Warning: minor spoilers for “Stranger Things” follow. Read at your own risk.
Ain’t no hype train like the “Stranger Things” hype train.
If shows like “Daredevil” and “House of Cards” put Netflix on the map when it came to the push for original programming from streaming services, “Stranger Things” is the one that put them over the top, as if to say “dude…this is serious business”. The stellar first season was a massive hit. And ever since the teaser trailer for season two dropped during the Super Bowl, the hype train has been steadily chugging along. So the question becomes, does the second season live up to the first?
The first thing many people will likely notice is the difference in pacing. Compared to season one, season two does a lot more building up and creating tension before anything really happens. In fact, it’s not until the third episode when things start to get moving. And this was a common theme I noticed in reviews: the slower pacing.
There seems to be this weird assumption in critic-land that having slower pacing than before is somehow a bad thing. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. In many ways, it’s a good thing for this season. It gives us some room to breathe, especially when compared to the breakneck pace things moved at in season one. It also allows us to view these characters when they’re not under constant threat. We get to watch them live their lives. And it’s refreshing to just see some of these characters on a normal day, before everything inevitably goes crazy once again. This season definitely has a larger focus on inter-personal relationships and conflict.
Now, this does mean that each episode doesn’t necessarily have that cliffhanger hook that makes you want to keep watching, but that’s fine. This is the second season. At this point, we should be tuning in because we’re invested in the characters themselves, not because we have to see what comes next. That’s something I’ve noticed a lot in modern television, and is particularly evident in broadcast television (i.e. not cable or satellite). Advertisements for new episodes often are built around teasing a “shocking twist” that you’ll “never see coming” and will “blow your mind”. Cliffhangers aren’t bad by nature, but if they’re used as the primary hook for a show without any substance behind them (such as complex characters), it just feels cheap and soulless to me.
But I digress. “Stranger Things” season two introduces us to some new characters as well. First off, we have new kid Maxine (Max for short) and her step-brother Billy, who basically spends the entire season being a massive a-hole. Because of her step-brother and her family situation, which we learn a bit about later in the season, Max is a more hard-edged character than the other kids, although she does eventually end up following along with them. And this is one of my only real gripes with this season. While I appreciate the injection of new blood into the dynamic of the kids, Max and her step-brother don’t really seem to serve much purpose aside from causing tension within the group (although Max does have a pretty badass moment at the end of the season).
Speaking of gripes, the various plot lines in this season may become a point of contention for some, as certain plots end up more fleshed out than others. There was one in particular for me that fel underdeveloped. As season two opens, we’re treated to an action scene with an unknown group of people fleeing the police. It turns out one of them has psychic powers and a connection with Eleven. It’s a great opener that entices us in with a bit of action. My problem comes from the fact that this thread isn’t explored until near the end of the season. There’s only one episode that centers around these people, and its only purpose seems to be to push Eleven in the right direction.
Oh yeah…Eleven’s back. Spoilers I guess…although if you saw any of the trailers you already knew that.
Despite the complaints I or others may have, no one can doubt that the magic that permeated “Stranger Things” season one is still here. Even if the beginning’s slower pacing rubs some people the wrong way, the season ends on a very strong note with some great character moments. I’m always impressed by just how well-written and acted this show is, especially when it comes to the kid characters. It’s funny too, because apparently when the Duffer brothers were shopping the show around to different studios, the studios wanted to cut the kids characters out entirely. And now it’s hard to imagine the show without them. It’s hard to imagine the show without any of the characters we’ve come to know and love.
And that’s the key thing: characters. The characters are why we’ll return to Hawkins for season three.
Well…that and the spooks. Everybody loves the spooks.
Thanks for reading! Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.