**minor thematic spoilers for season two of Stranger Things**
As with many a good thing, I couldn’t help but wish at first for Stranger Things to be left alone as a stand-alone, great piece of television drama. I’ve been burned far too often by later installments of once-great creations gone to seed; the scars inflicted by the Ice Age sequels and the third season of Downtown Abbey are still visible when I shower. And yet, here we are a year later, and I am loving this tasty plate of crow. The Duffer Brothers have proven their mettle with a second season that, like the first, is a wonderful bit of storytelling. Despite its flaws, this new season hits my nostalgia bones in all the right ways and reaches such great heights at its best that I’m confident it will hold up in the long run. We’ve got something special here, and let’s hope it lasts.
Not that the show has never been without flaws- I was part of the chorus of people disappointed in how Barb was treated in season one, and as part two admits in a brief fourth-wall break, the story was indeed a bit derivative- but it’s so often the very flawed works that stand out most in our minds later on if there is a beating heart at the center of it all. And what a hell of a beating heart this cast is. I love every single performer in this series, from the minors to the mains, with David Harbour’s Hopper easily being my favorite. The tag-team journey of him and Eleven/Jane growing as both individuals and as a makeshift father-daughter duo made for the best drama of the season, especially the heated fights in the cabin that, psychic powers aside, are some of the starkest and realist depictions of family dynamics I’ve ever seen in a TV show.
True, this season also can’t shake itself of a certain amount of predictability. Will once again is victimized as the one that needs saving from the Upside Down, even if he does get more on-screen time to shine as an actor. My heart leapt when Sean Astin appeared as Bob, only to sink an episode later as I realized he could only be there to turn evil or die by the end. The late-inning toss-in of the hot young Macho Man visually seducing the sexually frustrated suburban mother was one of the most uncomfortable (in a bad way) things I’ve seen all year. And yet, such occasions are minor missteps, for a formula done with love is every bit as nutritious to the soul as a deconstruction of the same.
And this show has found a number of ways to quietly subvert itself and audiences expectations of it. This has been most evident in the surprisingly round development of Steve Harrington (Joe Keery). Framed at the start of Season One as the prototypical 80’s “cool kid” antagonist, we got to see more and more of his softer side towards the end, as he gamely stepped in to help fight the Demogorgon despite so clearly, and so hilariously, out of his league.
This time around he gets to bond a bit more with the kids, admitting to himself that he makes a better babysitter than he thought he would, and clearly enjoys it. And while this could certainly go south in future seasons (and please oh please, let it not go south), it was refreshing to see someone on the losing end of a love triangle not devolve into bitter vengefulness. You keep doing you, Steve. You and your weird hair tricks.
All in all, this re-entry into the world of Hawkins and its unseen fight against the Upside Down was exactly what the doctor ordered this Halloween, and so far, I’m all in. Let this train go as far as it can, and be our perpetual guide into the odd months of Autumn.