Warning: This binge review contains spoilers for the first six episodes of Stranger Things Season 2. Not got that far yet? Read our spoiler-free look at the opening two episodes here.
While the beginning of Stranger Things 2 saw a group of friends (and a select few others) bound together by the secrets they must keep, as the series has progressed, it has become increasingly clear that these same characters are also keeping damaging secrets from each other. These seemingly small obfuscations have, like d’Artagnan, grown large, unwieldy, and ultimately destructive, powering the action while threatening to tear the bonds of friendship asunder.
The last series ended with a slimy Upside Down creature emitting from Will’s body – and his decision to keep that under wraps has had serious consequences. But he’s not the only one keeping slug-shaped secrets. Dustin’s eagerness to protect “Dart” – the E.T. to Dustin’s Elliot – led to a fateful decision to hide him from the rest of the group, under his baseball cap, and go things alone. By keeping the truth from his friends, he broke the group ethos that “friends don’t lie”, and unleashed a new threat on the neighbourhood. Poor Mew Mew was the first to bear the brunt of this decision, and her death proved a sign of things to come.
Hopper (David Harbour), meanwhile, is keeping the secret of El’s fate to himself, putting her – once more in her short life – in enforced isolation. Again, this is well-meaning – it protects her, and everyone else, from danger – but it’s also traumatic. Finding she has escaped one prison only to be landed in another, it seems inevitable that El will make a bid for freedom – and when Hopper finds out, the ensuing argument leads to her demonstrating her terrifying powers, which she seems unable to contain, reminiscent of Amy Irving’s character in Brian DePalma’s The Fury.
Nancy and Jonathan are in a self-imposed exile – as they try to expose the truth about what happened to Barb. This leads to some delightful scenes involving Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman), the investigative reporter turned conspiracy theorist of Episode 1, plying them with vodka while giving them free analysis on their emotional failings, all accompanied by some old school jazz. The morning after they consummate their relationship, Bauman’s “How was the pull-out?” is a stunningly outré line. Yet even as they make the most of their sojourn, back home, an otherwise forgotten Steve (Joe Keery) is proving himself heroic, both in battling monsters and in dispensing relationship – and haircare – advice of his own.
All the while, Will is getting increasingly sick, as the Upside Down’s tentacles slither further into the real world. The virus the shadow monster has infected him with leads to seizures and cold sweats, and though his ‘second sight’ is used first for good – in helping to find Hopper, stuck underground, being slowly choked to death by the vines under the pumpkin fields – it soon becomes clear that he can’t control the evil that has physically permeated him. (Spare a thought for Joyce’s house, once more turned into a demented arts and crafts repository.)
Happily, Winona Ryder’s Joyce has Sean Astin’s Bob to turn to for support, and he proves himself to be invaluable. As he helps her decipher the huge map Will has drawn, he asks “What’s at the X, pirate treasure?”, in a delightful nod to his character Mikey in The Goonies. The other new characters have yet to leave their mark. The introduction of new girl Max (Sadie Sink) has added to the effect of a splintered group – Lucas and Dustin are battling for her affection, while El has spotted her chatting to Mike (Finn Wolfhard) in the gym hall, which scotched what could otherwise have been a happy reunion.
As we head to the homeward stretch of Season 2, though, there is still no sign of the gang who opened this run with a car chase through Pittsburgh – it’s difficult to imagine how they can be effectively integrated into the plot at this stage. Max’s horrible brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery), likewise, hasn’t had much to do other than making Max’s life – and Steve’s basketball practice – a bit of a misery.
What worked in Season 1 was everyone pulling together. With the Upside Down threatening to erupt with full force, the only hope for Hawkins is for our cast to pool their resources, get over their differences, and save the world again. Will our heroes be able to coalesce and forgive each other’s betrayals in time?
Stranger Things 2 is available on Netflix, as part of a £7.49 monthly subscription. Watch along with our spoiler-filled reviews of future episodes here.