After a first season that was the surprise sensation of 2016, the follow-up for Stranger Things was perhaps this year’s most hyped season of TV heading into its release on Friday. Could Season 2 capture the magic of its predecessor, saddled with much higher expectations? With Halloween looming, The Ringer staff binged the second season to answer that question, and several more.
1. What is your tweet-length review of ‘Stranger Things’ Season 2?
Alyssa Bereznak: Like a good Halloween candy haul, it was satisfyingly familiar, full of empty calories, and designed to be consumed all at once.
Miles Surrey: Still synth heaven, and still a very good television show.
Andrew Gruttadaro: It turns out Stranger Things is WAY more enjoyable when it’s on TV rather than when people are meme-ing the hell out of it online.
Ben Lindbergh: The scope expands from “saving Will” to “saving the world (and Will, again),” but the series retains its charm, if not its out-of-nowhere narrative.
Daniel Chin: A Halloween weekend well spent.
Megan Schuster: Too many Demo-dogs, not enough Billy winking at himself in the mirror.
Alison Herman: This is a show that sets its ambitions low and massively exceeds them.
Justin Verrier: Never take advice from Bob.
2. What was the best part of the season?
Gruttadaro: The continuing evolution of Steve Harrington into my favorite human being.
Lindbergh: The Duffer brothers using Max as a mouthpiece to poke fun at critiques of Season 1. Sure, that scene was self-indulgent, but I like to see a successful series strut a little.
Chin: The basketball showdowns between Steve and Billy. Not only did Billy lock Steve down for what should’ve been a five-second call, but he got the steal and hit him with a crazy between-the-legs layup to completely snatch Steve’s soul. Then in the next episode, he went on to give him the most disrespectfully useful advice on how to take a charge. Unbelievable.
Schuster: It was 100 percent Erica. Lucas’s syrup-devouring, toy-stealing little sister owned every scene she was a part of and dropped such extreme amounts of sass that I was worried her family members (and Dustin on the walkie-talkie) might never recover. Some may try to sully Erica’s legacy by calling her the next Barb, but she was far more transcendent than that.
Verrier: They stuck to the formula. After the success of last season, the brothers Duffer could have gone too deep in the weeds on the Upside Down or too high-concept, Mr. Robot Season 2–style. But the return of all the campy goodness that made Season 1 such a romp was a welcome sight, especially after eight hours of sexual paperwork with Jonathan Groff and Not Carrie Coon.
Surrey: I would’ve never guessed ahead of the season, but how awesome and oddly touching was Steve Harrington? No longer the coolest kid at school and having split with Nancy to appease the Nancy-Jonathan internet ’shippers, Steve was left to babysit the kids and impart some hairspray advice to his new BFF, Dustin. I loved every minute of it—and if you weren’t moved by Steve driving Dustin to the Snow Ball dance and giving him a motivational pep talk, you’re probably possessed by the shadow monster.
Bereznak: I really liked the ambiance of the scene where Karen Wheeler was soaking in a candle-lined tub, drinking wine, and reading a paperback romance novel. Her subsequent flirtation with Billy Hargrove was perfect. Get it, Karen.
Herman: I’m not saying I want to write erotic fan fiction about Billy’s extended encounter with Mrs. Wheeler, but I would definitely read it.
3. What was your least favorite part?
Lindbergh: Billy and Max, who were never developed deeply enough for us to know their last name. Billy struck me as Stranger Things Poochie, and Max’s literal red-headed stepchild backstory felt shoehorned into an already overstuffed season.
Gruttadaro: When Will was like, “That slug is from the Upside Down, remember that really, really evil place that almost murdered me?” and Dustin was like, “Yeah totally, I’m going to keep it as a pet.”
Verrier: Eleven’s walkabout. Undercutting the dramatic conclusion to last season by having our waffle-binging friend walk through a gooey door, like, two minutes after being sent back to the Upside Down was bad enough. But putting her back on the board just to coop her up in a cabin for half the season was P.J. Carlesimo–level misusage of a superstar. When she finally got out, she dives right into her parentage, which was already among the least compelling parts of the show.
Chin: Pretty much all of Episode 7. I feel like we didn’t need an entire episode devoted to Eleven being tempted by the Dark Side by Eight and her squad, especially while the plot was nearing the climax back in Hawkins.
Surrey: Much love to Millie Bobby Brown, who is a tremendous young actress, but Eleven’s standalone episode in Chicago, meeting her Hawkins Lab “sister,” was a series lowpoint. It became pretty clear that the show was just biding time to reintroduce Eleven with the other characters and the main plot. I get why—just one nosebleed and she could’ve solved all of Hawkins’ problems in a jiffy. But the episode was poorly handled, to no fault of Brown and her stellar performance.
Bereznak: I was generally annoyed by Eleven’s brief sojourn to the city to meet her “sister,” Kali, and participate in one of the most unnecessary makeover montages in recent television history. I understand that maybe there was a need for the writers to demonstrate some sort of growth on her part, but it felt clunky and rushed, and Kali’s one-dimensional band of gang members seemed plucked from a grab bag of discontinued ’80s action figures.
Herman: I contend that the makeover Eleven’s Warriors-extra pals gave her was not, in fact, bitchin’.
Schuster: I mean, does Will have to be possessed all the time? I get it—it wouldn’t make sense to have it any other way and blah blah blah, but that kid seriously cannot catch a break.
4. Pick your favorite ’80s reference from this season.
Lindbergh: Farrah Fawcett spray. Does decades-old shampoo still work?
Bereznak: My mom swears “Farrah Fawcett spray” was a real product.
Schuster: Absolutely every song played at the Snow Ball. (And, of course, the hair styles.)
Chin: There were a bunch of Star Wars references to choose from, but my favorite of them was Mike running through the halls of Hawkins Lab screaming: “It’s a trap!” Admiral Ackbar would be proud.
Verrier: Billy pumping Ted Nugent’s “Wango Tango” as he tries to run over the crew. The joke is that all Ted Nugent listeners are sociopathic, especially Ted Nugent.
Surrey: The major E.T. vibes with Dustin and his pet “Demodog,” Dart, down to the creature devouring savory chocolate that doubles as very unsubtle product placement.
5. Who is the Barb of Season 2?
Lindbergh: I’m still wondering why Barb was the Barb of Season 1.
Chin: Billy definitely had too much screen time to be a true Barb 2.0, but he is equally meme-able. He flirted with Mrs. Wheeler—while Mr. Wheeler was asleep maybe 15 feet away—WHILE EATING A COOKIE.
Surrey: Have you met my dad?
Bereznak: Obviously the answer is no one, because Barb can’t be replaced. But in terms of character arc, Bob has the most in common with Barb. Bob knows a lot about technology, Barb knows a lot about chemistry. They are both tragically unhip intellectuals who were eaten alive by Demo-whatevers. And most importantly, both have delightfully short one-syllable B names that are fun to say.
Honorable mention for Best New Character, however, to Lucas’s sassy sister Erica (Priah Ferguson), who knows how to deliver an insult, won’t let anyone tell her how much maple syrup is too much maple syrup, and has no time for whatever weird shit her brother and his friends are up to.
Schuster: It’s clearly the man who, unprompted, calls himself the Brain: Bob Newby.
Let’s set up a timeline of Bob’s season: We first meet him during a heavy makeout session in the backroom of a shop. Later, he romances Joyce with some vampire makeup, “Islands in the Stream,” and talk of whisking her away to Maine where they can live together as a family. Later, with next to no information, he figures out the map that saves Hopper, and in the end he gives his life to save the family. Bob’s usage rate is unmatched, and he was too pure for the Stranger Things world.
Herman: BOB, WE BARELY KNEW YE (BUT STILL MANAGED TO TAKE YOU FOR GRANTED, TREAT YOU TERRIBLY, AND THEN DISPOSE OF YOU IN MAXIMALLY UNDIGNIFIED FASHION).
Gruttadaro: Who’s Barb?
6. Finish the sentence: “The massive Upside Down monster is …”
Verrier: … Denis Villeneuve copyright infringement.
Surrey: … not great at his job.
Chin: … really slow. What’s it waiting for this entire time? It’s just kind of looming over everything in the Upside Down and bothering poor Will. I will say, though, I do prefer this smoke monster to the smoke monster in Lost.
Schuster: … a more sinister, more tentacled version of these guys:
Herman: … not any more interesting than the rest of the Upside Down just because he’s bigger and sentient, sorry.
Bereznak: … kinda boring. It doesn’t appear to move very much or very quickly. It’s always obscured by a cloud of fog. And it lacks any remote hint of personality, aside from enjoying the cold. At least Dustin’s baby Demo-dog had a thing for nougat!
Lindbergh: … in need of a new host. Hey, smoke monster, just saying: I take tepid baths, set the A/C unreasonably low in warm weather, and sometimes sleep with the window open in winter.
7. Hand out the award for Most Improved ‘Stranger Things’ Player.
Schuster: This may be a controversial choice—and it’s quite possibly the wrong choice—but my vote goes to Steve. Steve went from singular-doofus-man-candy in Season 1 to excellent babysitter, monster hunter, and ultimately understanding ex-boyfriend in Season 2. Sure, Billy the New Kid handed him a few L’s, but his character was far more interesting this season.
Gruttadaro: The answer is of course Steve, but we should also give some love to Will, or at least the actor who plays him. Noah Schnapp was off-screen for most of Season 1, but Will is the focal point of Season 2, and Schnapp is an incredible young actor.
Surrey: Will Byers! On account of, you know, being trapped in an alternate dimension, Noah Schnapp didn’t have much to do last year. Holy shit, this kid can act. He broke my heart trying to explain how he can feel the shadow monster inside him, and scared the shit out of me when he was straight up possessed.
Herman: Our buddy Steve went from generic bully to gifted babysitter, gender-bending hair-care icon, and haver of shower-based sexual tension with another generic bully!
Bereznak: Definitely Jim Hopper. The same guy who was once an unreliable alcoholic and slacker small-town sheriff magically abandoned his vices and tortured past to become a generally caring parent, engaged employee, and all-around hero.
Verrier: Lucas. This is probably an unpopular opinion, but the overload on Dustin knee-slappers sets in around “I need my paddles.” You don’t run your offense through JaVale McGee. Meanwhile, my guy Lucas got a family and things to say and a love interest and a dope turtleneck. Shouts to Lucas.
Lindbergh: Will may have gained the most minutes, but Lucas—who went from whining about adding a girl to the group to being the most hospitable party member—moved up the most in my character rankings.
Chin: Steve was pretty much just the cool, douchey bully in Season 1, but the tables really turn on him in the second season. He loses his girl, gets destroyed on the basketball court, and gets absolutely rocked by Billy with like four children watching. And it all made him a better person.
8. Season 1 vs. Season 2—which do you prefer?
Gruttadaro: Season 1, because the time before this show became a sensation was so pure, and so wondrous.
Bereznak: Season 1 felt more original, and the supernatural elements of the plot were a little more regulated.
Lindbergh: It’s impossible to separate the bliss of watching Season 1 from the vastly lower expectations most of us had heading into it, but even setting aside the surprise factor, simpler was better. Season 2 was still great, but at times the tunnels and tentacles threatened to strangle the story.
Schuster: Season 1.
Verrier: Season 1. You can’t recreate the thrill of something you stumbled upon becoming your new favorite thing for a week. It also had Barb.
Herman: We judged each one by completely different metrics: the first as a surprise sensation, the second was a blockbuster franchise-builder. It doesn’t feel right to compare them.
Surrey: A tighter narrative and better pacing—plus the fact that nobody really saw it coming—gives Season 1 a slight edge. But look, Season 2 is still very good!
9. Should there be a third season?
Lindbergh: The series wouldn’t feel unfinished if it ended here, but what self-respecting ’80s homage would stop one entry short of a trilogy?
Herman: I didn’t even think there should have been a second, so clearly I’m not a reliable source on this one. But sure, so long as the Duffers make an effort to really change things up—if we’re in for another “Upside Down, but with twice the CGI budget,” I’m good.
Bereznak: Nah. Eleven went through all that stuff to close the gate. Joyce’s house was once again turned into a Trading Spaces episode gone horribly wrong. Nancy and Jonathan finally got it on. What more could there be to this story?
Schuster: I don’t know that there should be a third season, but if there is I’ll still finish it in the first weekend.
Chin: They should do a third and final season. I don’t want a situation where these kids are in full-on puberty mode. Let’s take down this massive smoke monster and wrap it up.
Verrier: I mean, there were three seasons of Lilyhammer, so why not?