Can Stranger Things avoid the curse of the sequel?

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I was excited for season two of Stranger Things, but also concerned. The Duffer Brothers had originally planned to leave Hawkins behind and follow the close encounters of a different group of kids, but the staggering popularity of Season One prompted them to continue where they left off. Hearing that set off alarm bells. I was afraid season two would be more of the same, and that we’d been denied something potentially more interesting.

I wasn’t completely wrong. Stranger Things 2 feels like a fairly traditional sequel. There are new characters and an attempt to raise the stakes, but Joyce is still defacing the walls of her house, Hop is still running into danger by himself and the kids are still avoiding sharing important information with the grownups. It’s the Stranger Things you know and love: my mistake was assuming that would be a bad thing.

In the opening minutes, as the kids go rooting for quarters to spend at the arcade, Stranger Things reeled me back in with its synth soundtrack, its sense of nostalgia, but most of all its charming characters. I realised the Duffer Bros had been right- I did want to spend more time with the characters I’d come to know in season one. Character interactions were always central to the show and once again they’re well-scripted and brilliantly acted. The show doesn’t miss out on the opportunity for new character combinations either. The exchanges between Hopper and Eleven, as well as Dustin and Steve, stand out in particular; the former heart-warming, the latter hilarious.

A compelling mystery was half of what made Stranger Things tick and in this respect season two starts out a little slow. The sense of the unknown that injected suspense into season one’s opening is inevitably weaker. However the plot does build, gaining momentum until events reach an urgent pace that will almost certainly have you binging the final few episodes.

Season two introduces a lot of new elements and characters, and at times feels like it may have taken on too much. A busier plot means less time can be devoted to each sub-plot and character arc. On the bright side, no scene feels like it’s wasted, but some of the new characters feel underdeveloped and there were a few interactions I wish we’d seen more of. (Eleven barely gets to hang out with anyone her own age). This makes me resent Episode 7 all the more. Set in Chicago with all-new characters, and completely disconnected from the main plot, it killed the pace and left me scratching my head, wondering if the writers were trying to disguise the pilot of a spin-off show.

There are certainly flaws to be found, but all in all, this was a satisfying second season. However I do find myself questioning whether Stranger Things will be able to maintain this quality going forwards. Whereas the final scene of season one caused me to squeal in excitement, season two’s ‘cliff-hanger’ did not elicit any kind of embarrassing verbal response at all (in fact it prompted an eye-roll). Fingers crossed my pessimism will be misplaced a second time!

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