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Second season of ‘Stranger Things’ expands its world and reminds us why we fell in love last summer

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(Courtesy of the Stranger Things 2 Facebook page)

On the afternoon of October 27, my friend Krystal and I packed my car with a bucket of candy and four bottles of iced coffee. We met our Mount Holyoke pal Brontë by the door of the Clapp Laboratory, where the movie theater-size projector was set up. About ten other girls already had their seats, holding various boxes of Cheez-Its and drinks. We all settled in for the next eight or so hours, queued up Netflix, and turned off the lights.

“Stranger Things 2” dropped at 3 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on Friday, October 27, with a total of nine episodes released on Netflix. The first season came out last summer, created, written, directed and co-produced by Matt and Ross Duffer (a.k.a. the Duffer Brothers), and co-produced and directed by Shawn Levy and Dan Cohen.

The stars this season, undoubtedly, are the children: Will Byers, played by Noah Schnapp, and Eleven/Jane, played by Millie Bobby Brown. Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) are back, and a year older, swapping out Dungeons and Dragons for Don Bluth’s “Dragon’s Lair” and “Dig Dug” at the local arcade.

Mike’s new moody attitude clearly reflects his distress from 353 days he has gone without communication with El, Lucas and Dustin (mirroring Mike’s infatuation with El from Season 1) curiously scope out the new skateboarding video game champ from California, and Will struggles with “episodes” that flash him back into the Upside Down and convincing his family and friends that he’s not “going to break”.

Joyce (Winona Ryder) has become visibly more vibrant since Will’s disappearance, justifiably a helicopter parent now, ensuring Will is always accompanied whenever he’s out and about. She can’t protect Will from himself though, and the anticipated suffering she will go through this season makes me wish she took Bob up on his offer to move to Maine (although be careful Joyce, I hear there’s a killer clown up there).

Chief Hopper (David Harbour) has taken in Eleven as his own, giving her a warm cabin far away from prying eyes and all the Eggos and soap opera television she could ask for. What she can’t have, however, is her freedom. A source of frustration for both her and Hopper, it’s soon proven that even the Hawkins Chief of Police can’t stand up to a distraught, telekinetic preteen. Adding to Hopper’s stress is the discovery of a network of slimy tunnels growing underneath Hawkins, stretching out from the open gate in the laboratory.

Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Steve (Joe Keery) encounter a rupture in their relationship in only the second episode of the season, allowing her to team up with Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) again in a behind-the-curtain take down of “the Man,” finally breaking the “we’re just friends” barrier, and fulfilling the cry of #JusticeforBarb.

Steve, effectively left in the dust, partners up in a buddy-cop dynamic with Dustin, who at this point is desperate to find anyone who could help him out with his “Gremlins”-reminiscent Dart problem. Affectionately deemed both “Babysitter” and “Dad” Steve as of late, this character arc for Hawkins once-resident-80s-jock-stereotype is refreshing, heart-warming, and hilarious.

A slew of new characters are introduced this season, including the alluring, Dig-Dug enthusiast “Mad” Max (Sadie Sink), the unhinged, extreme-mullet-wearing Billy (Dacre Montgomery)—who smokes while he weight-lifts—sweet, heroic, ultimate-stepdad Bob “The Brain” (Sean Astin), the bearded, bespectacled zinger-slinging conspiracy theorist Murray (Brett Gelman) and the seemingly trustworthy Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser), although undoubtedly exuding the vibe from his scheming corporate bootlicker role in “Aliens.”

Ending the season with a well-deserved denouement of “Jane Hopper” finally attending the Snow Ball of 1984 with Mike, the screen tilts as we are transported back to the Upside Down. The Police’s lyrics “Oh, can’t you see, you belong to me…” fade out and we get one last shot of the monstrous entity looming over Hawkins Middle School in the flashing red lightning. Very nice subtext there with the lyrics, Mr. Duffer and Mr. Duffer. Like the Mind Flayer that haunts the children’s steps, I will be waiting and watching with an eager eye until the next season.

 

Rachel Walman can be reached [email protected]

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