I found Season 2 of Stranger Things on Netflix far more engaging than the first. Though I enjoyed Season 1 a lot, I remember feeling like things were moving a bit slow. Granted, it lead to an great pay off at the end of the season, I wanted the pace to pick up a little more just to keep me engaged throughout. With respect to Season 1, S2 ramped the pace up and shared massive amounts of information that kept me engaged every episode. Each episode had a reveal that made the story zoom by.
Here are four things that stood out to me, as an actor, about Stranger Things Season 2.
I’ll start with the good…
ONE. Stellar acting performances!
Noah Schnapp (played Will Byers) was exceptional. His role in the show required, in my opinion, the toughest job, having to switch back and forth between his character, someone we’ve gotten to know, and being possessed by the shadow monster; screeching in agony from burning; and being able to portray clairvoyance with his active listening, click here for more info on his development as an actor. I was blown away by his performance from scene to scene. Such great talent from such a young, but wise, actor!
Gaten Matarazzo (played Dustin Henderson) is perfect casting in a nutshell. His role is the comedic release we all need, and his timing and nuance with each of his jokes is spot on. In my opinion, he gets the best scenes — and I think I believe that only because he looks like he’s having so much fun, which is truly an innate quality.
Sadie Sink (played Max Mayfield) was a scene stealer. Maybe it was her toughness, but each scene she was in, she commanded my attention. I appreciated her character’s struggle of power with her older brother, and her developing relationship with Lucas.
TWO. The editing.
I enjoyed the way the editors created motifs with sequences and played with our expectations by setting up one potential outcome, and surprising us with an exciting reveal or twist.
For instance, the episode Mad Max. I love the introduction to the episode, and how this unknown character, face painted like a Mad Max character, and a squad of rebels race away in a van followed by police. Then to have the name Mad Max brought in through a video game, and later revealing that identity as someone completely unrelated.
I enjoy those nuggets of information that lead the audience down one path, and reveals something totally new and exciting. There were many like this throughout each episode making it fun to watch.
I also really liked the mirroring the editors did with the start of the season and the end of the season. In episode two, there’s a montage type sequence where we visit each of the kids as they’re getting ready in their halloween costumes. It gets us reacquainted with who they are in the context of their surroundings.
This same montage style motif is repeated in the final episode, Chapter Nine: The Gate, after all the chaos that developed throughout the season has transpired. At this point, the kids are getting reacquainted with their adolescence as they get ready for their school dance. Their bond, strengthened, and their characters more mature than at the start. This mirroring effect was a nice subtle way of reminding the audience how far this group of people have come.
THREE. Questionable Choices
I found there to be a number of questionable narrative choices that left me confused, or derailed my “suspension of disbelief”.
Throughout the season we get to know Billy Hargrove (played by Dacre Montgomery), whose acting was great — I despised every cell in his being. His brash and seemingly racist energy comes on palpably strong through his over protectiveness over his sister, yet equal with disdain towards her. I was waiting for the moment we got more insight into his backstory to see why he turned out to be such a grade A prick.
When that moment comes and we meet his parents, I felt like his backstory came just a bit short. Usually the villain has some major past event or upbringing that justifies their actions (for them), and in turn, wins over the audience because we can understand how A + B = C. But in the case of Billy Hargrove, I didn’t buy that he turned out this way because of his father’s overbearing dominance. There’s an interaction between the two characters which is abusive on some levels, but (and I know this sounds horrible), the level of abuse between them didn’t seem to fully justify Billy’s level of abuse toward the people he hated.
So I felt like he was a weakly written villain, whose pay-off was lackluster.
The decision for Joe Keery (played by Steve Harrington) to join Dustin and the group to search Dustin’s dangerous alien pet, was a bit far fetched. With little-to-no investment in this storyline, his character hops into the adventure blindly. Which, I could see that as him just having a big heart and caring for these kids, but I think that way of thinking is a cop out.
Perhaps a brief interaction where he owes a debt to Dustin could have been planted somewhere? Then there would be more of an internal conflict (something I could get behind) that he’d be facing when choosing to go along for the ride and continuing to put up with all of the supernatural life threatening forces, rather than just walking into danger blindly and rolling with the punches.
When Bob Newby (played by Sean Astin) gets mauled by the demi-dogs, I couldn’t believe that Joyce Byers (played by Winona Ryder) would just stand there crying, no more than 30 feet away from this, while her son and all the other characters are outside the door, running for their lives. This made me realize, I didn’t buy their romance.
For a character to make such a choice (to stop in their tracks with utter shock and sadness while alien dogs are chasing to eat you) you’d have to be incredibly tied to the person. But I didn’t feel they had that level of connection. It almost felt like Joyce had been using Bob as a distraction to get herself acclimated to society after what had happened in season one.
I felt like if there was more development between them romantically, that could have resolved that issue for me. Instead, I felt like it was unbelievable and done as a filmic way of dramatizing the event with the hope the audience would sympathize for the Joyce’s character.
FOUR. The lack of responsibility or duty in the kids lives.
Very quickly into the season we leap into the main plot of what will transpire throughout the nine episodes. Obviously, this is going to be a huge event for the group of friends and will bond them tightly, however, their lives outside of this narrative seem too underdeveloped to make me feel like they have something worth fighting for.
Perhaps more development between the kids with their parents, so we can see the importance of those relationships and the meaning they hold for them. I understand keeping focus on the “band of brothers” so to speak, but I feel there’s something missing independent from that – like they have too much freedom to explore and no other responsibilities to juggle (like homework, or book reports, or exams, the things that took up most of our childhood during the school year), or pressure from the world of grownups (curfews, family events, etc.).