A year after the debut of multiple award winning television series Stranger Things, season two has finally arrived on Netflix. And, true to the cinematic style that defined the original, the return to Hawkins, Indiana feels more like a sequel than a second season. From the re-emergence of the Upside Down, to even the title – Stranger Things 2, the series that viewers will undoubtedly binge watch is the perfect example of a sequel in television format.
In season one, co-creators Matt and Ross Duffer – better known as The Duffer Brothers – aimed to create a show that felt like a feature film, and ultimately succeeded. In season two they used the same strategy, and like many sequels, it’s bigger, darker, and more zealous than its predecessor. Although it was undoubtedly enjoyable, it nevertheless displayed classic symptoms of sequelitis – many moments felt like a repeat of the original, leaving it predictable and banal.
The sequel begins by returning to the characters and town previously jeopardised by a flesh eating Demogorgon and exploring how they have moved on. It then delves into the new danger – The Mind Flayer – a subversive, omnipresent creature threatening to destroy Hawkins. Besides the difference between the Upside Down beasts, the main narrative remains the same, which unfortunately adds no new substance to the series. Will Byers is at the centre of the chaos and it’s up to his group of friends and Eleven to save him once again.
There was also too much revisiting of specific moments from the previous season. For example, Jim Hopper is again wandering the dark, slime-infested world of the Upside Down, and Nancy Wheeler and Jonathan Byers return to their “we have to save Barb” quest. So too for Joyce Byers, who once more upturns her house in desperate attempt to rescue her son, this time by plastering maps over the walls rather than festive lights. Instead of paying homage to the past while telling a new story, season two primarily focused on telling the same story, leaving it predictable and in some cases unoriginal. It lost its mystery that made the first season so exciting and compelling.
Another problem with Stranger Things 2 is that, as a sequel, it can never truly evoke the same emotions as the original. In the first season, there was a fear of the unknown as the Upside Down and all its mysterious creatures were yet to be deciphered. However with the Upside Down no longer foreign in the sequel, the same response can’t be wrung from the audience and must focus on action instead. Yes, there are frights to be found, but the original Demogorgon is replaced with a pack of beasts (Demodogs) hunting the cast. The shocks then come from whether everyone escapes unscathed, rather than the unknown horror of what’s stalking them to begin with.
Although Stranger Things 2 does have a case of sequelitis, it is not fatal. While the battle between Upside Down beasts and Will remained similar across both seasons, season two gave it a more personal touch. The Mind Flayer’s use of Will to achieve its diabolical goal personalised the conflict for viewers, his close connection to the creature’s fate providing a human face to all the pain and suffering to which viewers could relate. Another notable aspect was the character development, specifically the introduction of new characters which freshened up the stale narrative (especially Bob Newby, Joyce’s lovable new partner who sacrifices himself to save Will). Furthermore, the development of Hopper and Eleven’s father-daughter relationship made for an interesting and engaging first half of season two, and revealed a more sensitive side of Hopper only hinted at in season one.
It is true that Stranger Things 2 lives up to its expectations of being bigger, darker and more ambitious, and if you’re a big fan of the original, it is entertaining enough to leave you satisfied. However, if you look at it more critically, the season was more of a sequel, as it repeated the same narrative as the original. It missed its chance to create a new season that payed respect to its predecessor, but led the story in an exciting new direction.