Stranger Things 2 is better than Stranger Things. The show's new season beat out its predecessor through enticing visuals, satisfying character development, mysterious new characters and show-stealing subplots that turned the Netflix thriller from good TV to iconic TV.
Warning: Although spoilers will be kept to a minimum, and the ending won't be revealed, don't read this if you haven't even started the new season. You have been warned.
The stars of this show are very clearly the children. Right off the bat, we learn that Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) has hair and is living/hiding out with Chief Hopper (David Harbour), while Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) is still being deeply affected by his time in the Upside Down.
Hopper did not move the young and vulnerable Eleven into his swanky bachelor pad out in the open, but instead into a hidden cabin that was clearly intended for the family he wanted to build before his daughter passed away. For some, the cabin provided aesthetically pleasing shots of the duo eating Eggo waffles or Eleven focusing on the small '80s TV set in the dark living area.
Will is still seeing the Upside Down, but this time around the gooey alternate dimension has more detail and color. Eerie white flakes float around the screen when viewers are brought into the Upside Down, which was not included in the previous season.
There are a few storylines surrounding Will and the Upside Down: Will's mental and physical health after his disappearance, the government's attempt at destroying the dimensions' presence in Hawkins, Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan Byers' (Charlie Heaton) attempts at exposing the government's secrets and Will's friends' trouble corralling a mysterious creature believed to come from the alternate dimension.
This focus on Will gave Schnapp a chance to show what he is capable of as an actor, as his character was missing from most of the first season. He is phenomenal, and not just for a child actor. His character experiences a lot of mental and physical anguish, constantly relives his traumatic time in the Upside Down and is generally anxious — he portrays all of this flawlessly.
Unlike last season, Will's friends Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) aren't the main attraction. Their storyline essentially centers around corralling a strange creature that Dustin found and named Dart. However, Lucas and Dustin were pursuing the affections and friendship of Max and eventually made her feel welcomed in their friend group, which was a major plot point. Their characters definitely weren't secondary, but their storylines taking a backseat gave some other concepts room to shine.
Joyce is simply an amazing mother — every ounce of her being is dedicated to helping Will get better. Her character is not as unstable and frantic as she was last season; instead she's focused on and passionate about defeating the Upside Down. This season was some of Ryder's best work; she is contained yet emotional, assertive yet thoughtful and embodies her character without making it seem forced or fake.
Stranger Things 2 moved relatively slow for the first eight episodes. It wasn't boring by any means, but the season watched more as a 9-hour movie, not like individual episodes in a series. The finale, however, was one of the best episodes of TV ever and it alone deserves all the Emmy nominations.
The finale of Stranger Things 2 masterfully brought every subplot to a close. This season focused so much on character development, and there was a satisfying resolution to each characters' individual journey. New relationships like that of Dustin and Steve, Eleven and Hopper, and Max and Lucas were given the screen time viewers craved, solidifying these true connections as ones we'll continue to see in later seasons.
While the entire vibe of the finale — until the last few minutes, which take place a month after the season's events — was spooky and dark, the climax of the episode (and really, the entire season) was thrilling and edge-of-your-seat levels of intense. Eleven went into maximum badass mode, Joyce was a supermom and Will's friends proved to be some very bright young minds.
Holistically, this season lived up to its hype. The artistic aspects of the show were beyond impressive — the acting was amazing, the camera work was beautiful and the '80s aesthetics were so pleasing and nostalgic, even for somebody who was born in the '90s.
The plot of this show is so creative and unique, and the writers molded a storyline that was impossible to look away from and that viewers could emotionally invest in. Although there were a few different plots to follow, they all came together with grace and ease in the finale.
In true, thrilling-TV fashion, Stranger Things 2 ended with closure for characters but not for the supernatural forces of the Upside Down. Although there was a happy ending, we haven't seen the last of the Upside Down's havoc and that's for the best, keeping us anxiously excited for next season.
4/4 shells. A true masterpiece.