By Anna May @AnnaMayMight
The first series of Stranger Things saw four middle school boys fight the dark and sinister Upside Down. A world where everything we know to be real, vibrant and safe becomes dark, dank and very deadly.
Young Will was trapped in this world during the first series, much to the dismay of his mother, Joyce Byers. With the help of his friends, Mike, Lucas and Dustin, he was saved, but now the Upside Down wants him back and, during one of his recurring trips back into the Upside Down, a process of possession begins. Through Will, the Upside Down can strengthen its plans to permanently turn the world as we know it into a bleak and dystopic nightmare.
Series two brings with it a few new characters. Joyce is now dating the lovable Bob, although it’s clear she and Hopper have a bit of a thing for each other. A young girl called Max joins the four boys in their struggle to fight the Upside Down and her brother, Billy, explodes into the series as an angry, controlling older stepbrother, who is actually hilarious! This mullet-topped meathead has a tendency to threaten his sister and wreck her belongings if she doesn’t do as he says, but we do find out further into the series why he’s such a twat.
Whereas we were finding out more and more about the Upside Down and where Eleven came from during series one, there is now less to surprise us in series two. Dead crops, secret laboratories and monsters in the skies all point to one thing. The Upside Down.
This is unavoidable, but I felt I needed something secondary to the main theme to really worry about. Something that couldn’t simply be connected to the Upside down, or the rogue scientists trying desperately to hide it from the rest of the world. The problem is, they couldn’t hide it from me, because I already knew it was there. I know having an idea of what horrors are coming can build anticipation, but I was waiting to be shocked at some point…and I wasn’t.
I’m hoping Eleven’s backstory, and her journey to find her mum and another girl from the laboratory she was brought up in, is the writers’ way of fleshing out some new characters, with a view to pulling in a more solid set of subplots to twist and tie into a season three finale. If it isn’t, a lot of time may have been wasted on stand-alone pockets of story that could easily have been worked into the series as a whole. After Eleven chose to leave Kali (Eight) and return to help her friends defend themselves against the Upside Down, I fully expected her to bring her gang of misfits to the crucial end game to fight side-by-side with Eleven. We were introduced to each and every one of the gang. Where were they?
I am not a very slushy person when it comes to films or TV, but I appreciate the way series two tries to please different age groups. I watched with my teenage daughter, who absolutely loved every second of every episode. She and her friends are constantly ‘shipping’ everyone these days...so, after finding out Hopper had been caring for Eleven since she disappeared at the end of series one, she couldn’t help but love the tension Eleven’s separation from Mike, and their inevitable reunion towards the end, brought into her life. Good for her.
As I said, I do appreciate it, but I felt a lot of the episodes smacked too much of ‘teen mag’. I love the concept of a malevolent and unstoppable wickedness trying to take over the world from beneath us, I really do, but the whole ‘he loves her, but she loves him’ and ‘they’re so cute together’ stuff can only merge with that up to a point. In my opinion, after that, it starts to dilute the fear and dread we’re trying our best to be filled with.
Again, poor Joyce Byers is worried to death about her son, Will. Series two has given her a boyfriend, which brings other aspects of her personality out nicely, but her main role in both seasons has been to become more and more frantic as her boy’s troubles mount up.
In the first series, we saw Joyce filling her house with lights so Will could communicate with her from the Upside Down. In series two, Will scribbles on hundreds (and I do mean hundreds) of sheets of A4 paper. Why? Because each identical picture he scrawls can be connected to another to make up a ridiculously huge map of tunnels that run under their entire hometown of Hawkins.
Portions of this map are taped into every single room…across walls, floors, ceilings, beds, chairs, tables…you name it. Somehow, Joyce and Hopper are able to just piece it all together and, within seconds, new boyfriend Bob manages to study the sprawling mess and work out which sections correspond exactly to specific parts of Hawkins. No way…sorry.
The monsters in series two aren’t really that scary (for me). Having to limit the gore to a 15 certificate will always keep them a bit tamer than hardened horror fans might like. For the fan base I think the show largely attracts, the special effects will be more than enough, although a few seem to border on B-movie. To be fair, though, tentacles have never really done it for me. That said, it adds to the retro feel. The whole 80s vibe is still there and attention to detail in this respect is where Stranger Things really excels.
Others have said they would have preferred the demogorgon to rear its ugly head again. Personally, I was glad to see new creatures. Dustin’s bond with the baby blob Will puked up at the end of the last series and the constant problems he has trying to keep it in check as it grows bigger and bigger, offer a very welcome mood-lightener.
Needless to say, the young actors go all out to play their parts and I like that they all have their own little quirks and vulnerabilities. Even the older kids, Nancy, Jonathan and Steve, come into their own more in series two.
Eleven seems to be most people’s favourite…and why not, because there’s nothing this girl can’t do. Part of me loves that about her, but part of me is a bit disappointed. Yes, I want the kids to win and for good to batter evil, but maybe it’s all just a little bit too safe when we know that, no matter how bad or horrific things continue to get, Eleven will eventually turn up and sort it all out with a nosebleed.
However, now we have Eight, with the power to make people see what she wants them to...so we are surely going to be treated to Nine and Ten at some point. Seven and Twelve, maybe? Will the ultimate mind-bending freak be called Infinity? Could there be a grotesque villain called Zero on the cards? I think we need that. What we don’t need, however, are any more Janes. Please stop calling her Jane. No.
The option to binge-watch the series is a definite plus and I happily clicked ‘next episode’ until I was done. To be honest, though, I don’t think I’d have enjoyed the series as much if I’d had to wait a week between episodes. Mostly because each one tends to skip to, and stick to, a different part of the story. All told, the series takes about seven and a half hours to get through. Not a good idea to start watching at eight o’clock on a Tuesday evening, but maths was never my strong point.
I’ve probably spoken more about what irks me in series two than I have about what I love, but one thing's for sure, I absolutely love the idea around which the story is based and I’m very much looking forward to seeing season three.
Also, I think we're all still wondering if Barb will ever come back...or even poor old Bob. More importantly...what will happen to that demodog the kids stored in the freezer! It's still in there, you know!