After some time to digest Stranger Things 2 and watching its counterpart, Beyond Stranger Things because I could not get enough, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Duffer brothers and Sean Levy have struck gold with the Stranger Things franchise. Warning: do not read this if you have not finished Stranger Things 2. This sequel has such a strong development with not only plot structure, but character arcs that really make the show addicting to watch. There’s just enough humor, serious undertones, end-of-the-world action, and heartfelt interactions to drive out a fulfilling season. Nothing is perfect, so they say, but this show comes damn near.
The inclusion of the new characters into our lovable favorites was a seamless integration. Max and Billy added an outsider’s point of view and some controversial behavior. Was Billy a racist? He sure seemed to have a personal prejudice whenever Max was hanging around Lucas, but that behavior only brushed at the surface. The Brothers may be testing how their audience reacts with cultural issues that are relevant to the times, such as Billy’s father’s use of the term “faggot” while keeping in mind this was the time where homosexuality was greatly thought of as a link to AIDs, carrying with it a hate and fear against homosexuals. It seems these California natives are bringing with them a wider, divisive scope of the times.
Bob broke hearts with his dorky, genuine personality as a heroic martyr whom we didn’t think we’d be invested in so quickly. As a man who just wanted to solve a puzzle for his beloved girlfriend, our hearts go out to him. Death in the show hasn’t hit me as hard as his did. I especially loved the subtle Goonies reference during the memorable puzzle scene:
While we gained affection, hate, and even understanding towards our new characters, we saw so much more to our originals that strengthened the cast. As we didn’t get to see much of Will during Stranger Things, it was incredible to see his acting range within this sequel as he progressively transitioned from awkward, shy Will to possessed host of the Shadow Monster. His demon-like possession scenes were powerful, eerie, and every bit as cinematic horror as they’re portrayed to be. As such, I loved to watch how Joyce bounced off his actions as we see and feel her believable reactions as a distressed mother. All of the Many scenes drove me to tears.
As with Will and his mother, there are many shared scenes with Eleven and Hopper which greatly contrast. During one episode of Beyond Stranger Things, Millie Bobby Brown points out that whenever Will is in the Upside Down she is in the normal world and vice versa, so this opposition is apparent with Eleven and Hopper’s clashing relationship that becomes a father-daughter dynamic as they “adopt” each other. Venturing into her trying to be a “normal” kid with great abilities in the upcoming seasons is something I look forward to.
Eleven’s journey leads her to her mother, then eventually her “lost sister” where interesting scenes took us away from Hawkins and into an urban, otherworldly environment than we’re used to seeing. Mainly, with her Chicago pit-stop, we see what could have become of the girl with supernatural powers. And, we learn that Banner may be alive. This can be a possible plot point exploration for the next season. Although we’ve seen Eleven kill before, she’s faced with a situation to kill without mercy in a defenseless situation, but eventually backs off when she figures out that he has kids. This decision is a larger step in Eleven gaining control of her powers and not letting revengeful anger become her sole motivation. This maturation is noticed by her “sister” when Eleven decides to leave the group of delinquents and return to Hawkins. While it was a daring directorial decision to delve into these darker scenes, I understand that it was a risk that was meant to be taken to show just how far Eleven had gone in trying to understand who she was.
Finally, the best dynamic duo: Nancy and Jonathan. Just kidding, I’m going straight for Dustin and Steve, who seriously surprised viewers with their awesome bromance. Steve is by far my favorite character. From the bully jock we met in Stranger Things till now as the world’s best babysitter, he’s undergone a serious self-transformation. In the beginning of Stranger Things 2 we see Steve settling, feeling that he can just take a boring job in insurance and stay with Nancy forever, but when Nancy cracks and admits that she doesn’t love him, all that he knows is turned upside down, pardon the reference. He’s in a bad place, and so is Dustin, who’s losing his hope for Max when Lucas proves to capture her interests. Which is why the two heartbroken opposites seem to find each other. As Steve becomes a sort of mentor, big brother figure to Dustin who doesn’t have a father figure in his life, this leadership role causes Steve to grow in many ways. Plus, the pubescent advice and hilarious quips are enjoyable. I’m definitely team Steve, but Nancy seems to have never felt the same feelings as he did to her. It’s a tough call. But, Steve’s bad ass nail-bat paired with the mom-like dishrag he wields pretty much sum up his character now.
Demo-dogs and the shadow monster antagonists were an elevated step from the animalistic, Jaws-like Demogorgon of Stranger Things. Here, we see the Mind Flayer, a form of higher-intelligence who knows what it’s doing and has no conceivable empathy in motive. His appearance at the end is almost relieving, so we know that while the characters have their moment of peace at the dance, we’ll be seeing some more interesting conflict in seasons ahead.
Until then, consider watching Beyond Stranger Things for some cast and writer/director interaction with some special guests (BILL NYE, YES). Hope they decide to create a series of companion graphic novels because I’m so for it!