Stranger Things, when it debuted on Netflix last year, became an instant classic. It's easy to see why: the first season was quirky, nostalgic, well-acted, and, quite frankly, scary. There are some visuals that are difficult to forget - including the iconic scene which spawned the hashtag '#JusticeForBarb' (lest we forget)...
When a first season is so iconic, it can be difficult for its successor to match its standards. However, Stranger Things II more than measures up: it's bigger, darker, scarier, and just as funny; all the while, it develops its central characters beautifully, alongside introducing new ones.
"It's bigger, darker, scarier, and just as funny"
After an ostensibly normal opening, it's not long before the incredibly intricate plot unfolds and Hawkins, Indiana, is launched back into its microcosm of hell. The Upside Down is once again leaking into the regular world. The visions that Will experiences, which are initially put down to PTSD, are shown to be far more nefarious than that; and an initially 'cute' (if it can be called that) creature that Dustin finds quickly grows into a monstrous being...
Like Dustin's pet, things spiral out of control. Will is physically there, but is mentally split between this world and the other; and the Hawkins Lab, once seemingly in control of the Upside Down, seems to maintain a tenuous grasp on keeping the two worlds separate. A Doomsday-type scenario looms on the horizon, and it's up to the previous reluctant heroes to save the world.
"The Hawkins Lab seems to maintain a tenuous grasp on keeping the two worlds separate"
There are so many merits to the show. The throwbacks to the 80s are perfect (there's the not-so-casual 'Ghostbusters' reference, as well as many references to Stephen King's work). The direction remains as sleek as ever, showing the stark difference between the light and comforting human world, and the cold and oppressive Upside Down. Everything about the Upside Down is designed to be threatening, and the visual effects portray this perfectly.
Furthermore, the pacing is perfect. It never bombards the audience with too much of anything, and thus is never a victim to its own eccentricity. It manages to balance juxtaposing emotions without lessening any intended impact - scenes are often both heart wrenching and jocular.
"The performances from the cast are all truly superb, with the young actors carrying the emotional weight between them effectively"
It's easy to see, therefore, that underneath all of the stunning visual effects and the lure of insanely popular genre-conventions lies the true heart of the show - what makes it truly great - the exploration of the resilience of the human spirit. This season explores trauma in far more depth than it did previously; although a lot of the focus is on the emotional strain that the Byers family is under, no character is exempt from the events they all experienced the previous year. Even newcomers Max and Billy have their own burdens, which are explored as they are introduced into the central story. Eleven, a fan-favourite from last year, explores a range of emotion, from rage, to longing, to hope. The performances from the cast are all truly superb, with the young actors carrying the emotional weight between them effectively.
Essentially, Stranger Things II is a must-watch. It carries on from its predecessor so brilliantly and the premise of a third series is also exciting to ponder. It's unfortunate that we have to wait a year for it...