Stranger Things Season 2: What Worked, What Didn’t & The Gift of Steve

Stranger Things Season 2 Plot Summary:

The Upside Down has not left Hawkins, Indiana. Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) is haunted by new visions. Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is determined to find justice for her dead friend, Barb (Shannon Purser). Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) fall for the new girl in town Max (Sadie Sink), who has a brother (Dacre Montgomery) with a violent streak. Steve (Joe Keery), and Nancy are having issues — does that open the door for Jonathan (Charlie Heaton)? Mike (Finn Wolfhard) is super bummed that Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is gone, but is unaware Hopper (David Harbour) is actually keeping her safe. Meanwhile Joyce (Winona Ryder) has a new man — Bob (Sean Astin), a Radio Shack employee. Oh yeah, and those lab guys in Hawkins including a new head doctor (Paul Reiser) are still up to no good.

Season 2 of Stranger Things was tremendous. Easily my favorite season of television in this 2017 calendar year. That is saying a lot as there have been a plethora of really good shows this year. Yet, none of them hold a candle to The Duffer Brothers second installment of their sci-fi/fantasy/comedy/drama series.

The story was brilliant. The new relationships (Hopper/Eleven, Bob/Joyce, Dustin/Steve, Max/The Party) were all insanely investable. The suspense was white knuckle. The comedy was gut busting. The experience — so enjoyable.

However, let’s all be honest with ourselves for a second — this season was not perfect. There were plenty of things that didn’t work here. And we’ll discuss that shortly.

But here’s the big question — was this better than Season One?

I can unequivocally say it was not. And that’s not because it was poorly door, or that it failed to live up to expectations. In my mind, this season never had a shot of topping the first season. That first season may have been one of the most magical, emotional, and enjoyable television experiences of my life. It was a pure joy to watch the story unfold, to see the camaraderie between the characters, to understand the world of the Upside Down, and the mental terrain of Eleven. It was special.

Now, we’re back. All the things we loved watching for the first time are now everyday. It’s like opening a Christmas present. The elation you get from opening your present, and using it for the first time is so high that every other time you use it, you never get that initial feeling again.

Season 2  was never going to be as good as the first. There was just no possible way. The first season of the series was pure magic. Watching everything unfold from the character camaraderie to the development of the Upside Down to the mysteries to all the great inside jokes — it was one of the greatest joys I’ve ever had watching television.

So, given that fact, there was no way Season 2 could top it.

So let’s look passed that, and dive into Season 2…what worked, what didn’t work, and the gift that is Steve Harrington.

Photo Courtesy of Netflix

What Worked: The New Cast Members

One of the hardest things a television series, especially a beloved television series, can do is successfully add new characters. And with the second season of Stranger Things, a number of the new characters were integral to the story…while some were just hilarious additions. Lucas’ sister Erica, Dustin’s mom, and Murray were all solid additions that provided much needed levity. Billy was a bit of a one-notes 80s caricature that was saved by a reveal in the third act. (We’ll get to the characters that don’t work in a bit…yes, we’re looking at you Chicago street punks).

Mad Max was a solid addition to the party — with Sadie Strong’s performance, and wonderful writing by The Duffers, saving her from being the new character that doesn’t work (the misunderstood, divisive new member of the team). Doctor Owens was a great character because they were able to turn him from a standard villain into a more human, and more likable version of Paul Reiser’s character from Aliens.

Then there’s Bob — the absolute best new character in Season 2. Bob is the biggest dork imaginable, but he’s so genuine, and so likable that you immediately invest in him. No one could’ve played this role but Sean Astin. He willingly plays the role of the butt of the joke, as well as the unlikely hero. He’s got such a lovable demeanor about him. You know Bob is a walking dad joke, but you adore him. You root for him, and the writers make him part of the team, not just “the guy mom’s dating whose a long for the ride.”

What Didn’t Work: Episode 7

This wasn’t a bad episode — it just didn’t need to be a full episode. The idea of Eleven meeting her mother, and then going to find her sister is a good idea in theory. However, the episode comes at a time where we’ve left Hopper in the control room of the lab, which is about to be attacked by demo-dogs. We’re on the edge of our seat, and then we get the episode.

Honestly, taking a side trip to Chicago was not what we needed there. I get that we needed the whole “I need to get back to my friends” decision, but the whole episode just felt out of place. Again, I get it’s supposed to feel different, but it felt like a different series almost.

The pacing of the episode, the flimsy new characters that are flung in, the lack of that investment on the 8/Kali character (mostly due to her being pushed into the series so quick), and the quick dark turn from Eleven just made for probably the worst episode in the series’ run.

Stranger Things Episode 7
Photo Courtesy of Netflix

What Worked: The Soundtrack

The original score, combined with the mainstream (and not-so mainstream) music employed in the season was terrific. Some may disagree, but how perfect was it when Bon Jovi’s “Runaway” played when Eleven went to Chicago? I’ll answer that for you — it was perfect. Oh, and can we talk about how brilliantly awkward Hopper dancing to Jim Croce was? Pure gold.

What Didn’t Work: Eleven vs. The Gate

Was it me, or did this seem crazy anti-climactic? I felt more anxiety watching Will run, and then confront the monster than watch Eleven try and close the gate. Yes, the demo-dogs jumping at the elevator made for nice jump scares, but the actual closing of the gate was just okay. What really derailed this for me (pun intended) is when Eleven flashed back to the moment when her and Kali were in the train yard, and Kali tried telling her how to channel her hate. It didn’t work in episode seven, and it didn’t work here either.

Photo Courtesy of Netflix

What Worked: The Snow Ball

YES. We finally got to it. And unless you’re dead on the inside, or absolutely hated this season (which are basically one in the same), you had to feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside when the gang was at the Snow Ball. You knew, you just knew Mike and Eleven would finally get the dance he promised her at the end of Season One. Before that we got to see just delightful scenes of Lucas’ and Max’s first kiss, Dustin’s AMAZING hair, Nancy not acting like a jerk (I’m not a fan), and even zombie boy gets a dance.

And then, it happened. “Every Breath You Take” by The Police hits, and everything was perfect. Sure, call it fan service all you want — but this was a great ending.

Oh…until you know the Upside Down happened.

Photo Courtesy of Netflix

The Gift of Steve Harrington

We love all the characters in the series, right? But last year it was fairly obvious that pop culture became obsessed with Barb (Shannon Purser). I mean to an almost unhealthy degree.

This season, the obsession falls squarely on the luscious mane of Steve Harrington. Steve was the MVP of Season 2. I loved Bob. I loved all the main characters. But, Steve…he was the best.

Why?

His character had the best arc. Last season we saw goodness in Steve…despite his obvious douchebaggery. He realized he was a jerk. He cleaned up the movie marquee. He fought the demogorgon. Steve stepped up.

This season we see him hopelessly, and genuinely in love with Nancy – who is obviously in love with Jonathan. But instead of making him a lovesick puppy dog, the Duffers make Steve everyone’s big brother. Remember – lousy boyfriend, hell of a babysitter.

Steve becomes one of the most unlikely heroes of the season, and is always ready to defend the party, whether it’s with his bat, with his wit, or becoming a punching bag in order to slow Billy down from hurting Max. Steve’s a good guy, and we love him for it.

Oh, and the Steve/Dustin bromance? Best onscreen duo ever.

While Stranger Things Season 2 wasn’t as perfect as Season One, it’s still must-watch, and re-watch, and probably watch again.

My Overall Rating: 9 out of 10

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

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