My Post-Binge Review of Stranger Things 2

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Yes, my wife and I have finished with Season 2 of Stranger Things already.

Actually, we’ve been finished for over 36 hours. We are obsessed with this show and we didn’t waste much time blowing right through it in two nights.

I’m going to divide this review into two parts. The first part will be spoiler free and then I will get into spoilers. That way those who haven’t watched or finished can enjoy and those that have finished can have some fun dialoguing about the whole thing without fear of saying the wrong thing.

 

SPOILER FREE COMMENTS

Right off the bat I will say this sequel is, to me, as entertaining as it gets. I have almost zero true complaints and there was definitely no letdown after the massive build up. Which is rare in my experience. I’d give it an A for all the key categories: acting, storytelling, character development, use of music, conflict, intensity, special effects, etc. I feel like this is as well as TV can be done and we are truly fortunate to live in a time when the Duffer brothers used inspiration from all the best sources (it goes way beyond obvious 80’s movies), their own special talent and incredible unknown actors to bring to life a story I can’t get over. There was a moment in episode 8 where I was literally shaking with excitement and anxiousness.

I enjoyed all of the cast additions to varying levels, and especially Sean Astin. The character as written and his acting wheelhouse were a perfect fit. He is nearly impossible not to adore and in a town with so much drama and stress, he brings the levity. And what a Mount Rushmore of big roles for him now with The Goonies, Rudy, Lord of the Rings and Stranger Things. And join me in appreciating how those four works span four decades.

I will say this season seems to focus more on action than mystery, which I would have guessed would have disappointed me but it didn’t. Because they use allusions to my absolute favorite action movies. There is also less development for some characters and more for others but the shoulders they had to stand on from Season 1 in this regard are so tall that it wasn’t as essential to me that we learn more about the past to appreciate the lead roles. This season is not in competition with Season 1 to me at all. It is a beautiful continuation and they work together with a cohesive synergy that I have never seen in a TV show before. So if you want to know if it is better than Season 1, I am the wrong person to ask.

This season is by design bigger, scarier, more intense and more adult (without a bunch of gore or sex, but there is a lot of language), even though it was all of those things before. And it works. On every level, in every way, it works.  The only drama that has ever captured my attention like this was Lost and they are so different I won’t compare them otherwise. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give it is that after we finished it Saturday I didn’t want to continue our Halloween marathon on Sunday. I just wanted to reflect on what I saw the previous two nights. Anything else would have been lame. I am thrilled to have these 17 gifts of entertainment to watch over and over again. They’re even better than all those He-man men I got for Christmas in 1983.

 

 

SPOILER COMMENTS (You have been warned!)

Let’s jump right in…

Episode 8 rocked my world. It reminded me so much of Jurassic Park, one of my 10 favorite movies ever. Notably, the scenes with the demo-dogs reminded me of the uber-intense face off with JP’s velociraptors. With Bob playing a cross between Samuel L. Jackson and Laura Dern. I am sure all my vital signs read like I was the one in danger that whole episode. I loved every millisecond of it.

And speaking of Bob, I am quite torn on his death. He was such an impacting addition to the cast. He was great as a role model for the science-loving kids. He was utterly lovable. He was a man of integrity and as safe a love interest as possible for the mother who had been through the fire, literally and figuratively.

Yet if you don’t kill off important characters, I think you lose something in suspense. If they had killed off a Season 1 holdover, the fanbase would have rioted. If they killed off Steve I would have jerked my TV out of my wall and thrown it out the window. So someone really needed to be the hero who sacrificed it all. And Bob the Superhero was a great choice. He died because he knew how to do something that mega-testosterone Hopper didn’t. He died because he loved others more than himself. He died in truly one of the great heroic acts in TV lore and left a legacy for those kids. I would love more Bob, but the payoff was worth it.

The other casts additions were fine to me. Paul Reiser was his usual charming self and as an old man, he still can still bring it. Max, if nothing else, allowed us to see more of Lucas and Dustin and I hope Eleven is eventually able to get over her jealousy and welcome Max into the party. As far as Billy…wow. I don’t know what to think. I can only guess there is more where they are waiting to unleash in Season 3. But man what a complicated villain. A victim of abuse who clearly needs a new way to get therapy.

The scenes with Hopper and Eleven were epic. “A clash of the Titans,” I heard one of the shows producers say and a perfect match for a man in need of a daughter with a girl in need of a parent. And a perfect contrast of a man who needs to protect and a girl who needs to rebel. I loved the fights as much as the apologies. But is there anything more tear-jerking than Hopper humbling himself to say he’s sorry? I can’t wait for more of the two brightest stars of the show interacting as a family.

I’m not sure how I feel about the side plot with Kali and especially a whole episode for it. I realize it’s already polarizing but there were things to love–the opening of Episode 1 reminded me of the Dark Knight and The Strangers (two of my other 10 favorite films ever) and Eleven meeting a “sister” who helped her to come into her own was a wonderful touch. And watching Eleven refuse to descend to the abyss of morality was absolutely worth the trip to Chicago. The only complaint is that to do this episode you lose time with the other cast. We love Stranger Things for the ensemble cast as much as anything. But this episode was a risk worth taking, especially if they explore “008” more in the future.

It was in one of the trailers, but I love, love, LOVED the scene where the four boys have “Dart” trapped in the Ghostbusters toy containment unit and they step away from it as it bounces around, just as you see in Ghostbusters. The hat tips to the 80s are sometimes subtle but other times very obvious and they are all magnificent.

The pairing of Steve and Dustin was just magical, and it seems to have happened by accident according to the Duffers. Both characters really had nothing else to connect them to the other characters and the main plot so viola! Put them together and let the good times roll. So much laughter. So much enjoyment.

And on that note, I’ll give my five favorite characters through two seasons. After Season One here was my rankings and comments:

  1. Hopper – The Alpha Dog, the Man, the tough guy many men long to be…and his past trauma just cinches the title of best character
  2. Eleven – So few complete sentences and yet so much depth
  3. Jonathan – Every show and movie seems to have someone I relate to and the awkward guy is usually him, but he is an inspiration in this series
  4. Mike – a true hero, willing to do anything for his friends
  5. Steve – Yes, you want to hate him and love him at the same time…what a performance

 

After Season 2, here are my rankings:

  1. Hopper – winner and still champ…in Episodes 8 and 9 just about every time Hopper did something incredible, my wife would shout “G.O.A.T!” (Greatest of All Time) as I do when watching sports
  2. Steve – When he tells Dustin how he does his hair…he vaulted to nearly the top of this list
  3. Eleven – her growth in this season was a huge part of why it was endearing…when she comes in and saves the day at the end of Episode 8, there was major applause in my house
  4. Jonathan – not quite as big a role to me this time but he’s still the anti-social hero who gets the girl so I’m still on board
  5. Will – he didn’t get as much screen time the first season but that set him up to shine this time around and he did. The kid can act and this was an extremely difficult role to pull off. He tasered it out of the park.

I know some will clamor for Dustin’s inclusion and he is great. It’s very hard to find room for all the greatness.

 

So, what did you think?  If you have spoiler comments, please say so up front in your post below!

Gowdy Cannon

I am the pastor of the bilingual ministry of Northwest Community Church in Chicago. Our church is intentional in trying to bring English and Spanish speakers together in worship and community. My wife, Kayla, and I have been married two years. I teach ESL (English as a Second Language) classes to adult immigrants in my community. I am, at times, a student at Moody Theological Seminary in Chicago. I love The USC (the real one in SC, not the other one in CA), Seinfeld, John 3:30, Chic-Fil-A, Dumb and Dumber, the book of Job, preaching and teaching, and arguing about sports.

16 thoughts on “My Post-Binge Review of Stranger Things 2

  • October 31, 2017 at 12:30 pm
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    *SPOILER COMMENT*

    YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

    Excellent review, Gowdy. I agree with just about everything you stated. However, I don’t see how Mike could have dropped out of your list. In my opinion, he proved himself more heroic with each passing episode. Always kept a cool head, and quick to come up with solutions to many of the problems faced. He stuck by Will’s side throughout and risked his own life to save his friends. Then again, many characters risked their lives for the sake of others. I think I relate to Mike in the same way you relate to Jonathan though. While I disagree with your leaving out Mike, I couldn’t agree more about Steve. Lost basically everything (his girlfriend, status within the school, etc.), yet still emerged a hero. Perhaps a bit aloof with a tendency to be a jerk, but stepped up big time in the second season.

    Reply
    • October 31, 2017 at 2:28 pm
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      My response will also contain spoilers…

      I very much appreciate this comment. Mike vs. Will was a battle in my mind and I could have gone either way. Your points about Mike are well taken. He is the Venkman of the group to me and he’s incredibly life mature. If I saw myself in him instead of Jonathan (who was more subdued this time, especially after taking Nancy home and having that great opening conversation with Will) I’d certainly include him.

      I went with Will – and keep in mind that due to nature of the internet we wanted to get this out quickly and that takes a lot of deep thought that comes with time out of the review – mostly because Noah Schnapp just did so well with it. Will is extremely sympathetic. He got picked on from the opening of the series and now mostly has to look scared in every scene and he had me truly believing he was scared. I also felt a little bad for Noah in real life because I saw at least one talk show that had the other three boys and not him. So with Will’s chance to be in it to a regular level, I appreciate his uniqueness. He’s more humble and innocent than the other three to me. You can see him try to conflict resolve quickly and in more gentle way than Dustin in S1.

      So it was basically a toss up and I wanted to change the list up a little so I went with Will. But as I’ve said many times, time changes things. I didn’t consider Costanza to be the best on Seinfeld much less of all time until 2005, several years after the end. So with another viewing I may appreciate Mike more.

      This has nothing to do with the rankings I don’t think but since this is why we write this stuff I”ll say as well that Mike was a darker character to me this time around. It was palpable. I even wonder if in some small way playing in It (2017) with that freaky clown didn’t help with that. Stranger Things is dark so it fits. He has the temperament of someone older and more jaded.

      Reply
      • October 31, 2017 at 2:29 pm
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        I respect your comment greatly and I am glad you are watching it and enjoying it like I am! Hope marriage life is well.

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      • November 2, 2017 at 3:50 pm
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        Spoilers yet again…

        Very good points in there. I definitely sympathize with the appreciation for not only Will, but also the actor who plays him. He pulls off a look of both innocence and torment almost reminiscent of Elijah Wood’s Frodo (by no means am I comparing the performances, but that specific aspect of his portrayal was at least similar enough for me to see the connection in my opinion). With such an impressive cast around him (Millie Bobbie Brown’s Eleven is simply magnificent as is David Harbour’s Hopper) it’s easy to overlook how gripping Noah Schnapp portrayed Will, so I can very much sympathize with that.

        I also agree about Mike being much darker this season. And I’m still not sure whether that was intentional or due to the real-life maturation of Finn Wolfhard. Like you said, him acting in IT might have had some part to play in that. At times, though, it almost seemed as if he was in a whole separate age category than the others. He may come across a bit whiny, but that’s part of becoming a teenager, once again something I feel he’s doing at a much quicker rate than his peers.

        However, I understand he played a much less significant role in season 2 than 1 (I could argue this is symbolic for how he cares for the well-being of his friends more than himself), whereas Will was a much more central figure. Taking personal preference out of the equation, I can better see the argument for Will over Mike. But in my eyes, dungeon-master Mike Wheeler firmly maintains his spot in my top five.

        P.s., married life has been wonderful. Morgan enjoys the show as much as myself, although she doesn’t understand my appreciation for Steve and would never name a character other than Dustin as her favorite.

        Reply
        • November 2, 2017 at 4:14 pm
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          Noah Schnapp’s performance also reminded me a lot of Haley Joel Osmont’s in The Sixth Sense. Especially similar are the scenes where both characters are finally being honest with their moms about what they are seeing.

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        • November 2, 2017 at 7:21 pm
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          Great (thoughts) Scott!

          Sorry…the 80’s have me thinking about Back to the Future. But for real, we are very similar. I agree with the point about Elijah wood and cousin Ben’s point about HJ Osment – not that this performance was on par with that but it was in that vein. HJO’s performance would be on the short list to me for best child performance I’ve ever seen, especially in a horror movie.

          Agree with the comments about Finn Wolfhard and Mike Wheeler. I would very much buy the argument for symbolism. To make the reunion with Eleven work (should we call her Jane now?) he had to take a step back and be supportive of Will. The moments with those two are special and Mike was great as support. Leaders serve and Mike did here. Plus as I said above I know the writers wanted to give more time to Dustin and Lucas. But he does seem more adult than his friends. I actually reference IT because the Duffs said that when FW came to the set this time he was dropping curse bombs left and right.

          I suppose you saw Morgan’s reaction to my Facebook post. IT was so good. I get how it’s hard for some people to come around to Steve. And I completely get the Dustin bandwagon. I’m thrilled that you, like me, have a spouse to share it with. Kayla was cracking me up the whole time watching it with me. Made it more enjoyable.

          Reply
  • October 31, 2017 at 3:12 pm
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    I have very, very few complaints about this season, but it feels like they are missing a good opportunity in not having Hopper’s two deputies in it very much.

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  • October 31, 2017 at 4:49 pm
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    SPOILER COMMENT
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    Absolutely loved this season.
    Just a thought on Bob death. My daughter and I were discussing the reason for Bob’s demise, and I commented he was the “Christ” figure who had to sacrifice himself so the others could get away. She’s like “That’s stupid. they were already safe outside. And he just stood there.” Wow. Yep. Maybe they could have made his death more “sacrificial” if you know what I mean.

    I thought the Epsiode where Eleven was with Eight was a total Empire Strikes Back Dagobah story, with an extra helping of dark side. Eight was Eleven’s “Yoda.” More experienced and able train this female “Luke” in the use of her powers. Then the vision of her friends in danger and leaving before her training was complete…I kept looking for literal signs that gave Hawkins’ nickname as “Cloud City”!

    Reply
    • October 31, 2017 at 5:24 pm
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      Spoilers in Reply…

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      I *think* I get what you’re saying about it being more Christlike so I am not disagreeing when I say that what I meant above was that they were all sitting ducks if he didn’t put his nerd knowledge to use and allow them to get outta there. Which I assume you get as well and were thinking of something deeper (at least in allegory).

      I hadn’t thought about Dagobah parallel. That’s great. Eight definitely had more darkness to her but she wasn’t nearly a criminal as it seemed in the first two minutes of 2:1. She could have a lot to say/add in the future for sure. She’s intriguing for sure.

      Reply
  • October 31, 2017 at 5:26 pm
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    This is not a major spoiler or a spoiler of plot but it’s a joke that may lose its punch if read ahead of time. FYI to anyone reading that hasn’t finished..

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    The line that made me laugh the hardest (and I laughed a few times) was Steve saying, “This is finger lickin’ good.”

    Reply
    • October 31, 2017 at 10:17 pm
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      Yes that line, and that whole scene! You have no idea how many of our family photos from the 80s have KFC buckets in them, lol.

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      • November 1, 2017 at 10:02 am
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        Before CFA came to Chicago, I ate KFC all the time. Still love it. When Steve says, “I love KFC” I was already laughing. Everything else just compounded the laughter.

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  • November 7, 2017 at 10:33 am
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    Good article. I had to avoid the second half until we were able to finish the show last night.

    Spoiler replies

    RE: Bob’s death – I’d say he was pretty torn up about it too. A-thankyou :)

    I agree about Steve and Dustin. Their interaction was great. It made the ending that much better as Dustin searched frantically for his Farah Fawcett hairspray before the dance and then Steve driving him there. It also makes Nancy dancing with him that much more touching, as we know Steve has told him she’s different from other girls, and she then tells Dustin he’s her favorite.

    You’re right about Ep. 8. That’s one of the most intense things I’ve ever watched. I never yell at tv/movie characters. I yelled at Bob.

    Did you get the sense in Ep. 9 that as the three groups broke off for their missions that those were references to old movies? Hopper and Eleven in the Temple of Doom, the teenagers in the tunnel as The Goonies, and the group at the cabin with Will as The Exorcist or Poltergeist.

    A couple of random observations:
    Steve needs to avoid fistfights. Forever.
    I’m not sure that TV or movies will give us a better line in 2017 than Dustin’s, “I’m sorry. You ate my cat.”

    Reply
    • November 7, 2017 at 1:16 pm
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      Great reply Joey. Excellent. (Spoilers in reply.)

      Great Bob joke. LOL. Also I feel Sean Astin may be figuratively torn up about it too. I gather he’s not getting roles a bunch these days so I bet he wanted to keep going.

      Great Steve and Dustin observation. I had forgotten some of those touches the writers made, like Steve saying Nancy isn’t like other girls. That’s some good writing.

      LOL at you yelling at Bob. Poor Bob.

      I would bet all three of those scene were in part homages to their 80s counterparts. The Duffers do exceptional work carving out their own identity (as Phill said in our previous ST article) but with all the right inspiration. It’s a wonderful collision of new and classic.

      I want Steve to win a fight! He had Billy toe to toe until BIlly fought dirty with the plate. I wish they had let Steve hold his own. He’s too cool to keep getting throttled.

      Reply
  • November 8, 2017 at 3:38 pm
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    We just finished Season 2 last night. A few quick thoughts – spoilers ahead.

    I love the comments, people. Speaking of Dustin and Nancy, it felt like a nice call-back to S1 E1 where Dustin offers her a piece of pizza and she slams the door in his face. He clearly had a crush on her all the way back then and having her dance with him shows her growth as a character.

    I loved Bob. Astin is one of my favorites – due to Rudy and LOTR – so seeing him in this was great. And his character was everything you could hope for: Nerdy, loving, selfless, and courageous.

    Steve might be my favorite character. I’ll have to think about that because it will be hard to knock Hopper from the top spot, but Steve is a part of so much that works this season. I just love how three dimensional so many of the characters are in this show. That is a rare thing.

    I’ll post more when I have time. Loved it.

    Reply
    • November 8, 2017 at 7:36 pm
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      The recall to that moment at the very beginning of 1:1 is awesome. I didn’t think about that at all.

      Reply

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