Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, November 06, 2017

3 key elements that make Stranger Things 2 work like a charm

One of the few pop culture delights that my sister and I not only share but refuse to watch without the other sibling present is Netflix's Stranger Things and yes, we were fully revved up for the second season.

We saw the nine new episodes in viewings of three at a time-full on binging can make it hard on the eyes(we both wear glasses), not to mention needing some time in between to mentally digest the multiple plot lines and characters. After seeing the entire second season, my sister and I both agree that this was a great follow-up and are looking forward to what comes next.

Now, I don't intend to get into spoilers here but to go over some of my thoughts about ST2, a few minor plot details will have to be mentioned. You have been warned!

In my opinion, the second season of any show is make it or break it time; a debut can be dazzling but it's that next go-around that should cement in the solid character beats and main thematic track that both the viewers and characters are traveling on together. To that end, I have pinpointed three major elements that Stranger Things 2 needed to click together in harmony and in my opinion, succeeded brilliantly:

CONTINUITY: The story starts up a year after the events of season one and while everything feels like the typical mid-1980s small town coming of age tale, nothing is truly the same.

For one, while Nancy and Steve are still a couple(for the most part), their relationship is severely strained as Nancy still wants answers to what happened to Barb,not just for her but for Barb's grieving parents who have no idea about where their daughter went.

Mike, meanwhile, is still in mourning for Eleven(who is much closer than he thinks) and while Joyce has a new love in her life, the Byers household is not as it once was. Will remains the central focus here as he did in S1, struggling to fit in the regular world where the kids at school call him "Zombie Boy" as visions of the Upside Down frequently pop up at the worst of times.

 Granted, having Will be the designated Boy in Distress could get old fast but for the moment, it only makes sense that his otherworldly experiences would continue to haunt him. Comparisons are made by others to Will's situation to PTSD and it does make for a thoughtful metaphor here. However, Will ultimately becomes a harbinger of what's yet to come from that shadowy realm which is still being poked and prodded at by the powers that be. It's a role that he can expand on for at least another season:

NEW CHARACTERS: Being able to bring in new people is important to keeping the story lines fresh yet hopefully not too distracting. Since too many spoilers would stir up, I'm going to be very brief about the new Hawkins residents yet will expand upon one essential to our young protagonists.

 For ST2, we have Joyce's new techgeek boyfriend Bob(Sean Astin),who turns out to be very useful in a pinch, a new head of the secret lab(Paul Reiser) that has Will check in every so often, a conspiracy theory fellow(Brett Gelman) and a stepbrother and sister act.

The new girl in town is Max(Sadie Sink), plagued with a creepy controlling older stepbrother named Billy(Dacre Montgomery) and possessed of video game skills, not to mention smooth skateboarding moves. At first, the guys try to connect with her but to no avail and then later on, Max decides to team up with them,probably because no one else at school seems to bother with her.

Mike is less than thrilled with having a new girl in their group and even Eleven is not happy about that as well. Max does become a good fit, as her newbie status lets in a new perspective on the paranormal proceedings and the more strong females on board here,the merrier but Eleven may have a different take on that indeed:

DOING THE UNEXPECTED: A show like this can slip into cliches very easily and fortunately, that trope laden mine field is stepped through carefully yet it doesn't play things totally safe either.

Eleven has a major character arch midway through, seeking out her birth mother and eventually meeting up with another empowered person marked as Eight(the character's actual name is Kali and well played by Linnea Berthelsen). There's a whole episode that Eleven spends outside of Hawkins on her own and while I won't get into that too much, I must say that despite the negative feedback given to that particular episode, it's very necessary for Eleven's emotional journey and much better than a lot of folks think.

 Meanwhile, Steve, of all people, manages to surprise us by being a little more human. True, he still has a lot of jerk qualities(newcomer Billy actually manages to make him look like a sweetheart in comparison) but when asked by Dustin to help out with Upside Down business, he not only helps but tries to act responsibly to protect the kids.

Further more, Steve does a bit of mentoring with Dustin that shows some signs of growing maturity. You can have a debate about how good his advice on girls actually is but you can't deny that this odd bond has positive merits. Steve showing that he can think about someone else other than himself is a step in the right direction and while he has a long way to go, Steve might turn out to be a better person as the story continues.

 For a character to do that without special effects is pretty amazing and not to be taken for granted here:

All in all, Stranger Things 2 was an absolute pleasure to watch and I see good things ahead for the next season. Season Three should prove to be a real high point for all concerned and whether it turns into the end game of a trilogy or a next to last chapter, there is plenty of fertile fictional ground to explore.

For now, ST2 proves that this series wasn't a fad or a fluke-instead, it's the hallmark of talented writers and creative artists ready to give us more than we bargained for:

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