Stranger Things season 2 review [spoiler-free]: It’s a safe move, but a smart one

This latest outing sticks to what the show does best - nostalgia in its sweetest, saddest, most wistful form 

Stranger Things nostalgia fixation has reached a new extreme, intensified to the point of taking physical form in Sean Astin’s Bob Newby, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder)’s new boyfriend. There’s no doubting here: Astin’s essentially playing Mikey from 1985’s The Goonies all grown-up – just as plucky, just as naively heroic.

Here he lives, amidst the nods to Cold War paranoia, The Terminator, Farrah Fawcett, and Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’. But Stranger Things is not The Goonies, and that makes all the difference. Bob’s unwavering optimism, inevitably, must come to face the veil of darkness descending upon Hawkins, Indiana; to those around him, it’s a weary business as usual, but to him it’s as if the movies and comics of his youth have come to life.

Stranger Things 2 is weaponised nostalgia to its core, but not in the way we’re so accustomed to assume. This is nostalgia in its older, more traditional form: the feelings of things lost. Present in the first series, but more strongly felt here.

Viewers may take simple pleasure in returning to their own pasts – the songs, movies, and clothes of their childhoods – but that joy must forever be in contrast with the strange and lonesome fates of those who live in Hawkins.

Will is tortured by his time in the Upside Down, so pale and serious he seems no longer like a child. The events of a year ago hang in the air as an unspoken whisper. Eleven, of course, was robbed long ago of the childhood she deserved.

Stranger Things - Season 2 Final Trailer

Stranger Things 2 may open on portraits of quaint simplicity – at the arcade, or the kids in their Ghostbusters costumes – but those scars are never far behind. Mike (Finn Wolfhard) is found alone, in his basement, trying to contact Eleven on his walkie-talkie. It’s been a year since she sacrificed herself to save them. Since he last saw her. All he hears is static.

On top of scars, come new wounds. Or, perhaps, the same wounds re-opened. Ironically, directors the Duffer Brothers’ continual insistence this second season is far more like a cinematic sequel rings truest here: like most movie sequels, it’s a rehash of what everyone liked about the first one. It’s just, in this case, they largely get away with it.

Credit it all to two central ingredients: characterisation and tone. Stranger Things 2 narrows in even closer on its central cast here (to the point you’ll forget about Barb all over again). The kids, Hopper (David Harbour), Joyce, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), Steve (Joe Keery), and Nancy (Natalie Dyer) were all beautifully fleshed out in the first season, and here we’re allowed to settle into that comfortable familiarity.


They’re neatly split up (who knew Steve and Dustin could get on so well?), but all convene when it’s needed. All in all, Stranger Things 2 only grows our affections for these characters: Winona Ryder gets to yell at a bunch of people like we all want, Jonathan and Nancy get to do their adorable ‘will they, won’t they’ routine once more.

Access unlimited streaming of movies and TV shows with Amazon Prime Video Sign up now for a 30-day free trial

Sign up

There are new characters here, some more effective than others. Max (Sadie Sink) is the defiant, tough skateboarder who adds a little more gender balance to the mix. She’s a great new character for the four main boys to spark off of, creating natural bonds and tensions within the group, but beyond that? She doesn’t have that much bearing on the story.

Neither does her aggressive, abusive older brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery) – he's too preoccupied with punching inanimate objects and dressing like a cast member of The Lost Boys.

If there’s a major leap from the familiar to be found, certainly, it’s with Eleven; her story shifts from Carrie to the X-Men, in a way, and it’s with her that the show seems to really craft itself a future.

Indeed, Stranger Things 2 does, at least, start to play fast and loose with exactly which ‘80s references it preys upon; the Stephen King/Steven Spielberg vibes are still prominent, but others, too – from Alien to Poltergeist. There's even a joke that one of the kids' recountings of the events from the first season turn out “a little derivative”.


Stranger Things 2 may be a safe move, but it’s a smart one. Founded in the familiar, it’s allowed to put to the side any temptation that might arise by show’s enormous success.

Namely, we don’t get a season that becomes too wrapped up in its own mythology: in the origins of the Upside Down, or the history of the lab. There is power in that mystery, and in that simplicity we can revel in what Stranger Things does best – nostalgia in its sweetest, most wistful form.

For a second spin, it all comes together fairly wonderfully. But there’s a concern here, too. Stranger Things ends with a sense of the cyclical once more. With a season 3 and 4 already discussed, there’s a point where the trick will tire. And why should they remain stuck in the same place? Their style, their world has been thoroughly established by now. Why not break out and explore?

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in