Basically, I'm using this as an excuse to talk about the show's events, leads into the next season, and general idle musings. I encourage my readers to comment with their own responses and thoughts, hopefully in a civil manner.
There were two new characters this season. Max is the new girl to the the main characters of the series and Billy becomes, well, just a bully. Now, Sadie Sink did her role as Max very well, but the character unfortunately didn't make much of an impact on the show. That's not to say she was a distraction or a detraction from the series, but she almost became more of a plot point to make Dustin and Lucas have a point of contention. I will say that where Lucas might have been one of my least liked characters in the first season, he immediately became the most improved by his character's maturity (unlike like several others). Maybe Max was literally added to have a hint of girl dynamic to the group in Eleven's absence or maybe just to be at the top of a barely formed love triangle?
Dacre Montgomery (played the most recent Red Power Ranger) does his role outstandingly. Billy is more than just a controlling older brother. He's abusive, destructive, almost certainly racist, highly tempermental, and throws tantrums when he doesn't get exactly what he wants (case in point, the video above). There's almost no point in having him in the show unless he's meant to be the human antagonist as the bad men wearing suits were in the first season (although he's far more underwhelming). Frankly, his scene with Mike's mom is easily one of my favorite scenes in the show for how out of left field it is.
Ultimately while I enjoyed their characters, I can't help but feel their roles could be omitted and the story wouldn't be adversely affected.
Nancy Wheeler and Jonathan Byers
So, unpopular opinion: I don't like this couple, at all. I made an article for the first season about Steve, concerning how he was presented and how he, without any outside source, chose to follow through as a good boyfriend and a decent human being. Nancy's choice to stay with Steve, one out of mutual affection in everyday lives, made her more respectable in my eyes.
This season has definitely warped that perception. Steve is nothing but supportive, retaining all his best traits without any of the bad ones. Nancy's ambition this season is to get justice for Barb, something which kinda comes across as pandering to the internet campaigns #JusticeforBarb. It's unfortunate that the people more or less responsible for Barb's death are all dead and the people who have taken on their responsibility are actually trying to handle the situation with good moral intent. Sure, the lab is closed by the end of the season, but it feels like it comes too late. After all without the new lab people, wouldn't the gate have opened up bigger or worse? And while I can't remember who brought up the idea of the Russians finding out (there were a lot of references to fear of Russian elements in this season), but Nancy doesn't seem to care much. I don't know how much of a threat Russians might be in a future season if they're even a real possibility, however.
Nancy's other character note is her relationships. She draws away from her boyfriend Steve for his inability to fix her guilt. She joins with Jonathan whose puppy dog eyes are his only contribution to this season (I honestly do not recall much of anything else he's done). They're called out by the private investigator as having 'shared trauma,' suggesting it is the ultimate bottom line for relationships. It's...super cliche and doesn't feel earned, nevertheless spurning a character (Steve) who continues to prove himself as he works alongside the children. Frankly, Steve deserves better.
Bob was amazing, period.
Also, if anyone deserved Joyce, it was Bob and Bob alone.
Sorry, I just needed to share that.
Episode Seven and 011
Well, where to start? Ultimately, I found it to be completely irrelevant and unnecessary to Season 2. Sure, it might've made a good pilot to Season 3 but it's so out of left field with characters that do not feel organic to the atmosphere that we've known for two seasons. Even worse, it's situated in such a spot right after the final act just starts, becoming a jarring experience. It's cool to see 008/Kali and the hint of other gifted children (is Kali a child? I have no idea her age) but it almost prompts so many annoying questions such as 1) how did Kali create a gang of older people and convince them to murder people she claims experimented on her, 2) if the government suits are still in power somewhere, wouldn't killing off their old members draw their attention, 3) do all the other numbers have powers, did some die, are any alive? I would have more but remember, this episode appears just when everything is becoming super intense in Hawkins and I'd much rather be finding out what's happening there than these characters who have no true effect on the climax of the show.
Also, speaking of Eleven, her character kinda takes a hit to her charisma. While originally a charming, victimized girl with a mysterious past and a powerhouse psychic, we get a little girl who throws (admittedly scary) tantrums, goes on a journey doggedly through the back half of the season, and shows up at the end to fix everything with little to no consequence. Don't get me wrong, it's hard to follow her arc in season 1 but her season 1 arc feels very underwhelming with little to no affect on her. Not to mention, her absence makes Mike a bit of a lame duck too since his defining feature this season is mourning her 'death' and being exclusive to Max.
Also, I really hope Eleven doesn't go back to her goth look. Personal preference of course, but I felt it hard to take her seriously, especially during the ending.
So, what's next for the series? There's obviously the Mind Flayer that's still active and aware of the 'Hawkins heroes.' The Gate might have been closed but it is still very much aware and intent on those that spurned it. While Eleven may have originally given it a foothold into our world, I'm sure the show will find a way to let it menace once more.
Speaking of which, we have numerous other numbers aside from Eleven and Kali each likely to have a different powerset. While Eleven opened the first gate, it's likely that others may be able to do so as well. Better yet, there may be others who part-time travel into the Upside Down and may become more fully possessed as Will did. As the show attempts to up its stakes, a Mind Flayer-possessed psychic child makes a lot of sense to menace our heroes.
There's also the iffy element of Russians and Russian interest that is mentioned here and there but with the lab suits out of commission, it makes sense to actually put a formidable human villain besides one high school bully.
And there you have it! I realized a bit of this comes across as a rant and for that I apologize. I honestly enjoyed this season quite a lot and felt there was a lot more narrative to chew on. Season 1 feels more classic and less flawed but also safer. I'm not sure if I could name one season better than the other as they are different but that's just one person's opinion.
Have any thoughts of your own you'd like to share? Agree, disagree with my points? Let me know in the comments!
- The last time we saw Dr. Brenner in season 1, we was being tackled by the Demogorgon offscreen. Many considered him to be dead, so why all the hints for him to be alive? Well, the scientist may have been trying to desperately save his skin by any means necessary and Kali was clearly manipulating Eleven. Still, as the show seems to be leaning into more numbered experiments in 8 and 11, Dr. Brenner coming back seems logical, despite his implied fate.
- Steve continued to remain awesome in my humble opinion, as did Joyce of course. Hopper felt a little bit more human and understandable despite his yelling. Lucas was given a lot more time to shine and Will finally gets some screen time. But characters like Mike, Jonathan, Nancy, and Eleven all suffer from limited or narrow plot lines with the additional characters being added in. It's weird to consider that as Mike was more or less the heart of the first season.
- I'm beginning to wonder if certain characters may not simply return for the next season. As some characters lose screentime to develop with the inevitability of more characters arrive, there's going to be a lot of dead weight to move forward with. Not all need to die though. For example, Steve is heading to college so he may stop being a series regular. Unfortunately, I can't think of many other organic ways to make room in the cast.