Decider let me write 10,000 words or so about the second season of Stranger Things, a sci-fi thrill ride I loved almost unconditionally. (Read all 10,000 for a breakdown of the conditions.) Here’s a recap of my recaps:
‘Stranger Things 2’ Episode 1 Recap: “Madmax”
With a cold open, Stranger Things 2 announces itself as a bigger, more unpredictable world than the high school hallways of Season 1. What else won’t we see coming?
With its buffet of influences, from sci-fi to horror, Stephen King to E.T., Stranger Things became a Netflix breakthrough in 2016—a work rich in 1980s genre nostalgia but also an evolution of it, a studious homage bursting with its own subversive new life. It felt more like an extended film (or a medium-size King book) than a TV show, and it’s fitting that the second season has dubbed itself with a movie sequel’s title.
‘Stranger Things’ Season 2 Episode 2 Review: “Trick or Treat, Freak”
What happened to Eleven, Stranger Things’ middle school Professor X? In the show’s final Season 1 battle, she and the monstrous Demogorgon both seemed to wink out of existence—shattering the door between Hawkins and the Upside Down dimension the young telepath blamed herself for opening. Or so we thought.
‘Stranger Things’ Season 2 Episode 3 Recap: “The Pollywog”
“The Pollywog,” episode 3 of Stranger Things 2, is an episode about possession: romantic, amphibious, demonic. Stranger Things is done clearing its throat in its third episode, and it begins to tip our heroes into discord and darkness.
‘Stranger Things’ Season 2 Episode 4 Review: “Will The Wise”
It’s worth remembering that Stranger Things season 1 was an intertwined mystery that carefully untangled: a missing boy, a mysterious girl, an invisible monster, Christmas lights sending messages from the beyond. It was about the unseen and the desperate power of belief. Stranger Things Season 2 has a different kind of urgency, the slower dread of turning to face the strange and finding it everywhere.
‘Stranger Things’ Season 2, Episode 5 Recap: “Dig Dug”
It begins and ends with Will. Like all proper sequels, Stranger Things 2 takes the heart of its predecessor’s central plot—the Upside Down has Will Byers—and repeats it with higher stakes. But creators the Duffer brothers have rarely met a trope they can’t twist, and Will’s conflict has been perfectly inverted: he doesn’t need to be saved from within the Upside Down. It’s the Upside Down inside of him that needs to be evacuated. That makes for a jagged, scarier narrative, one with less obvious solutions.
‘Stranger Things’ Season 2, Episode 6 Review: “The Spy”
In the same building where Eleven’s mother couldn’t save her child, Joyce is determined not to lose Will. She sits at the head of the table with Dr. Owens and his fellow white-coat scientists, their illusions of control over the Upside Down’s dimensional rupture and the forces within it evaporating. But their villainous need to hide their handiwork and avoid responsibility remains, even as Joyce refuses to be gaslit: “Can a single person in this room tell me what is wrong with my boy?” Hell hath no fury like Winona scorned.
‘Stranger Things’ Season 2, Episode 7 Review: The Lost Sister
Twitter and IMDB consensus is that this episode is the show’s worst, a judgment, I think, that has as much to do with the unexpected break in the binge-watching action as it does with the storyline. Because encountered on its own, this is the natural direction of Eleven’s arc—a journey through the past that takes her into the anguish and rage out to the other side, toward a way forward.
‘Stranger Things’ Season 2, Episode 8 Review: “The Mind Flayer”
“The Mind Flayer” asks its heroes to find their limits: of bravery, of friendship, of love, of cleverness, and the episode finds the best in all of them. As dark as “The Mind Flayer” gets, and it goes all the way down, there’s an optimism in its humanity.
‘Stranger Things’ Season 2 Finale Recap: “The Gate”
It wouldn’t be an ‘80s homage without a happy ending. Stranger Things 2’s wild ride concludes with climactic fights, underage driving, emotional catharsis, and Murray Bauman’s last laugh: Stranger Things could keep going after this, but there’s no need. This show has given us so much already.
‘Stranger Things’ Uses Nostalgia To Show Life Is The Real Horror Show
My Decider piece on Stranger Things’ first season from 2016.