Ask me to explain the supernatural story behind season one of Stranger Things and I might struggle. Something about a science experiment gone wrong, an alternative universe called the Upside Down, a monster called the Demogorgon. Was the CIA involved? But there are images that feel impossible to forget: four boys cycling in the dark, a recurring nosebleed, fairy lights strung over letters of the alphabet, a child’s body full of stuffing.
While the first season focused on mirroring and opposites – the real world verses the Upside Down – the second (called Stranger Things 2, to emphasise the show’s cinematic aspects) is more concerned with the state of being stuck in the “in between”, described in typical retro-tech terms as like a View-Master “caught between two slides”. A year after the events of the previous series, Will, Mike, Eleven, Nancy and Jonathan have escaped from the Upside Down, but still feel its presence and are unable to return fully to their old lives. Instead, they pretend everything is normal, a state of “compromise”, Hopper explains, of “in between, halfway happy”. Or, as Nancy puts it, “bullshit”.
The show continues to provide pitch-perfect 1980s period details and creepy, compelling images. As in the first season, though, it’s the “in between” that it struggles with – the larger story that connects the cliffhangers. But the charisma of the young cast (Gaten Matarazzo is irresistible as Dustin), and the love triangle between Nancy, Steve and Jonathan, pull you along even when the pace slows. Of the new additions, Sadie Sink as tomboyish heartbreaker Max and Goonies star Sean Astin as Joyce’s new goofball boyfriend are highlights. Even when Stranger Things 2 struggles to join the dots, it’s impossible to deny its nostalgic charm.
Now listen a discussion of Stranger Things 2 on the NS pop culture podcast, SRSLY:
This article appears in the 25 Oct 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Poor Britannia