In the summer of 2016 Stranger Things captivated the world. The show broke out like a wildfire, to become one of Netflix’s best critically and commercially received series. The first episode of Season 2 had 15.8 million households watch it on television. That is the second most watched event for this entire year.
In case you somehow missed the world wide phenomenon, the Netflix original series beautifully combined a Spielberg kid adventure film, with a Stephen King novel, and a John Carpenter film. Oh, and if that isn’t enough to sell you on Stranger Things, the series is set the 80’s. The nostalgia is strong with this one. If you haven’t seen the first, quit reading this review, and go binge watch 14 hours and 10 minutes of excellent television, and then return.
Season 2 has arrived and the gang is back with an all new adventure taking place roughly a year after the events of the last season. Season 2 is a very different animal from Season 1 in some ways (clearly a larger budget, different tone, larger expanded world), but it still contains much of the charm of the first season (80s setting, great cast of child characters, mystery, monsters). There will probably be some debate on which season is better. For my money, I give the slight edge to Season 1, but in no way is this a knock against Season 2. Stranger Things Season 2 is still fantastic, immensely enjoyable television.
Season 2 had an impossible task of not only capturing the greatness of the first season, but also expanding on the world in new ways at the same time. So many movies and shows fail in a sequel. Happily, Season 2 is a resounding success. It is clearly still a Stranger Things show, all the core cast is back, and just as good as the previous season. The Duffer Brothers manage to build on the world of Season 1 in organic ways that enhance the story and characters. Personally, I would have enjoyed for Eleven to spend more time with the group, and for Mike to have more of a center stage still in this season.
That being said, Stranger things gave us great new pairings in Lucas and Max, and Steve and Dustin. I would watch a spin-off of the Steve and Dustin Paranormal Adventures in a heartbeat. It also has a break out performance given by Noah Schnapp who plays Will. This series is chalk full of great performance from all of the child actors, to veteran actors such as Sean Astin, who brings great depth to Bob, a character that would have otherwise been a throw away character.
Netflix has again provided a stellar season of television. Season 2 of Stranger Things is a worthy successor to the first season and therefore I highly recommend it.
Season 2 wisely does not ignore the trauma characters experience from the events of Season 1. The fallout of Season 1, provides the impetus for much of Season 2’s character arcs. Joyce is recovering from the trauma of almost losing her son Will, she cannot bear to let him out of her sight. Will in turn is suffering from the effects of being stuck in the Upside Down place. Mike listens every day for lost Eleven to speak through the walkie talkie. Nancy struggles continuing the façade of being a normal high school student, death of her friend Barb. Hopper in caring for Eleven is dealing with the loss of his dead daughter.
Stranger Things does not shy away from this trauma, but uses it to mold the characters in new directions. In the end all the characters recover from their trauma through the love and care of others. Nancy discovers her strength and seeks justice for her friend Barb. Joyce’s sheer determination gives her strength to save her son. Hopper finds restoration in caring for Eleven. Mike and Eleven are finally reunited. There are monsters in this world, and every day people suffer through trauma brought about by a fallen world filled with death and despair. The Church is in positon with the resources to meet these needs. We have a hope in Jesus, that all wrongs will one day be righted, all tears will be dried. The Gospel provides hope and peace to those in needs. Jesus is able to cut through even the deepest trauma to restore people.
For much of Season 2 Eleven (I guess I should start calling her Jane now) is separated from the group. While I longed for her to be with the others more in the story, her separation created a fascinating character arc. Jane is alone and scared, angry and sad. She is a girl in search of a home. The theme of home often in Jane’s story line. Hopper tells Jane she is home at the cabin. Later Jane is told she can be home at her mother’s place. In episode 7 Jane discovers another girl with powers; sister of sorts. Eight tells Jane that is at home with Eight. At the end of the episode Jane realizes that home is where her loved ones are. Home is with Hopper, Mike, and the rest. Jane’s reunion with the group was captured beautifully. With Dustin, Lucas, Mike, Joyce, and Hopper, Jane had found what she longed for; a home, a community, love, and acceptance.
Stranger Things is at its best when it focuses on the kids and their relationships with each other. The kids have a strongly defined community. Those of the group share mutual love and respect for each other. They follow several simple rules, two of the foremost being friends don’t tell lies and friends always keep promises. This authentic honesty and faithfulness to each other fosters a community of children who truly love each other. Furthermore, each kid is willing to sacrifice their lives for the other. They truly bear each other’s burdens. They are known by the love they have for one another.
The Stranger Things kids mirror what the Church should be; a community of authentic followers who are known by the sacrificial love they have for one another, and a willingness to bear one another’s burdens. When they children fail to follow the guidelines of honesty and love, the community suffers. It is only when each member of the group is working together using their various gifts and strengths that the group is able to overcome the newest threat. In the same way the group needed each individual, so too does the Church need each member of its body.
One of the main themes of Stranger Things is that there exists a parallel world know as the Upside Down place. The Upside Down is dark and cold, twisted and decaying. It spreads like a choking weed or a virus. The Upside Down is ruled by a malevolent force (the smoke monster) which desires to conqueror and corrupt the normal world. I cannot help but see the Upside Down place as a representative of the world we now live in post Eden. Eden, the idyllic paradise and home was lost with the fall of Adam. We were corrupted, creation was cursed, and we were exiled from our home. The world is now full of evil, twisted and cold, dark and decayed. Sin has infected everything like a diseased choking weed. The world was turned upside down.
All of creation groans for restoration. Much like Will in season 1 we are trapped in the Upside Down Place. This is something we all intuitively feel. We know that there is something terrible wrong with this world. We feel the malevolence, the darkness and the cold. Christianity offers hope that the Upside Down world will be restored and redeemed. God descended down to this upside down place in the person of Jesus Christ; the light in the darkness. Only in Jesus is an upside down place turned upside right. This is the Gospel that Christ will reverse the effects of sin and death, he will restore creation, and he will rescue those who put their trust in him. God has determined to use his Church as the means of rescuing people from the upside down place. We have the cure to the twisted virus that has infected the hearts of people. That cure is Jesus who has conquered the grave. Christians are called to be a light who shines through the darkness of this upside down world; pointing lost souls to the one who can return them home.
“The Stranger Things kids mirror what the Church should be; a community of authentic followers who are known by the sacrificial love they have for one another, and a willingness to bear one another’s burdens.”