Warning: this article contains SPOILERS for Stranger Things Season 2.
In Stranger Things 2, creators the Duffer Brothers build on the success of the original breakthrough Netflix smash and give fans more of what they think we want. Loved the story of Season 1? It’s recreated in classic sequel fashion — bigger and, as they’d presumably like to believe, ‘better’. Enjoyed spotting all the 1980s references? There are even more in the sophomore outing, often overtly mocked — something that Season 1 avoided. Praised the show for the interplay between the young characters? Again, there’s more of that — and with new characters introduced and the kids splitting up, there’s more opportunity to explore their relationships, complete with the same sparky dialogue.
You definitely come away with a sense that you’ve seen it all before. This time around, it all feels a bit less authentic, and the impact of a show which created a huge word-of-mouth splash on its debut and took us all by surprise is deadened. By approaching Season 2 in the way they have, the Duffers have given us a sequel that feels drawn-out and repetitive, and one that only moves the story on slightly. Indeed, we’re left with plenty of the same questions that we were asking at the end of Season 1. But they could have fixed this.
One of the kids that separates off from the pack in Season 2 is Eleven. And it’s this storyline that deserved a greater emphasis and a different balance.
When we first see Eleven, it transpires that for the past year she has been hiding out in a cabin in the woods owned by Hopper. He’s instructed her not to go outside, especially during daylight hours. Desperate to see Mike, she’s becoming increasingly frustrated — and angry — as time has wears on. Unable to see an end to the current set-up, she confronts Hopper who reacts angrily. He’s only trying to protect her, after all. This eventually leads to her heading off on her own to track down her birth mother, Season 1’s Terry Ives.
This, in turn, sparks the revelation that she has a ‘lost sister’, a fellow test subject by the name of Kali. It’s when Eleven heads off to find her that things become really interesting. Her search takes her to Chicago, and to a group of outcast punks squatting in an old building that Kali is holed up with.
The Season’s Best/Worst Episode
Great, we’re thinking. The show is prepared to explore beyond small-town Hawkins, and really push the envelope. Now it’s getting exciting. But wait, this is Episode 7 and we’re just two episodes away from the season finale, giving us next to no time to build on this momentum. After all, there’s the small matter of tying everything up in at least one of those final two episodes in order to deliver a satisfying and cataclysmic finale.
It’s curious that we actually first see Kali and her squad in Episode 1, and see hide nor hair of them again up until this point. Did the Duffers bottle it? Soon after re-introducing them, Eleven ends up leaving them, and Kali and her crew are dismissed out of hand.
As it is, Episode 7 sticks out like a sore thumb. Totally different tonally compared to the rest of the season’s episodes, it’s easy to label this the worst episode of the entire season. But had the Duffers gone with their presumed instincts and developed this further, making Eleven’s association with the group more of a focus, it would have really switched things up. Instead, they spend far too long on her frustrations at living in secret in the woods, leaving her to stagnate and rushing her fascinating story at the end.
The Duffers should have taken a different approach, taking audiences by surprise and offering us something new that would have the kind of impact the first season had. By focusing on this storyline, they could have achieved that.
Who is Number 8?
Kali herself has an interesting story that we only scratch the surface of. And what of the other test subjects? Kali is revealed to be number 8 to Jane’s 11, meaning there are at least another 9 subjects we haven’t met yet.
Kali has been making it her mission to wreak revenge on all those connected to Dr. Brenner’s experiments, hunting them down and dishing out her own brand of justice. With the help of her gang, each of whom she helped individually and who are consequently loyal, grateful friends to her, she uses her own psychokinetic powers and her friends’ ‘talents’ to mete out punishment to those who wronged her. The ‘bad men’ as she calls them.
Interestingly, Kali’s powers differ from Eleven’s. She can make people imagine things that aren’t there, so vividly that they seem real — like spiders crawling over an arm and a butterfly sitting in her palm, to huge metal walls and a cloaking device that renders her and her friends invisible, allowing them to escape. She’s also able to conjure up Dr. Brenner in Elle’s mind, and make people feel and hear things too.
Kali and the Gang
The characters in Kali’s gang all have backstories — but we hear precious little about them. While Kali makes it explicit that none of the gang is the same as her and Eleven, as they stand — with their characters crying to be fleshed out — their presence seems a little redundant. And yet this bunch of misfits, their lives and how they got mixed up with Kali are intriguing. There’s leader of the gang, Axel; a big bouncer type named Funshine who Kali labels their ‘warrior’; lookout, Mick; and newest member, Dottie. What’s their deeper significance? We may never find out.
Interestingly, there are parallels here with the current season of American Horror Story. Like the Stranger Things punk gang, AHS features cult members donning clown disguises to carry out acts of retribution — clearly, there’s something in the air which also suggests this storyline is worth deeper exploration.
Finally, Kali herself has the potential to turn against Eleven and become a villain — maybe it would have been interesting to explore that in Season 2. They definitely see things differently, and we witness conflict between them. It’s something that could develop as the series progresses, and more test subjects are introduced. We’ll keep an eye on that, but giving us a bit more here would have definitely have benefitted this season.
The Duffer Brothers certainly missed a trick with Stranger Things Season 2. Let’s hope that they take heed for Season 3 and move at least some distance away from Demogorgons and taking the mickey out of the 1980s to concentrate on moving the story forward at a faster pace and surprising us all.