working on the next season. After a little over a year of waiting, “Stranger Things” season two was debuted with a fresh set of characters, relationships and monsters to battle. Along with the known and beloved cast, new faces emerged to bring a fresh appearance to the screen. The fear of a sophomore slump was crushed by the first episode.

Days before Halloween, the show made its appearance on Netflix with a timeline equivalent to its release date, bringing an eery sense that this could be happening right in a viewer’s backyard. Even though the show still remains in the ’80s, it’s relatable cast and realistic visuals make it seem as if Hawkins Lab isn’t so fictional, or old, after all.

One year after Will Byer’s (Noah Schnapp) disappearance into the upside down, he is re-immersed into normal life, but not without complications. He suffers from uncontrollable episodes where he is flipped back into the Upside Down, and it’s no longer the snowy iceland he was first stuck in.

A storm rages on the horizon, and a new monster threatens the town of Hawkins.

While Will is the only one to see this shadow monster, he is not alone in his battle against it. His reliable group of friends, along with a new member, Maxine (Sadie Sink), work to help Will understand his post-Upside Down experience. While this group of friends is a loved and trusted one, the creators of the show also explore some new relationships.

First, Jim Hopper (David Harbour) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). At the end of season one, after Eleven sacrifices herself for the boys, we see Hopper leave her favorite snack, Eggo waffles, in a box hidden in the woods. Does this mean she’s alive? Does he know where she is? Luckily, the show leaves no mystery here. We find Eleven safe and very much alive. Not only is she back, but she is living with Hopper.

After discovering the death of Jim Hopper’s child in the first season and thus leading to the ruin of his family, it’s almost too sweet to see Hopper treat Eleven like his own child. Providing her with her own house and protection in the deep woods, he gives the girl a glimpse of what an almost normal life could have been. While the two develop a deep, almost familial connection, Hopper begins to become less reliable and more stressed as the town suffers from the deathly touch of the shadow monster, which eventually causes Eleven to run away to find her real mother. This creates yet another relationship to open the door of the mysterious character in season one.

Using her connection to a part of the Upside Down still not fully explained, Eleven finds her real mother, which allows viewers to understand the true origin story of the girl once named Jane, stolen from her mother, and branded with the number eleven. While seeing this, it is also discovered that Eleven has a “sister” of sorts, another girl held captive with her in the evil labs of Hawkins by the man called Papa. Once Eleven finds her sister, a potential lifestyle opens for her. Named Kali (Linnea Berthelsen), the girl with the eight branded on her arm shares the same powers of the mind that Eleven seems to be unfolding and figuring out for herself.

Kali has grown and taken a group of misfits and criminals and molded them into her own task force. Once in the same situation as Eleven, Kali uses her powers and friends to take down the men and women who worked for “Papa” in Hawkins lab, and created the horrific childhood both girls experienced. While Kali uses Eleven to find one of the men who they haven’t been able to track down and attempt to kill the man, Eleven shows mercy towards him. After a close call with the police in the man’s house, they leave without killing him, and eventually the police find them in their hideout.

While everyone gets away with their life, Eleven knows she has to leave Kali and her knit of misfits. The relationship is a short one but reveals many things about Eleven’s life and creates a bittersweet departure as Eleven realizes she has to go home to her friends to save the town yet again from a monster no one truly understands.

Aside from the horror and fear the show creates, the Duffer Brothers also dapple in a love triangle with Mike’s older sister, Nancy (Natalia Dyer), whom two boys who have been fighting over since the first episode of season one. While it seems in the beginning of the season that Steve (Joe Keery) has prevailed, the relationship quickly declines and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), Will’s older brother, steps in, leaving Steve alone.

Or so the show leads the viewer to believe. On his way to patch up his crumbling relationship, the unexpected and perhaps most likable pair is created, Steve and young group member Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo). Many fans found a love for Steve as a babysitter-slash-big-brother figure for the group who knows firsthand what it’s like to battle evil from the Upside Down.

The show also finds a home for Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max Mayfield in a budding love that leaves Dustin alone in the dust with his newfound big brother Steve Harrington.

One relationship that didn’t create an original development for either character was Joyce Byers’ new boyfriend, Bob Newby (Sean Astin). While Bob is the nice, quirky character whose innocence is almost sickeningly sweet, it is almost evident from the beginning Bob is going to die. With the show pushing a Joyce-Hopper pairing since season one, it’s clear Bob is a pawn used to create some tension and serve a little purpose before his ultimate death. Although Bob didn’t necessarily deserve to die, once he served his purpose, it was clear the only option was to kill him off. An innocent guy like him has no place in a world of monsters.

Along with Bob Newby, Max’s older brother Billy doesn’t quite reach a notable status in the world of “Stranger Things”. While his cruelness towards Max and her new friends is chalked up to his abusive dad in a last-minute scene, his character still seems too shallow compared to characters like Eleven, and even smaller characters like Steve.

While the second season has a number of diverse relationships and a formidable cast, some problems still arise when an entirely new world is created.

In season one, the Demogorgon seems to be a monster that twists viewers’ hearts to see. Its lanky body and teeth-filled face grabs viewers’ attentions from the minute it’s seen crawling from the wall of the Byers home. In season two, the world is expanded to demo-dogs, as Dustin names them, and explores their hive mind connected to the Mind Flayer, or shadow monster. While its vague and confusing underground tunnel system intrigues viewers, many questions seem to be unanswered by the new, more powerful monster.

First, it seems as if Dustin finding the baby slug-like animal in his trash (almost exactly like the one Will threw up at the end of the first season) only to become a fully grown demo-dog by the end was all for one loose thread in the finale of the season. Named D’Artagnan, also known as Dart, Dustin’s tiny polliwog who has a liking for nougats has a potential to be a big factor in the show for the boys and as a spy for the Mind Flayer (like it eventually possess Will to serve as).

Instead, the short relationship built between Dustin and Dart is only used for one last end to the season twist. Just when it looks like Dustin and his small group of friends will be eaten by a demo-dog in the tunnels of the Mind Flayer, it’s proven to be none other than Dart, who is quick to recognize Dustin and let the group pass. But this interaction raises the question: if all of the Upside Down monsters have a hive mind, how does one show a moment of self-consciousness? And furthermore, do these creatures have a hive mind from the minute they’re born? If so, why would they ever create a relationship with a human separate from the pack?

Finally, while the show seems to tease that the shadow monster is not officially defeated, it never addresses the true meaning of any of the monsters in the Upside Down. Like the Demogorgon before it, the shadow monster is trying to destroy Hawkins. But why? It seems like neither monster has a true reason to destroy this single town other than the basic fact that it can. While both evil entities are, graphically, well-designed, and separate in their looks and abilities, it seems both have the desire to kill as many living things as they can with no true basis as to why.

Ultimately though, at the end of season two, the show has very few things to complain about. With attention and development shown to mostly all of the characters and a new storyline to build and develop, there are only small things for a fan of the show to nitpick at. With teases at the end, such as Dr. Brenner’s (Matthew Modine), or Papa’s, potential existence and the looming shadow monster still alive, there are strong hopes for a third season. With a rich finale and horrifying plot, the show seems to only be going up from here.

As the cast grows tighter bonds, there are moments of pure innocence and beauty from the young actors. Even when there is nothing but fear in the scene, the cast create a world the viewer cannot help but marvel at. Seasons one and two have been a success, so all “Stranger Things” fans can expect is another outstanding season in the making.

 

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About the Contributor
Ally Pick, Podcast managing editor
Ally Pick is a junior at Middletown High School. This is her second semester of journalism and she intends to take the course for the rest of her high school career. While she does not plan to go into journalism after high school, she finds it important to be able to search for important stories to intrigue people and to have a news-based mind. At first Ally joined the class due to her love for writing and English, but after taking the course for a year she discovered she has also gained interest in the broadcast aspect the class has to offer. Her interests outside of class include reading, writing, forcing her cat Suggs to cuddle with her, watching movies, and campaigning for Emily Pusey’s run for the title of Hoco Queen, vote today. Her dream is to go into dentistry, but the ideas of what she wants to do still do not remain solid. All she knows for sure is that today is short, and tomorrow is even shorter, therefore she will write like each day is her last.

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Review: ‘Stranger Things’ still strange as ever