Stranger Things season 2 released this past weekend as you may know. In fact, you probably binged watched it like most just waiting for that final nail in the coffin to drop. There’s only one problem – that nail was never hammered in. Stranger Things season 2 was all aboard the hype train, but it unfortunately ran out of gas before it entered the station. The new characters did nothing to advance the plot and their story lines were dragged out much too long. After watching all nine of its episodes, it unfortunately was a rehash of season one with a couple different characters.
The season wasn’t all bad, don’t get me wrong. Max, Kali and Billy are all new characters for season two. Max and Billy are brother and sister who don’t add anything to the main plot of the show. Kali turns out to be Eleven’s “sister” who also has powers of mind manipulation. You would think that this would be a pivotal aspect and focus of the show, but it unfortunately isn’t. After all the mystery surrounding Eleven and how she would escape from the upside down, it’s revealed in the first episode that she has been with Hopper the entire time after escaping nearly right away. No buildup at all. Just boom, there she is. No explanation to how she returned from evaporating into thin air. Nothing. She’s just…there. She’s hiding out the entire time in a shack in the middle of the woods, and she literally has no plot involvement whatsoever. Her inclusion in season two in general served basically as fanfare. After all, how could the Duffer Brothers leave out the star of season one – the only one who has powers? It’s unfortunate, but you could tell she was sprinkled in with just enough scenes to prevent you from forgetting about her.
Episode 7 The Lost Sister was just an absolutely terrible episode. It follows up a crazy cliffhanger from episode 6 and is just purely out of place. It’s goal is to advance Eleven’s story arc, presumably because she’s a non-factor in the show up to this point, but it doesn’t come to fruition. Eleven manages to get all the way to Chicago to find her sister Kali (008). She joins up with Kali’s “gang”, which is basically a wannabe version of the 1970s film The Warriors. After trying to exact revenge on those who wronged them, Eleven decides that this isn’t for her and returns to Hawkins. Of course, her sister tries to help her realize the scope of her powers before she leaves, but it is rushed and falls so terribly flat. Why this was necessary when she realized the scope of her powers after defeating the demogorgon is beyond me. They rushed her for a single episode rather than leaving her out completely or developing her over the season, and it didn’t turn out well overall.
I really enjoyed Millie Bobby Brown’s role as Eleven in season one. It was mysterious and was a focal point for the entire plot. Season two, however, was completely different. She was unfortunately dragged along for sentimental value and had no bearing on the plot whatsoever. Even the season’s ending where she comes back to beat the Mind Flayer was a bitter pill – She failed. She didn’t “beat it”, but rather just delayed the inevitable by closing the gate. We see it at the end of the final episode hovering over them in the upside down. After nine episodes and 6 hours 45 minutes of a season, Eleven accomplished precisely zero for the season’s story line. The monster wasn’t defeated. None of the characters grew. Nothing was really accomplished. This is unacceptable, and the season would have been much better served without her.
Mike was the leader of the group in season one. His relationship with Eleven tied you into the season, and it was deepened with Eleven’s tie in to the overall story arch. No such story exists in season two. Mike is simply thrown to the side in season two as the Duffer Brothers tried to make room for Max and Lucas’ relationship, Steve and Dustin’s camaraderie and Billy just being a straight up dick to his step-sister Max. Not a single one of these three sub-plots advanced the main story line at all. The effort to focus on these was the equivalent of empty calories. You got something out of it, but it was nothing of any substance and left no room for the main meal – AKA the main story. None of these developed on their own either because there was constant jumping back and forth to the others.
Gaten Matarazzo’s performance as Dustin was hysterical. It was obvious they wanted to have another “leader” emerge in the group as they threw Mike in the trash heap for pretty much the whole season. This wasn’t as successful as it should have been because of the constant flopping over to Lucas and Max as well as Dustin’s relationship with Steve. Oh yeah, we can’t forget about Billy either. All of this back and forth took away from the season’s best performer, and that was Noah Schnapp as Will. Noah just turned 13 (real life) at the beginning of this October. Remember that. This isn’t some actor with tons of experience under his belt. The performance that Noah Schnapp put on throughout the course of Stranger Things season 2 was worthy of an Oscar let alone an Emmy. This is a 13 year old little boy who’s performance not only keeps you captivated, but convinced that it could very well be real. It’s one of the best overall acting performances I’ve ever seen considering his age and what he executed. Unfortunately, it got nowhere near the amount of recognition it should have due to the quantity over quality approach taken by the Duffer Brothers this season.
Netflix is suffering from the “Too much of a good thing can hurt you” problem. They are all aboard the original content train (I know, I used that above but bear with me, it works). They are also BILLIONS of dollars in debt because of this. Bright starring Will Smith releases in December with a cost of about $100 million. The Irishman will release early 2018 with a cost over that. Even South Park took on Netflix this season with a skit mocking how they are just buying up any idea that comes to them. It’s quantity over quality. There is no way that Stranger Things season two would have been released in the shape it was if Netflix cared more about delivering the best show possible rather than capitalizing on hype. Think about it. Let’s be honest, nearly everyone binge watches these shows on Netflix. How many people you know that watched it completed it within a few days? Netflix obviously knows this. By the time people realize the overall season wasn’t up to par, it’s too late. You’ve already watched the entire season and Netflix got its viewers. All Netflix needs to do is get you in the door, much different from a standard network TV show that depends on weekly ratings. If people miss a week or two, even more, they can simply catch up on DVR. These do not count toward weekly views for the networks. They also grow in amount the worse the episodes are. The worse they are, the more apt people are to forget about watching the following week. This creates a constant appeal for networks to deliver the best product on a weekly basis. Netflix doesn’t have to do this. Every one of the nine episodes of Stranger Things season 2 was pretty bland till’ the end. That’s when they hit you with that cliff hanger – to make sure you click “Watch Next Episode”.
Netflix also doesn’t have to worry about advertisers, nor does it release any viewership details. There is no way consumers can tell who watched what show, or which movie subscribers thought was best. It’s unfortunate, because this isn’t a good marketing strategy for the long term. Netflix simply wants to get as much original content as it can without any regard to the overall quality of its product. After all, in their mind, with all their shows and movies there has to be SOMETHING you’ll want to watch. That’s all they care about. They have you once you click that Netflix icon. If it’s not Stranger Things, there’s bound to be something else that peeks your fancy. Either way, Netflix wins – and it’s sad that shows like Stranger Things which have so much more to offer will suffer as a result. But hey, at least we got all those cool 80s references to distract us, right?