Francesco Spagnol delves into the intricate world-building of the Netflix hit
With Halloween just passed, what better time is there to return to the not-so-quiet town of Hawkins? Netflix seems to know this well, having timed the release of the second season of Stranger Things – the much-celebrated series created by the Duffer Brothers – just a few days before. It’s likely that many of you reading this will have already binge-watched the full series by now; nonetheless, I’ll be very careful to avoid spoilers.
The first season of Stranger Things, released in summer 2016, left anxious fans with many questions. How is it that Eleven is still alive? What is the cause – and the meaning – of Will’s visions from the Upside Down? What is Chief Hopper hiding? For these reasons, and also purely because of Stranger Things’ extraordinary successful reception, a lot of anticipation has been built around the series. The question is: was it justified?
Our impression of the opening scene is a bit jarring, since we are presented with a gaggle of unknown characters and offered no clues as to how they are linked with the series. Luckily, this only lasts for the first few minutes: as soon as the credits – paired with the usual soundtrack – have started, things have begun to fall into place. Everything is just as we had left it a year ago: the nostalgic spirit of the eighties, the strange feeling caused by watching routine and fantasy being mixed together, and normal people having to fight inter-dimensional beings.
Eighties references are everywhere, of course, but this is not an issue. Spectators are given the choice to explore them, and be amazed by the finesse and accuracy of the citations, or they can just let them bypass analysis, and simply let them do their job; they acclimatize the spectator to a world that is quite different to our own. Stranger Things 2 is a new cauldron of nostalgia and well-mixed memories: everything is precisely studied to appeal to both the adults who actually lived through the period, and the younger generations, who only know and identify with those years thanks to other films or books.
Stranger Things 2 starts a few days before Halloween, in 1984. Almost a year has passed, since the ending of the former season. The setting for the first scene post-opening credits is The Palace, a local arcade where Will, Mike, Dustin and Lucas gather to play videogames. This simple three-minutes scene is important in many ways. First of all, it brings us to the four main characters and places them in a typical setting, demonstrating how – apparently – normality has returned to the small world of Hawkins. In addition, through the choice of two specific videogames such as Dragon’s Lair and Dig Dug, it anticipates several macro-themes and settings that will be relevant for the development of the plot. Finally, it presents the new supernatural antagonist in a manner that is both functional and terrifying.
Not much happens in the first two episodes, there is no denying. It may seem, to some, that Stranger Things 2 starts too slowly, but this is for the reason that the first couple of episodes are mainly meant to serve as a link from the first to the second season. Time has passed, and therefore we need to understand how the characters have changed, as well as become acquainted with the new ones. Three new characters are presented, one for each of the three age groups into which the series may be split: children, teenagers and adults. We get to know Max, a girl who will join – not without any difficulty – the group of young friends; we also meet her stepbrother, Billy, the violent and racist new (human) antagonist; finally, we familiarize ourselves with Bob, the kind-hearted boyfriend of Joyce, Will’s mom.
We must also mention the evolution of the old characters; the Duffer Brothers show us how they have changed, while still remaining faithful to their original natures. They are all more mature – especially Steve, who is now a reliable friend of the child protagonists – but at the same time there is a sense of them all being stuck in the past. This is particularly true of Mike, who has been thinking about Eleven for almost a full year, and trying to contact her via walkie-talkie every day since her disappearance.
So, what’s my final verdict? Well, the Duffers’ ambitions have certainly increased. Despite the usual difficulty that comes with maintaining a premise after such an acclaimed start, Stranger Things 2 succeeds in keeping all of the style and suspense of its first season, and offers more. More action, more feelings and more special effects. (And why not? Their higher production budget was always destined for CGI). However, most important is that this continuation does not betray the spirit of its simple, enjoyable premise. That is, normal human beings fighting off scary and powerful monsters. The horizon of action has widened and the protagonists have grown, but the heart of the series has remained intact, and even better, the outlook for a third season is definitely positive.
Featured image credit: ACTION A GOGO