Get excited nerds! Season 2 of Netflix’s Stranger Things is almost upon us! I somehow missed the Stranger Things train when it first premiered and just spent the last few days binging the last season. I’ll admit, it was an incredibly well made show, but I couldn’t help but notice a few serious issues that the people raving about this show neglected to mention. So, in anticipations for season 2 let me present a few things that Stranger Things needs to fix in order to make it to the next level.
Don’t Rely on Nostalgia for storytelling
The thing that kept me from watching the show for the longest is how it could be easily described as “nostalgia porn.” I was worried that the show would be structured primarily to trigger the nostalgia factor for the early 80s, with references to Empire Strikes Back, Indiana Jones, classic dad rock, and AD&D. I was mostly right, but what I didn’t expect was how the show leaned into the kids adventuring genre (films like Stand By Me, The Goonies and Monster Squad) and used these classic film’s tropes to inform the story and it’s characters.
What season 2 needs to do is break away from that. Don’t shy away from the kitschy references, but actually give the characters depth apart from allowing us to compare the characters to their genre counterparts (like how Mike is Mikey, Nancy is Brand, Dustin is Chunk … I can keep this going). In some instances full lines of dialogue in Stranger Things are pulled from other 80s movies. You can see a litany of this writing shorthand in this article by Vulture.
Give us a villain we can understand
If you go back and watch the first season, I challenge you to tell me who the villain actually was, and what their motivations were. If you say that Brenner (Matthew Modine) was the bad guy of the series I would seriously question that, because he basically died off screen (The Demagorgon jumps on him but the show is framed so we don’t see it land on him, he just falls down and we never see him again). You could say, then, that the Demagorgon is the villain, but it’s just a monster. It has as much motivations as the shark in Jaws. The issue with Brenner being the big bad (other than his unceremonious demise) is that we know nothing about him. We don’t really know why he does anything in the series. Could it be patriotism, or is he just a sadist. The show doesn’t bother to develop him enough for us to know, and that results in him being a totally forgettable character.
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The Demagorgon had moments where it could have been more interesting. It was obviously intelligent in a way no one could understand. Brenner at one point refers to it as an animal, but it doesn’t hunt like an animal. It’s smart. That makes the Demagorgon scary, but because we know so little about it (and it’s seemingly indestructible for … reasons I guess) it can only be a monster, and can’t challenge the characters in any other way.
To fix this, all the series has to do is give us a bad guy, and explain why they do the things they do. That’s all.
Explain what the governments deal is
This, I feel, is a result of how Brenner’s character was written, but the government makes zero sense in this show. We are never told what agency they’re a part of (Yes, I know they are tied to the Department of Energy, but that feels like a cover); we are never given a reason for why they picked Hawkins as a place to set up shop (seriously, why?). Moreover, they’re very kill happy in this show. They murder the cook in the first episode — who literally knows nothing — for zero reasons. They just seem needlessly evil because we need antagonists to threaten the kids and Eleven, but we are never given a reason why they felt these measures necessary. We know that Eleven is dangerous, but it seems that if they had bothered to go in talking first instead of shooting, Eleven would have been less likely to go all Carrie on them.
Season two needs to fill in the narrative gaps as to why the government does the things it does. Is it evil? Are these people too patriotic?
Give the kids agency
This was my biggest problem with the series. Our main characters, Mike, Lucas, Dustin, and Will, don’t accomplish anything. Seriously, Will gets captured right at the beginning, and the other three kids spend the series “looking” for him, but they never actually find them. They also spend the whole series running from the government or bullies or the Demagorgon only for Eleven to save them every time.
Season 2 needs to make the kids the real heroes. Let them save themselves. Let them save Hawkins.
Build up the upside-down world
One of the best aspects of the first season was how the creepy, shadowy “Vale of Shadow” or “upside down world” was used. The only thing that bothered me was how the only thing we saw live there was the Demagorgon. Moreover, it felt like the final battle in the finale of season 1 there was a perfect opportunity to have more than one Demagorgon. They need to further develop this place, and make it feel like a real organic world. By the looks of the comic-con trailer for the upcoming season, it looks like they’re well on their way to doing just that. Check out the trailer below.
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