Peter Counter and Susan Stover are back at you with recaps of season 2 of Stranger Things. They guided you through the Upside Down last season, and they’re ready to jump right back in.
A fall can feel like an eternity when you’re a kid. Time seems to move faster when you grow up, and before you know it your hectic Halloween has become an emotionally charged Snowball Dance. In “The Gate” we are given an action-packed conclusion to the eldritch horrors of Stranger Things 2 and have to decompress. Coming to terms with getting older is its own adventure.
The Exorcism of Will Byers
Peter: Here we are at the end of the season, and Will Byers is the focus again. Poor kid. November is tough enough with the shorter days and the cold, but being repeatedly drugged by friends and family, and interrogated in a mystery shack? Flu season has nothing on Will’s fall ‘84.
Susan: Seriously, this kid is not going to get out of this without severe emotional trauma. What I liked most about the finale of season 2 was how it returned to its roots in adventure, friendship, and humour. The exorcism was a cathartic experience to say the least, and the fact the whole team worked it out using their scientific knowledge was perfect.
Peter: Exorcism scenes are fueled by uncertainty, and the nail biting climax of Will Byers’ mind flaying arch is no different. The Duffers and Co have done an excellent job of obscuring the in-show logic that the Mind Flayer adheres to, so we never really know if Joyce is rescuing her son or abusing him as she cranks the dials on the space heaters. The exorcism of Will Byers is thrilling and cringeful horror, stradling that razor thin line between excellent and terrible parenting to the point where it’s easy to believe Joyce’s desperation might further maim her boy.
The Babysitters Club
Susan: Speaking of maiming, Steve gets his pretty faced punched in again. Although I concede Billy is a baddie, I’m not so crazy about fist fighting as the answer. I kind of wanted to see Max and Billy work together in some way; especially since we’ve gotten an overarching message about anger this season. If El can use hers to open and close doorways to other dimensions, than why can’t Billy learn to channel the rage? Instead it’s just a fight with Steve.
Peter: I agree completely, and I have hope that we’ll see Billy deployed in more complex ways next season. That said, all hail King Steve. He’s not a good boyfriend. He’s not a good fighter. And despite what he claims in front of Nancy, he’s not actually a good babysitter. But you know what he is? He’s a great character. Steve’s fall from social grace to become the baseball bat wielding leader of the D&D party might be my favourite story arch of the season, and its conclusion in the upside down tunnels was suspenseful fun.
Susan: I disagree on one point here Peter, I think he is a good babysitter. He just happens to be caring for the precocious preteens in the tri-state area. He also came to defend Max against Billy, and got the shit kicked out of him for it. It’s also not his fault he was passed out when he was loaded into the car, and did try to get Max to stop driving!
He was the mother hen to the baby chicks and when he tries to get them all above ground before the demodogs conceivably rip them to shreds, he makes sure they get up before him. It was such a interesting moment when Dustin and Steve thought they were demokibble. Steve was standing at the ready with his bat, but Dustin looked away in fear; it was a reminder that, despite his smarts and bravery, he’s still a kid who needs protection– and it was Steve who provided that. Thank goodness El was on the job patching up the vagina wall.
Peter: Hopper and Eleven’s car ride of reconciliation satisfied me, too. Some of season two’s most painful emotional conflicts occurred in the Hop Shack, and because we’re watching the second act of a much bigger story, there was a sizeable chance El and Sheriff Papa were going to remain apart, at least for now. Their reconnection was sweet, well acted, and helped underline how much the season’s events changed each character.
Susan: I think they are going to be just fine. And look who else is fine – the doctor! Although a survival situation may not be the best time ask about long term treatment, it is nice to know he’ll be helping El transition into society after being a lab rat her whole life.
Time After Time
Susan: We land on a one month later situation where we see the news leaks worked to being justice to Barb’s parents. A least now they can move on knowing their daughter is dead. BUT why wouldn’t the good doctor who they took the recording of be in jail for his admissions? It just doesn’t make sense. But we need the doc to get a birth certificate for Jane, so I… guess?
Peter: It did clean up a little too neatly. But if this lapse in the fictional justice system means we get more Paul Reiser, then I’m happy to let it slide.
Susan: Now we end with a school dance.
Peter: Well, fuck. That dance scene turned me into mush. If not for the nostalgia and the happy ending buttons, but for the realization that over the next three years we are going to get to watch these kids grow up before our eyes. A perfect landing to a season that, for all its smaller missteps, was a confident next entry for one of the most exciting series in our current TV golden age.
Susan: How is it that all TV and film high school dances are so ornately decorated? Like, what kind of budgets are these schools working with? My high school had a fog machine and cheapo lasers (I mean not to brag, I’m sure it could have been worse).
Peter: I do want to note that the dance sequence has been tainted by the terrible sleaze of showbiz, that creeps like a flesh scab and needs to be burned out. I watched this episode before news broke that Lucas and Max’s kiss was unscripted, and that Sadie Sink (Max) was pushed into the act and teased by adults leading up to it. Reading the accounts online make it seem like nothing traumatic happened, but it’s seriously fucked up for adults to be doing that to kids, and to be using that language to justify it, especially given the current climate of the entertainment industry (and how that has directly affected Netflix).
Susan: IS NOTHING PRECIOUS?
Extra Things, Too
Peter: Speaking of inappropriate behavior, do we know how old Billy is? Is Mrs. Wheeler on the verge of turning Stranger Things into Transparent?
Susan: I know Billy is the monster of this season, but I wanted them to fuuuuuuccckkkk. He was actually charming, and you know what Mrs. Wheeler is a babe, and she deserves some positive and consensual male attention after putting up with Ted for all these years.
Peter: I rewatched the season and one of the details I missed the first time around was Mrs. Wheeler’s rampant day drinking. She has a glass of white wine in maybe 75 percent of her daylit scenes.
Susan: I like to think she lets herself have one a day. It’s usually white at dinner and red in the bath. Also, I would fucking drink if Ted was my husband.
Peter: Now that it’s over, what do we want next year? Personally, I wouldn’t mind Will getting a year off from his cosmic torture. At the rate this is going, that kid’s not graduating high school without some serious help from real doctors. I’d also like to see more sympathy for Billy, the return of the Chicago branch of the X-Men, and more Mr. Clarke, who I felt got tragically short changed after the whole Dart fiasco in Chapter 3.
Susan: Like I said at the end of last season – no more. This season was good, but not as good as the first, and I can only see it getting diluted from here on out. I’m sure we’ll get a lot of video games and maybe even theme rides once Netflix opens its equivalent to Disney World?
Peter: Well, I’m sorry to say, we have at least one more to go. What do you think the Stranger-verse version of an Ewok is?
Susan: I would be SO down to see a spin off series just about Mr. Clarke. They should call it “Curiosity Voyage” ARE YOU LISTENING NETFLIX?
Peter: Oh my god yes. And it’s called “Curiosity Voyage.”