To Binge or Not to Binge? Episode 1: “Stranger Things 2”

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"Stranger Things" season one poster
Flickr

Binge watching shows on Netflix is now something that most college students would minor in if given the chance. Last year, Netflix gave audiences one of the greatest, most binge-able shows yet, “Stranger Things,” and we are still craving more after the second season was released only a couple of weeks ago. “Stranger Things” quickly gained a cult following for its reminiscence of America in the 1980s and it’s Stephen King and Steven Spielberg-like qualities including monsters, music, madness and a bunch of kids trying to save the day.

This Netflix series created by the Duffer Brothers (Matt and Ross Duffer) can connect with older audiences (those that actually grew up in the 80’s and played Dungeon and Dragons) and the millennials of today, who connect with the 80’s via fashion trends and music. Millennials are unique in that they look back to the past for something ‘real’ and ‘substantial.’ Other generations have always done this, but today’s generation is different because they have grown up with an overwhelming array of technology that has never been so closely involved in the lives of kids. 

But what do millennials have to do with “Stranger Things?” For a Netflix series that holds the #1 spot as Most Popular TV Show on imdb.com with an average rating of 9 out of 10 stars, you have to ask, who out of everyone you know has NOT watched “Stranger Things?”  It has become a viral phenomenon that has reverberated through millions in barely over a year and as a college student there are few people that I personally come across that don’t have something to say about “Stranger Things.” 

Although many people love “Stranger Things” there are, of course, those few that roll their eyes and shrug off the show, claiming that it only serves to satisfy the appetite of people who ‘think’ they love old movies and scary stuff, while others dismiss the show simply because of its popularity. These people are missing out on the next big thing to influence films and popular media for the next five to ten years. Eventually, they will probably be exposed to something “Stranger Things-esque” in the near future. To these people, I say let us have our “Stranger Things” and you can keep your mumbling and grumbling to yourself. 

I hope that all the other fans out there enjoy this recap and review of one of the coolest Netflix series to ever happen — and let’s be honest, “friends don’t lie” when it comes to something this awesome.

 

“Stranger Things” Recap

The first season was as terrifying as it was heart-wrenching, from the fans crying out about the death of Barb (still) and the reunion of Joyce and her son Will, who does make it back alive but a little stranger from the “upside down.” We were introduced to Eleven — a.k.a. El — who stole our hearts with her horrific past as a lab rat for secret government experimentation that gave her fierce psychic powers, enabling her to fight forces from another dimension. Let’s not forget the rest of the gang: Dustin, Lucas and Mike — all of Will’s friends — who use their courage and smarts to bring their friend back. We also meet Jim Hopper, the town’s Sheriff (one of my all-time favorite characters in the show), who also has a troubled past, but his skills come in handy when it comes to kicking butt and doing what needs to be done.

The love triangle between Jonathan, Nancy and Steve — who bring a little romance during this dark series — leaves most of the audience (I mean me, specifically) hitting their head over Nancy’s final choice. Jonathan — Will’s older brother — teams up with Nancy to help find Barb, but when they find a demogorgon and the “upside down,” all of the major characters team up to find Will. At the end of season one, Eleven manages to fight off the demogorgon and close a “door” between the “upside down” and our world. She disappears as a result, but a waffle trap set by Hopper in the woods hints that she is still alive somewhere. Will is happy to be back home but he begins to slip between our world and the “upside down” which leads us into the next season.

 

***SPOILERS AHEAD, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED***

“Stranger Things 2”

PROS: Trans Am, a wicked arcade (that includes games like “Dragon’s Lair”), Steve’s signature nail-bat and Ghostbusters references.

CONS: Less “Dungeons and Dragons,” kisses-kisses-kisses, friends who lie and we almost lose Hopper.

I have left out some specific details in this general summary because I believe some of those details are what makes the season special and should be enjoyed by the audience. Still, for those that have not seen “Stranger Things 2” and choose to keep reading, there are more SPOILERS ahead.

Season two of “Stranger Things” picks up where it left off almost a year later. We are reunited with the boys once again and see that Mike misses El more than ever, along with Will suffering from some sort of PTSD after coming back from the “upside down.” Mike cannot get over El and this is apparent in so many scenes it becomes a cliché. Every time I saw Mike, I expected him to sigh dramatically and stare off into the distance. I get it, you miss your crush, enough already. The town has hushed up the weird things that happened last year and have been told by the government to keep their mouths shut for fear that Russia will get its hands on interdimensional information, as this is the Cold War era when Russia and communism were the most feared by America. First off, I find it interesting that “Stranger Things” is about psychic experimentation during the Cold War which, believe it or not, may have been an actual thing. There were rumored to be experiments backed by our government that explored scientific studies on things such as telepathy, remote viewing and telekinesis — check out this New York Times article written in 1984. Immediately in the first season I was pulled in by these references and was curious to know what “Stranger Things,” and more specifically the Duffer Brothers were going to do with this concept. I was not disappointed, and reveled in the “X-MEN-like” way the story developed.

Nancy and Steve are still together but play out the motions to pretend they don’t know what happened to Barb. This causes strain on their relationship to the point where Nancy reveals their “bullshit” to Steve in a drunken rant at a Halloween party and they break up. I actually backed Nancy up at this point. Steve is good looking but seriously, WHAT ABOUT BARB? After this, Jonathan, who is still in love with Nancy, steps in. Jonathan and Nancy team up in a scheme to expose what happened last year to Barb with the help of an eccentric conspiracy theorist. This results in Jonathan and Nancy getting together. Finally. After the end of the first season, I felt that Nancy fell back on Steve when she should have definitely gone with Jonathan. On the other hand without her decision, I don’t think we would have Steve for season two — which would not have been the same without him. He plays the role of the “babysitter” for the boys and shows how he has grown up to be a caring and reliable friend with a nail-bat. All-in-all, an endearing character that I have come to admire.

We are introduced to Bob, Joyce’s boyfriend, who is a lovable, honest guy that shines as an everyday hero. I wonder if Bob was created to fill the gap of cherished character, Barb. Bob is given a ridiculous amount of development which made me suspicious of his intentions from the start, but he is redeemed in my book in the end as an overall good guy: average, but good. We are also introduced to “Mad Max” and her stepbrother Billy, who are from California. They bring a little bit of style and plenty of attitude to Indiana, and I both loved and hated these two over the entire season. Max is another strong and independent girl that the boys find themselves drawn to, mostly because she can skate and kick their butts at video games at the local arcade. I think she is an amazing character because she speaks her mind and stands up for herself with a rough outer-core that probably developed from, unfortunately, being around her abusive step-brother. Billy looks and acts like the stereotypical high school bad guy in an 80’s film, driving a semi brand new Trans Am and wearing hot bad guy apparel — think of the vampire gang from the 1980’s film “The Lost Boys” — leather jacket, denim and a mullet.

These two new kids highlight the season, filling in the spots that El and Steve had for season one while bringing something new and all their own to it. Max is a girl — minus psychic abilities — that I personally feel I can relate to, while Billy is a badder, tougher and crueler high school villain than Steve ever was. I feel like their roles were purposeful in constructing a new regular-high-school bad guy and strong lead girl which seems necessary for this story’s chemistry.

The relationship between Hopper and Eleven is illuminated and it is revealed that Hopper found Eleven in the woods and has been hiding her from everyone in a secluded family cabin. They develop a close pseudo father-daughter relationship and we are reminded of Hopper’s loss and the condition of El’s mother, making this relationship a heart-wrenching one. Even though they are close, El and Hopper have their fights, including yelling and psychic tantrums, which is all due to El’s disconnection from Mike and the others.

The season is set up and launched from the events of Halloween night, in which Will has an “upside down” episode and Nancy and Steve break up. The rest is a complex roller coaster ride including another love triangle — this time between Dustin, Lucas and Max — that helps to develop our characters in a style similar to last season.

The monster for this season is a sentient one called the Shadow Monster, a.k.a “Mindflayer.” It brings to mind a classic monster such as H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, one of the most terrifying fictional creatures to have ever been created. One so old and evil that it makes humans looks like helpless, insignificant ants. “Mindflayer” wants to get into our reality for whatever reason and makes that connection through Will. I really loved this monster and found the “Mindflayer” a more appropriate antagonist than the demogorgons, who are made to look like vicious pups in this season. The “Mindflayer” also sets up the rest of the series for a possible ultimate showdown between dimensions, but this is not new. It’s been done a lot in recent years thanks to Marvel’s never-ending sequels that are the same formula recycled over and over again. Anyway, Will is deceived for a moment to think these episodes he’s having are just traumatic PTSD rehashings of his experiences from last year but his mom, Joyce, who is one of the strongest characters and greatest moms ever, knows better and begins to investigate. Again, everyone ends up in another race to stop an evil force and seal up a parasitic door to the “upside down.”

Admittedly I did binge watch the first five episodes in one night, staying up until about four in the morning and finishing the rest in the next two days. My favorite episodes are one through six because they do a perfect job of setting up the characters and telling their stories. I found the last three episodes to be a little overdone with a profuse use of slow motion and hints at channeling-your-anger-as-a-way-to-control-your-psychic-powers motto similar to Magneto and Professor X’s conversation in “X-Men: First Class.” The relationships between the boys and the love triangle between Jonathan, Nancy and Steve — and correspondingly Dustin, Lucas and Mad Max — all play important roles in setting up these characters for the final three episodes, but, honestly, I am a little tired of the love triangles. Are they meant to keep me interested in the story or invested in the characters, as if I’m not already?

Two crucial episodes delve deep into Hopper and El’s relationship as well El’s journey of self-discovery through finding her mom and her lab sister “008.” These two episodes show the evolution of El as a person who is starting to grow up and take on the responsibilities of a hero. I found a few moments in El’s self-discovery episodes to be full of so much emotion and suspicious “X-MEN-esque” similarities they had me wondering where exactly the next two seasons of the show would be going in the future — I’m thinking a team-up of psychic misfits, but I’m hoping it doesn’t happen. The finale was heart-wrenching and left me in awe of El’s sheer psychic powers while realizing that ultimately season two is about these kids growing up. This means puberty, drama and the impending doom of high school to come. What are we left with? Another introduction to the next step of “Stranger Things,” the impending threat of the “Mindflayer” in the “upside down” — whom I don’t think we’ve seen the last of — and the complicated lives of all the characters who will never be the same ever again. There were spots here and there I found myself cringing because it felt a little too over the top and amped up on purpose, it is a sequel series for an extremely popular show, but regardless, I loved it and I plan on watching it again for pure pleasure.

 

Alina’s Rating: 3.5/5

“Stranger Things 2”

Available on Netflix

9 Episodes, approx. 11 hours

 

If you want more I recommend watching “Beyond Stranger Things” a seven-episode discussion between cast members, the executive producer and the Duffer Brothers about making “Stranger Things 2” which is available on Netflix.
Spotify also features “Stranger Things 2 (A Netflix Original Series Soundtrack)

Alina Hansen is a Writer for the Arts and Entertainment section for the Daily Utah Chronicle. She is a Senior at the University of Utah graduating in Spring 2018 with a Major in English and Minor in Writing and Rhetoric.

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