Netflix's Stranger Things 2 kicks off with a spine-tingling debut episode

Mike P Williams
Contributor

It’s been a while coming but Stranger Things 2 has landed on Netflix (in its season entirety no less) and fans couldn’t be happier.

With the whole of season 2, or Stranger Things 2 as it’s officially known as, on the streaming service as of October 27, we’ll just be recapping the first episode so prepare for some spoilery chat beyond this point.

Warning: Episode 1 spoilers to follow.

October 28, 1984. We open with a bank robbery and police pursuit. It’s a somewhat thrilling and action-heavy beginning compared to the methodically-paced precision of season 1, but we’re introduced to a few new unnamed faces – including an adult with a 008 tattoo and mind control abilities that help the perps escape. From the very little we see of her, it appears she could have greater impact on the season ahead; addressing the mystery over how she comes to be a free-roaming citizen after being imprisoned in the same facility as El.

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It’s great to be back in Hawkins!

Those grainy, neon red opening credits are so simple yet so emotive and nostalgic at the same time. We’re back in Hawkins and Dustin – now with his front teeth having come through – is in a kerfuffle in search of loose change. Cue the wonderfully familiar, haunting score from season 1 and the reintroduction of their famed walkie talkies and the rest of the gang – Mike, Lucas, and Will.

The boys are almost a year older and, dare it be said, wiser. They’re very much into the arcade video games craze that involves wasting their evenings (and money) on Dragon’s Lair and Dig Dug.

Barely moments into the episode and it feels like we never left: the characters are just as likeable, with that appealing whiff of the 1980s oozing from behind each and every vintage arcade machine. But all is not right. As we saw at the very end of season 1, Will was still connected to the Upside Down. Only now it’s getting stronger and affecting the poor boy’s life frequently throughout his post-trauma phase.

Mike and El share a moment in Stranger Things season 1. Credit: Netflix.

Hopper’s being Hopper

Despite what was implied during last season’s ambiguous conclusion for Jim Hopper, he’s back as the laid back and sarcastic head of local law enforcement. Now, he’s jovially brushing off a private detective who is snooping for answers about the disappearance of Barb – a character we know to definitely be dead – and posing wild questions about Russian spy conspiracies.

With the boys’ maturity (even though their juvenile tendencies are still very defining) into teens on the horizon, new girl Max has firmly gotten their attention in more ways than one. Her prowess as a skilled video games player and dethroner of Dustin’s tops scores has unequivocally won all their hearts.

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Yet Will’s return the fray is uneasy. Not only does his inclusion feel odd and unsettled being back in the real world, it’s strange seeing him as one of the main characters due to his lengthy absence for the majority of season 1.

All About Will

Despite Will being displaced it looks as if he’s set to be a prominent focus of season 2, with his premonitions/visions of a gigantic, long-legged monster having made its way through from the Upside Down happening more often. We’re still experiencing school bullies, too, only now there’s an even more cruel twist as he’s singled out for the trauma he went through when missing.

As Will is driven by mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) to regular therapy of sorts, the tone becomes particularly sombre and foreboding. Naturally, the experts she takes him to are still up to their old tricks and it’s not clear whether either of them are aware just what the treatment facility are up to. That said, it appear Hopper is in cahoots with them after his season 1 interrogation ended with him admitting to agents that he knows everything. Maybe he’s now their eyes and ears on the ground?

Who you gonna call? Probably no one in mobileless 1984. Credit: Netflix.

The New & Old

Former hobbit sidekick Sean Astin is Bob, a love interest to Ryder’s Joyce; potentially slotting in as a makeshift father figure, even though his intentions are as yet unclear – it’s sensible to be suspicious when it comes to new people associating themselves with the Byers family.

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And then there’s Nancy and Steve. Two unbearably annoying characters that managed to redeem themselves towards season 1’s climax. They’re still together and yes, Steve’s hair is magnificent but he remains a little grating. So far they’re less irritating but have something of a moral dilemma to address regarding Barb.

Up & Down

Just as the upbeat, floaty scenes of joy pass with a fleeting smile, the sinister ones rear their head. Hopper acknowledging Will’s therapist from afar, who then supervises the burning of a living organism seeping through a gateway to the Upside Down; Will transporting to the Upside Down with no control; and most poignantly when Nancy and Steve visit Barb’s parents for dinner.

We’re presented with this dinner scene from a moral and ethical standpoint. The impression’s given that the couple see Barb’s parents on the regular but this time learn how they’re putting the house up for sale to fund this private investigator we saw hounding Hopper. Should they tell the heartbroken parents that their daughter isn’t missing and waiting to be found, or should their hope be falsely strung along but with the prospect of them going bankrupt? It’s a tough situation not only to decide a on a correct outcome but to do so without looking like a complete lunatic.

El’s look has changed somewhat since season 1. Credit: Netflix.

Eleven’s back!

But just as the episode is coming to a close the question of where Eleven is really hits home. Mike is clearly still distraught over her disappearance as he gazes longing (and lovingly?) at the blanket fort she once slept in. He radios her every day and it’s an emotionally distressing acknowledgement.

Thankfully, we get to see El (the awesome Millie Bobby Brown) – perfectly teased until the very end of the episode – and her introduction is very much downplayed when it happens. Hopper retires for the day and after a cautious, specific knock on his front door he delicately enters, and it’s obvious that El’s inside. Yet a casual entrance into the dining area for a microwave dinner is both nonchalant and spine-tinglingly joyous.

El’s back. The boys are back. Hopper’s back. The Upside Down’s back. Welcome back, Stranger Things, you have been missed.

Have you started or binged the whole of Stranger Things season 2? Share your thoughts below…

Stranger Things season 1 and 2 are now available to stream on Netflix in its entirety.

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