Have no fear, kids: Stranger Things 2 lives up to the hype.
I say that as someone who was very worried about whether it would be any good at all, just considering the kind of phenomenon the show has become. Sure, every interview the Duffer Brothers gave sounded promising, every trailer was goosebump-inducing, and every new picture looked perfectly moody. But still, sophomore seasons are hard, and Target already has a whole line of comfy Stranger Things apparel, an honor usually reserved for established brands like Star Wars or Harry Potter. It just felt a tad premature for a show only one season in, and a tad embarrassing if season two didn't live up to its many promises.
I've now seen the entire season, and I'm happy to report that we can all wear those Hawkins Middle School sweatpants with pride. I should have never doubted you, Target (or the Duffer Brothers).
Season two picks up a year after the end of season one, and in that year everyone's had time to grow, mature, and recover from their first encounter with the Upside Down. The show has grown too. It somehow also feels a little older, a little bigger, a little cooler, and a little more sure of itself, though it hasn't lost that wide-eyed sense of wonder and adventure.
Even before terror returns to Hawkins, there's plenty to explore: new relationships, new sides of old relationships, and just the regular right side up terror that comes with being an eighth grader or a high schooler or even a fully grown adult with kids to look after.
There are new kids in school—Max (Sadie Sink) and her very 80s mullet cool older step brother, Billy (Dacre Montgomery)—who throw some wrenches into everyday life for Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), who are all finding that girls are a little more interesting to them than they used to be.
Sean Astin, known in the 80s as Mikey from The Goonies, also joins the party as the lovable tech-obsessed Bob. He brings a whole new attitude and some much-needed levity and normalcy to the lives of some of the Upside Down survivors, as well as an expertise that comes in handy a few times.
Will (Noah Schnapp), of course, has other things to worry about since he didn't come out of the Upside Down without some side effects, and Schnapp will blow you away with his performance. We didn't get to see much of him during season one, since he spent most of the time missing or trapped in a wall, so he's an unexpected but also totally expected revelation in season two, even with just a facial expression, or a quivering brow under that bowl cut.
While the boys are all doing just fine, Stranger Things 2 is possibly an even better showcase for the women of Hawkins. Joyce (Winona Ryder) is the same protective and concerned mom she always was, but she's somehow both lighter and a little edgier this season, bolstered by her delightful and very different relationships with Hopper (David Harbour) and Bob.
Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is a total badass this season, even (or especially?) in the midst of her ongoing love triangle with Steve (Joe Keery) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), who also both manage to grow up a little.
And then there's Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), who might actually do the most growing out of everyone this season. There's nothing much to say about her without spoiling anything, but just know she has a lot of seriously emotional work to do, and it makes for some moments that feel incredibly earned and super satisfying, both for her and for us.
I can't say the season is perfect. There are some occasional moments that feel a little slow or confusing or messy, and just the nature of the story means there are some season one dynamics that are lacking for most of season two. But the payoff is so worth it that you forget about any of that by the final scene, and it's hard to feel anything but satisfied by the time it's all over…even if there's inevitably something sinister still looming out of sight.
Stranger Things returns Friday, October 27 on Netflix.