By Meghan Shaffer, Culture Editor
Spoilers below for Season 1 of “Stranger Things”
On October 27, the long-awaited second season of Netflix series “Stranger Things” dropped just in time to binge for Halloween. Set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana in the 1980s, season one follows the residents of the small town who are left reeling after the disappearance of twelve-year-old Will Byers (Noah Schapp). Local law enforcement shows a lackluster enthusiasm for finding him, convinced he is probably with the father that left years before, but his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) is convinced that there is more to the story. Will’s friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), start their own search for their lost friend, and realize something sinister is at play when a mysterious girl (Millie Bobby Brown) with a shaved head and telekinetic powers suddenly appears. She has no name, and only identifies herself by the mysterious number branded into her arm: Eleven. The boys and Eleven then work together to uncover the secrets surrounding Will’s disappearance and how it relates to the nearby Hawkins Laboratory, uncovering the dark supernatural world that has been lurking close by.
I wasn’t planning on watching season two right away, considering it came out right in the middle of a very busy Halloween weekend. But I found myself with a free hour and nothing to do, and very quickly got sucked in. Season two picks up a year after the season one finale, and it’s immediately clear that many of the characters are still dealing with the effects of last year’s events. Mike, Dustin, and Lucas are still feeling the loss of Eleven, who disappeared after using her powers to seal the Upside Down, and Mike desperately calls for her every day, hoping she is not completely lost. Mike’s sister, Nancy (Natalia Dyer), is struggling with the death of her best friend Barb, who was killed by the monster in the Upside Down. She and boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery) are some of the few who know the truth about Barb’s death, and Nancy especially begins to crack under the pressure of having to lie about the disappearance of her friend. And Will, suffering from PTSD, realizes that the Upside Down still holds a piece of him, and that the threat from last season is far from over.
Season one was very much devoted to establishing the world of Hawkins, and by extension the world of the Upside Down. As viewers, we were given just enough information to ensure that we could follow the story. The show dropped clues and hints to keep us intrigued and on the edge of our seats. Season one ended with just as many questions as answers, and, thankfully, season two answers many of those questions. The purpose of the Hawkins Lab, which was for the most part shrouded in mystery, is much more transparent, but the morality of the doctors who work there is much more ambiguous. The Lab was very much the villain of season one, but in season two we see them both help and hurt the characters we are rooting for.
Season two is driven by character development, resulting in some truly outstanding performances from the young actors. Millie Bobby Brown was by far the standout of season one, but this season is Noah Schapp’s shining moment. Last season, he didn’t have much to do, and this time around he does a truly incredible job portraying Will. He is a layered character, but at the center of it all is a young boy who is still very afraid, both of the dark forces still inside of him and of the fact that he may never get the chance to have a normal life. Millie Bobby Brown, yet again, enthralls the audience every time she enters the screen. Like Schapp, this season gives her the opportunity to play around with the character more. Eleven has developed more skills, knows more words, and is determined to uncover the secrets of her past. The timid and abused hidden powerhouse we were introduced to last season is gone, replaced instead with someone who knows she is powerful, and is willing to use that power to get what she wants. But the character most changed from season one is Nancy’s boyfriend Steve. In perhaps the most delightful arc of the show, we see Steve transform from a privileged white boy that we don’t feel the need to root for to a kinder, softer version of himself. We see that, while trying to help Nancy cope with the horrors they have seen, he is struggling just as much. When he gets roped into helping Justin, and by extension the rest of the gang, he is determined to see them all through the ordeal alive and unharmed, even if that means sacrificing his own safety.
“Stranger Things” seasons one and two are both now streaming on Netflix.