'Stranger Things 2': Five things we learned (and the questions those answers provoked)
***WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD***
You probably shouldn't watch all nine hours of one television series in less than three days. And to be perfectly honest, if I hadn't kept falling asleep while trying to get through the seventh episode of " Stranger Things" second season, it probably would have been two days.
As a child of the 1980s, everything about the show is familiar to me in one way or another. Well, everything except, y'know, the gigantic Lovecraftian horror monster and the psychic girl from down the street.
Oh, did I mention? Spoiler alert.
Although if you've seen the first season and even a teaser trailer for the second, neither of those came as a surprise.
But there were certainly plenty of things that did surprise me. Here are five answers we got in " Stranger Things 2" (or perhaps to be more accurate, here are five things we learned, that sometimes offered as many questions as answers):
DUSTIN IS TOO SMART FOR HIS S2 PLOT
Dustin was one of the most perceptive characters in the first season. His insights into the weirdness permeating Hawkins were often extremely accurate.
That's why it's hard to accept that he would ever decide to bring home an unidentifiable creature as a pet. I can buy that he thought it was cute at first, but as soon as he was unable to find it in a herpetology book? That's a "gots-to-go" scenario. It felt as though that entire storyline was set up solely for the shock reveal of Dart making a meal out of the family cat.
BILLY REALLY IS JUST A JERK STEPBROTHER
I was let down somewhat by the normalcy of Billy's character arc. It's not that it wasn't effective for what it was. He was a complete jerk with what we eventually found out is a nasty, domineering, probably-abusive father.
But this show has trained us to think there's probably more going on. In the early episodes when Billy talked about being "stuck together" with Max, and that she wasn't really his sister — and since we literally never saw their parents until the penultimate episode — alarm bells started going off. In the gym-class shower scene, I completely expected to find out that Billy was not human, and was part of the Upside Down in some way, shape or form.
Turns out he's just a stereotypical jerk stepbrother. The Duffer brothers gave him a bit of a psychopathic edge, but this was one area where "Stranger Things" leaned into an '80s trope, then didn't do anything to upend it.
THE PITTSBURGH SCENE AND 'THE LOST SISTER'
I might get some flak for this, but I had to watch the seventh episode, "The Lost Sister," three times before I managed to stay awake for the whole thing.
The way this season opened revealing Eight/Kali, another of Dr. Brenner's experiments who had escaped out into the world, made it seem as if the show could be expanding far beyond Hawkins, Indiana.
Instead, Eight/Kali never even showed back up until a self-contained episode, which I thought was the weakest of the second season.
Part of it is that " Stranger Things" has done such a fantastic job building the world of Hawkins that leaving to visit Chicago or Pittsburgh feels forced.
I understand what the Duffers were trying to do — have Eleven complete her journey to find her mother, and meet someone in Eight/Kali who shows her a dark potential future — but it just didn't work for me.
In the end, Eight was just kind of a cautionary tale. I'm sure it's possible that she'll return to the series, so I can reserve judgment for now.
ELEVEN IS EVEN MORE POWERFUL THAN WE THOUGHT
When Will Byers became infected by the Mind Flayer (which, my goodness, what a terrible name, even if it is Dungeons-and-Dragons-inspired), I thought for sure he would be the one to put things right by the end.
Not only was I surprised by Eleven's role in the later episodes, I found myself even more fascinated by Will's status as "spy" for the ( ugh) Mind Flayer.
We know Eleven opened the gate in the first season, but that was kind of an accident, the result of her making physical contact with the demogorgon. But if she can battle the ( shakes head) Mind Flayer back and close the gate to the Upside Down, basically repairing a rift between dimensions, what else can she do?
IT'S NOT OVER
The final shot of the second season shows that closing the gate is truly all Eleven did. She certainly didn't do anything to hurt the ( sigh) Mind Flayer. It's still stomping around in the Upside Down, as we see when the camera literally upends the final shot. As mentioned above, Eleven accidentally opened the gate, and presumably all those tunnels underneath Hawkins are still there. Even if they're not directly connected to the Upside Down, they're still full of what I'll refer to as Ultraviolet Confetti and the Manga Tentacle Gang. What happens to all of that stuff?
A few random thoughts
• Lovecraftian horror is certainly not an '80s trope, but the physical design of the ( whatever) Mind Flayer is pulled directly from H.P. Lovecraft's indescribable, ancient beasts. Although that head is straight out of the Alien franchise.
• 1980s references I caught on first viewing: Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, the Warriors, Mad Max, Aliens, The Goonies. I plan to re-watch it and I suspect I'll catch a lot more of the deep cuts.
• Actors who are from other series you've probably watched: Dustin's mom is one of the prison guards in " Orange is the New Black"; the Brenner employee who employed electroshock therapy on Eleven's mom is Mose Manuel from " Deadwood", a.k.a. Pruitt Taylor Vince, who plays a morally ambiguous, put-upon underling better than most anyone.
Paul Reiser (from left), David Harbour, Sean Astin, Winona Ryder and Finn Wolfhard in Netflix's "Stranger Things"
Photo by Netflix
• Pitch-perfect casting of Paul Reiser as Dr. Owens. The second I saw him I could think only of his slimy corporate stooge Carter Burke from 1986's " Aliens." That made it all the more surprising when he turned out to be a pretty decent guy.
• It's been pretty interesting to track Sean Astin's post- Lord-of-the-Rings career. Here, he plays Joyce Byers' doofy, likable and ultimately heroic/tragic boyfriend Bob Newby. His other high-profile recent role was playing a scientist in the first season of FX's not-so-great vampire series " The Strain." You'd think that after becoming an international sensation as Samwise Gamgee, he'd parlay that into more movie roles. His choices are a reminder of what a great age of prestige television we're currently enjoying.
• As the father of a 5-year-old boy who has had a few bouts with illness, the scenes of Will Byers writhing in agony with his mother unable to do anything to help were extremely well-done, and by that I mean they were excruciating for me to watch.
• Maxine is a fine addition to this show's group of kids, but her season arc was essentially "create a brief rift between Dustin and Lucas and be able to drive a car when the time comes." I'd like to see her developed a little more if the series continues.
• The way Mike and Nancy's mom was looking at Billy while in her bathrobe suggests that perhaps Mike — though certainly not his dad, who plays the 1980s "Father Completely Out of Touch With His Family" stereotype all the way to the hilt — may have a new, non-supernatural enemy if there's a third season.
What did you think of the second season? Leave a comment below!
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.