‘Stranger Things’: The Most Pleasant Surprises of Season 2

The second season of Stranger Things, released on Netflix on Oct. 27, 2017, is a natural continuation of what came before, with the Duffer Brothers once again blending everything we love about ’80s science fiction and horror together in one package. Just like in Season 1, the new batch of episodes are nostalgic and suspenseful, featuring an appropriate mix of well-worn tropes and unique ideas.

But in addition to the elements we expected Season 2 to deliver on, it also delivered in a few areas we weren’t necessarily anticipating at all, resulting in some unexpected moments of greatness. Here are some of the most pleasant surprises of the new season of Stranger Things.

Noah Schnapp’s performance

Will nodding his head and smiling.
Perhaps one of Season 2’s most coolest characters. | Giphy

Audiences had many questions going into Stranger Things Season 2 about how Noah Schnapp fits into the group and whether his performance would be on par with the rest of the kids. After all, Will was barely in Season 1, only appearing with the main gang at the very beginning and then showing up in a few flashbacks and in the finale. So nobody really knew whether he had the acting chops required to take center stage in Season 2.

But Schnapp absolutely knocked it out of the park, delivering the standout performance in Season 2 and outshining even Millie Bobby Brown. Schnapp brilliantly portrays Will as a traumatized, fragile kid experiencing PTSD. His explanation of what it felt like for the Mind Flayer to take control over him and his seizure about halfway through the season are two of the most extraordinary pieces of television acting in 2017, and that includes adults.

The last two episodes, of course, give Schnapp more room to impress, and the audience truly feels that they’re looking at a young person in terrible pain during his “exorcism” sequences. We still see the real Will buried deep underneath there, though, as his loved ones share stories that bring memories flooding back.

Even in the early episodes, Will functions well as a member of the established group, and Schnapp does a magnificent job at transitioning from a lovable kid going trick-or-treating with his friends to someone who feels like a lab rat in a top-secret government facility after school. His friendship with Mike, and the scenes where Schnapp acts opposite Finn Wolfhard, are particularly charming.

Hopefully, in Season 3, Will won’t face another dangerous situation and will have more of a chance to get involved in the action. Schnapp really is an incredible young talent to a degree that few saw coming.

The character development for Steve

Steve and Nancy dancing at a party.
Steve’s character is growing this season. | Giphy

Steve Harrington is the Jaime Lannister of Stranger Things. He  started as a classic bully who the audiences were clearly meant to despise as we rooted for Nancy and Jonathan to get together, but Steve has grown so far beyond that and is now one of the series’ very best characters. In Season 2, the Duffer Brothers made the wise decision of separating Steve from Nancy and Jonathan for the majority of the season, therefore creating room to develop Steve on his own and not have him defined by his relationship with Nancy.

Indeed, this led to the unexpected but oddly right pairing of Steve and Dustin near the end of the season, with Steve becoming a father figure for the kid and teaching him the secrets of his hair (while also giving him some questionable dating advice). The showrunners have stated that they originally intended for Steve to be little more than a jerk, but they have since taken him in a much more interesting direction. And for a show that gets criticized for adhering too closely to ’80s movie cliches, here we have a handsome jock who we root for as the girl neglects him in favor of the “nice, nerdy guy” — a complete inverse of the well-worn trope.

When the Duffers allow themselves to do new things rather than just emulate their favorite movies, they occasionally find themselves striking gold, as they have done with Steve Harrington.

More focus on Lucas

Lucas putting on a headband and packing a backpack in his bedroom.
We get to learn more about Lucas Sinclair. | Giphy

In Season 1, Lucas was definitely the member of the child cast who was the most underutilized. He wasn’t the main lead like Mike, nor was he the funny one like Dustin, and for a chunk of time in the second half of the season, we’re not even on his side after his fight with Eleven and Mike.

But in Season 2, Lucas comes into greater focus. We actually get to see what his home life is like, and he has a fairly major storyline with Max and a few funny moments, like in the Halloween episode when he doesn’t want to be Winston in the Ghostbusters group costume. Even though Mike was the main focus of Season 1 and Finn Wolfhard became quite popular due to the success of It, Mike actually does surprisingly little this season other than acting grumpy and standing around while everyone tries to help Will.

With Mike’s role lessened, we get more Caleb McLaughlin than expected, which was certainly a welcome surprise.  

The relationship between Eleven and Hopper

Eleven walking out of a store with boxes of Eggo waffles.
Eleven’s relationship with Hopper is one of the best parts of Season 2. | Giphy

We had some idea that there could be a relationship between Eleven and Hopper in Season 2 based on the Season 1 finale, when Hopper leaves Eggo waffles in the woods for Eleven. But we could not have expected just how wonderful this relationship would be.

David Harbour and Millie Bobby Brown work magic together, with their storyline culminating in a heartbreaking but realistic fight about halfway through the season in which we fully understand the perspective of both parties. The Duffer Brothers don’t make Hopper into an unreasonable father nor Eleven into a bratty teenager to a degree that we don’t sympathize with either of them anymore; these are two believable human beings who in the end want the best for each other.

Harbour in particular excels with his performance as a man who wants to protect this little girl, but is also terrificd of messing up a young kid’s life after the death of his daughter years earlier. By the end of the season, both Hopper and Eleven have hurt one another but have owned up to their mistakes and learned from them, resulting in a father-daughter relationship that is realistic and affecting.

Although the climax of the season may be Eleven’s showdown with the Mind Flayer, her conversation with Hopper in the car feels just as cathartic.

Actual justice for Barb

Barb standing in front of a hallways full of lockers.
Season 2 finally included justice for Barb. | Netflix

#JusticeForBarb became the big meme after the success of Stranger Things Season 1, with many viewers feeling that the show did not adequately deal with the character’s death. After all, while Nancy does spend some time looking for her friend, nobody else seems that interested, just assuming that she ran off and leaving it at that.

With Season 2, the Duffer Brothers clearly took that criticism into account, with Nancy and Jonathan’s entire storyline revolving around them literally getting justice for Barb. On the one hand, it’s not always a good thing for shows to be so responsive to the audience’s reactions and building entire storylines based on what became a meme. On the other hand, Season 1 left this as an unresolved thread, so it was satisfying to see the Duffers go back and bring some degree of closure to it.

The Bob Newby character

Bob Newby sitting in front of a car and looking to the right.
Bob Newby | Netflix

While #JusticeForBarb was the main takeaway of Season 1, it already appears that the element of Season 2 that audiences are responding to most is Bob Newby. When we’re first introduced to him at the beginning of Season 2, it seems as if he plays the part of a doofus made for the audience to laugh at and who mainly serves as a roadblock in the inevitable relationship between Hopper and Joyce. It’s the classic trope of the woman dating the schlubby loser for some time before realizing that she’s really meant to be with the hero.

But like with Steve Harrington in Season 1, Bob grows into so much more than that. Though the subject of some humor in the first half of the season, by the end, he developed into a full-fledged hero, saving the day and sacrificing himself in the process. Apparently, we have Sean Esten to thank for this. In the first episode of Beyond Stranger Things, the Netflix aftershow, the Duffer Brothers note that part of the reason Bob became so heroic was just because they loved Sean Astin and wanted to keep him around for longer than they originally planned.

It’s a good thing Astin got the part, then, as with Bob, what could have been a boring stereotype developed into a truly memorable character.

The Snow Ball

The final scene of Stranger Things Season 2 was not the showdown against the Mind Flayer, but a 10-minute sequence of the main characters attending a school dance. For a show so focused on the fears and anxieties associated with adolescence, this was the perfect way to bring Season 2 to a close. The series captures the experience of attending a school dance so ridiculously well and brings all of the characters to emotionally resonant conclusions.

One scene in which Dustin sits on the bleachers alone and tries to talk to girls is especially effective. Steve giving him relationship and hair advice originally seemed like the setup for a gag where Dustin can get any girl he wants at the dance, so seeing him so let down is especially heartbreaking.

The Snow Ball itself was also, of course, a payoff to the scene in the Season 1 finale of Mike asking Eleven to that dance, and it’s the first time she really gets a taste of what life is like as a normal girl; although it was a big frustrating to see Eleven separated from the group for basically the entire season, that does just make it more satisfying when she and Mike finally get their dance.

A network show strictly limited to a 42-minute running time might not devote nearly a tenth of its finale to a school dance, but that’s just one of the ways in which Stranger Things benefits from being on Netflix. As the gang seems to be regaining some semblance of normalcy, the camera slowly pans upside down to reveal the Mind Flayer still watching over them in an ominous cliffhanger that tees up Season 3 and leaves us excited for what’s to come.

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