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Lightning Has Struck Twice in Season 2 of Stranger Things

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Editor’s Note: There are no spoilers in this article. 

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Last summer, Stranger Things took the world by storm. Season 1 received widespread critical and popular acclaim, and it’s not hard to see why. Stranger Things is, at the same time, a love letter to and departure from the era in which it’s set. The series defies convention and abides by them. It takes what’s familiar to a modern audience and plays with their expectations. Nostalgia for the 80s is a byproduct, and never a crutch that the show relies on. For all of these reasons and more, Stranger Things’ first season is a hard act to follow.

Season 2, thankfully, strives to tell its own story and never gets lost in its own popularity. The Duffer Brothers, the creators of Stranger Things, have proven once more that they’re able to juggle several moving parts and craft a well-told story. This new season continues the trend of establishing a wonderful balance of nostalgia, compelling characters, and well-paced, interesting narrative. There’s a fantastic montage in the first episode that jump-cuts between different shots of life in the 80s. Rather than consisting of gratuitous references and callbacks to the era, they’re candid peeks into a decade with a distinct personality. It’s a reminder for the audience of where they are: the time is 1984 and the place is Hawkins, Indiana.

It’s this nostalgic setting that informs the characters, who were given so much room to grow in this new season. Episode 1 picks up a year after the events of the previous season’s finale and builds upon what has happened to further develop the main cast. The curtain has been peeled back, they’ve gazed into the abyss, and each character is coping (or failing to) in different ways. This is the biggest difference between Season 1 and 2: Season 2 deals far more heavily in personal and interpersonal struggles. This has, with a couple noticeable exceptions, resulted in a narrative that takes a strong cast of characters and pushes them forward through interesting and unexpected arcs.

What Worked

Pacing – Giving ample screentime and character development to nearly a dozen cast members is no small feat. The genius of Stranger Things as a series is its ability to maintain fantastic pacing and stay true to its characters. It expertly juggles multiple narrative threads and manages to convey enough information such that the audience is both informed and interested. There is a distinct lack of pandering; the show respects the viewers to fill in the gaps and understand what is going on.

One of my favorite aspects of the show is how it manages to thematically tie several stories together. In Episode 5, for example, there are four story threads happening parallel to each other, but the show still links them together around a central theme: piecing together the truth. That central idea manifests in different ways, from the Byers family figuring out what’s going on with the Upside Down to Eleven seeking out her past. The episodes, for the most part, are laser-focused and showcases the writing team’s strength at keeping a big idea from falling apart.

StrangerThingsSeasonTwoReviewCharacter Development – The main cast knows what the threat is: they’ve been to the Upside Down, brought down the manipulative secret organization, and faced the monster head-on. But the events of the first season don’t exist in a vacuum. Several of the main characters struggle to deal with the emotional and psychological stress of what happened: Mike, Will, and Nancy have trouble returning to a normal life, Joyce, Hopper, and Steve try to regain some semblance of structure, while Eleven, isolated from her friends, searches for a place where she belongs.

Season 2’s strength lies in a narrative driven by character motivations and conflicts. The main cast has goals they want to accomplish and personal fears that threaten to stop them from doing so. This new season is interesting because of how those needs and fears overlap and intersect. Where this shines the most is in some unexpected character combinations, like Dustin and Steve and Hopper and Eleven. Character dynamics are pretty varied this season but are held in place thanks to actors that understand and convey their characters’ strong personalities.

Stranger-Things-season-2-Dacre-Montgomery-Billy-1108543New Characters – New characters are simultaneously some of the best and worst aspects of Season 2. Sean Astin and Paul Reiser as Bob Newby and Dr. Sam Owens, respectively, make fantastic additions to an already stellar cast by adding some much-needed optimism. I and, from what I’ve seen, many others fully expected the worst of Bob and Dr. Owens. This natural distrust of newcomers can be chalked up to a mix of genre-savviness and a protective instinct towards characters we’ve grown to love. But, like with many other facets of the show, Stranger Things defies expectations.

Using Tropes – It’s one thing to turn a trope on its head. Stranger Things does far more than that. Films from the 80s have a firm hold on popular consciousness and the show uses this to its advantage. Not only does it subvert tropes, it does so in a way that fully fleshes out the writing and the characters. Season 1 established this trend: the stuck-up jock ends up being a pretty nice guy, the surly town sheriff quickly drops his disbelief, and the kids feel like real kids, not movie kids. By playing with the audience’s expectations, a familiar story is retold in a way that’s fresh and exciting.

What Didn’t Work

Even at its worst, the new season is pretty great.  Season 2’s weakest aspects are still enjoyable and inform the characters, but unfortunately, do nothing for the plot. Ironically, some of the best parts of this season also make for some of its worst.

Pacing – Those who have already watched Season 2 will know what I mean when I say that Episode 7 feels like it comes from a different show. For six straight episodes prior, Season 2 had a crystal-clear focus on its plot. The ticking clock of malevolent forces plotting in the Upside Down served to push forward and tie together the disparate character arcs and narrative threads. Except for one.

Sadie-Sink-Mad-MaxEleven takes this season to better understand her past and her place in the world, which is all well and good. The issue arises when her character arc takes her out of Hawkins and into what can ostensibly be called a superhero origin story. Without spoiling too much, it’s safe to say that you feel like you’re watching a different show. The silver-lining to this is that Episode 7 still does a wonderful job of letting Eleven grow as a character. It allows her to explore one of the major themes of this season: how people deal with trauma and move on with their lives. Despite that, Episode 7 sticks out like a sore thumb because of the abrupt halt it puts to the well-established pacing of Season 2.

New Characters – Bob and Dr. Owens weren’t the only new characters this season, but they certainly were the best. Sadie Sink and Dacre Montgomery join the cast as Max and Billy, a pair of dysfunctional “siblings” who have no bearing whatsoever on the outcome of the plot. That’s not to say their screentime is useless, far from it. They do an excellent job of promoting character development (specifically with Lucas and Steve). It was frustrating to watch, as Max and Billy had some interesting things going on with their backgrounds but the show simply didn’t (and couldn’t) spare the time to make them more fully integrated into the narrative. At the end of the season, you’re left wondering what exactly it was that they did.

In Summary

Despite some rocky bumps along the way, Stranger Things continues to impress with a fantastic second season. The Duffer Brothers have a keen understanding not just of their story and characters, but of their audience as well. Theirs is a show that respects its predecessors, the culture it comes from, and its own popularity. It’s unclear where the show will go from here, but with two strong seasons under its belt, Stranger Things is undoubtedly bound for greater things.

Kyle grew up with a controller in one hand and a book in the other. He would've put something else in a third hand, but science isn't quite there yet. In the meantime, he makes do with watching things like television, film, and anime. He can be found posting ramblings on liketherogue.tumblr.com or trying to hop on the social media bandwagon @LikeTheRogue

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Ricky D

    November 1, 2017 at 6:14 am

    I was ready to call this better than season one. In fact, I think I actually did on Twitter. That was before I watched episode seven. What a mess. 🙁

    I’m not sure I want a third season now given that it will most likely include her sister’s gang.

    • Kyle Rogacion

      November 1, 2017 at 12:49 pm

      I don’t think the -content- of Episode 7 was bad, just the execution. I quite enjoyed Eleven’s interactions with her sister as they fleshed out her character’s personal and moral dilemmas. Hopefully the writers will figure out how to integrate that storyline more naturally into the narrative of S3.

      • Mike Worby

        November 3, 2017 at 12:03 am

        Honestly, after all the hubbub, I was really expecting the worst from episode 7. What I got was an episode that sort of derailed the central arc, but was otherwise fine. I liked the conflict and the growth it offered the mythology.

  2. Joanna

    November 1, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    I think season three is going to explore more of the backstory behind where the kids like Jane (11) and Kali (8) came from, and I really hope it does because The Upside Down world feels done. Like I don’t know what else can be done with that.

    I was def not a fan of how they integrated/introuced Kali’s gang and Max/Billy. It was sloppy and rushed. But season 2 did do a great job with some of the characters’ development. Hooper and Eleven, Lucas, and Steve were who I thought grew the most in season 2—not to say that the other’s didn’t develop, but it felt like the writers paid the most attention to those four that I mentioned.

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The Boys Season 2 Episode 3 Review: “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men”

The Boys’ marks an improvement and pays big dividends in an explosive, violently revealing hour.

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The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

Half bottle episode and half coming out party, “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” is a sneaky little showcase for The Boys, and just how big its world’s suddenly gotten in season two. Though ostensibly an episode designed around two events – the boys getting stuck on the boat, and Stormfront revealing her inner racist sociopath – “Over the Hill” navigates a number of brewing conflicts in fascinating ways, building and building until the violent explosion at the episode’s conclusion. With a nimble script and a game group of performers, The Boys‘ second season is turning out to be a distinct pleasure – albeit one heading down a gruesome, dark path I sure hope it’s capable of navigating.

“Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” navigates a number of brewing conflicts in fascinating ways, building and building until the violent explosion at the episode’s conclusion.

It does take a little while for “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” to get going; beginning three miles offshore with The Boys and the reunited super-siblings, the first quarter feels like it’s simply restating the stakes. It’s a nimble trick, though; led by Kimiko and Kenji, The Boys begins to feel like it is approaching a true moral quandary for the group. Which door descending into hell will they choose?

The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

While The Boys often likes to posture its presenting characters with complex dilemmas, the show’s unnerving nihilism often upends any sort of nuance it looks for in its debates around “necessary” violence. Here, Kimiko’s presence throws a fascinating wrench into the proceedings; with most of the group’s members clinging to whatever mirage of family they have left (save for Hughie, who has… forgotten his dad exists?), even Butcher can’t deny having conflicting feelings about what to do with Kenji, and the deal that’s been offered to him if he turns him in.

Elsewhere, “Over the Hill” throws the brazen personalities of The Seven into their own little blenders, as Stormfront begins to sow discord through Vought, and abuse her powers to casually murder a lot of people – nearly all of them minorities, in a way that feels like an explosion of character, rather than an unpeeling of some complicated identity. Stormfront simply doesn’t give a fuck; and with her supernatural ability to manipulate feminist views (her speech to the reporters is magnificent, both in how it develops Stormfront’s character and nods to the simplistic ways in which the evilest people in society disguise themselves among the “good”).

While she’s kicking up tornadoes and electrocuting everyone that gets in her way, characters like The Deep and Homelander continue to benefit from the much-improved writing of season two. The show is still struggling to make Becca something more than the Ultimate Mother Protector trope, but Homelander’s warped sense of responsibility to his son is interesting, surely a bad sign for the upbringing of this world’s Superboy (will he also don a cool leather jacket and weird cyberpunk sunglasses? Who knows!). It’s clearly not going well; even he seems to recognize the danger in bringing his son’s powers to the surface, as its the first time in his life he’s facing a challenge as the world’s strongest hero (that is, until Stormfront doubles that total later in the episode, further frustrating Homelander’s attempts to hold domain over everything in his grasp).

The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

It’s not going well for The Deep, either, as his slow descent into cult life is bringing his desperation for acceptance further to the surface. Like with Homelander’s stories, I wish The Deep’s story was a little tighter and more thoughtful (some of the body image stuff seems to be treated trivially, in a way that borders on insensitive and uninformed for the sake of easy jokes), but there’s no denying his character is infinitely more interesting this season, a test case for what a superhero trying to learn their own limits would struggle with. The Deep works best as a pathetic character, but not when it’s a pathetic character The Boys just kick around with bad punchlines; when he’s treated as a byproduct of a deeply flawed human being trying to find a path to good intentions, his fumbles and weak-minded rhetoric is much more amusing – and at times, the tiniest bit empathic (his sadness over Billy’s, well, butchering of his whale buddy was such an earnest, raw and twistedly funny moment).

The Boys has needed to accelerate its internal stakes for a while; the introduction of “super terrorists” to the world by Homelander, and Compound V’s reveal to the public might make the show’s world feel a bit smaller than intended – I think a lot about the “big” fight scenes at the end of Arrow‘s third season, where the ‘entire city’ is fighting, but there’s never more than six people around – The Boys does that on a narrative level sometimes. But as the stories of the show dig a little deeper into its characters – Maeve’s disillusionment, Homelander’s failure to emulate paternal behavior, A-Train’s desperation, it’s beginning to feel like the writers have a deeper understanding of its characters and world, and how to wield its inherent sadistic cynicism to more interesting ends. “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” benefits massively from that, setting up a number of intriguing dominoes for the back half of season two to knock over (in bloody fashion).

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Look, I’m bummed how the Kenji character played out; he was such an interesting character, an examination of everything horrible about what power and war can do to a human being. It’s sad to see The Boys dispose of such an intriguing presence, especially as its a death of a minority character in service of mostly white-related stories – however, with such a hateful, nasty character like Stormfront waiting in the wings, it is easy to see how the writers found their way down that path. (like, she could’ve killed Black Noir and this show would’ve literally lost nothing… just sayin’).
  • Can A-Train just collapse or whatever, so we can get this storyline moving? We’ve been doing this since the second episode!
  • Why haven’t we seen any reaction to Becca seeing Butcher in person at the end of season one? She hasn’t mentioned it or even had a longing look off-screen to violin music.
  • Man, I’m so glad they cast Aya Cash as Stormfront.
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The Best Golden Girl is Sophia Petrillo

Sophia Petrillo was a legend in her own mind who always had her way and like Mighty Mouse, always won.

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Sophia Petrillo The Golden Girls

A seemingly harmless little old lady with curly white hair, oversized glasses, and an innate ability to tell a great story shows up on her daughter’s doorstep when the retirement home she was put in by said daughter burns down. With a simple, “Hi there,” the world meets Sophia Petrillo. For seven years on NBC’s The Golden Girlsa show about the senior set—Sophia lived with her intelligent and extremely sarcastic divorced daughter Dorothy Zbornak and her two roommates, sexy, eternally horny southern belle Blanche Devereaux and sweet but dim-witted Minnesotan Rose Nylund. Each is memorable in their own way, but it’s Sophia, “feisty, zesty, and full of old-world charm,” that stands out the most.

When TV was full of generic, sweet grandma types, Sophia was anything but. Sure, she looked the part with her bifocals, pearls, and now iconic straw and bamboo-beaded handbag, but Sophia was always trying to make a quick buck. She conned Rose into going into a sandwich-making business that pit them against the mob, faked being paralyzed to try and collect insurance, and constantly “borrowed” money from Dorothy’s purse. Instead of helping Dorothy, Blanche and Rose get out of jail when they are mistaken for hookers (don’t ask, just Youtube it). She stole their tickets to go to a party and meet Burt Reynolds. She also stole Rose’s car, worked at a fast-food restaurant, and won a marathon. Not bad for a woman in her eighties. Sophia had a sharp wit and an acerbic tongue, blaming her stroke for leaving her without the ability to self-censor. She was always ready with a zinger or a comeback, some of which she saved for her very own daughter.

Sophia Petrillo The Golden Girls

Sophia Petrillo is the Secret Star of The Golden Girls

That’s not to say she’s all schemes and insults. Beneath her tough exterior is a kind woman with a big heart who loves her family and friends. Viewers don’t often get to see her softer side, which makes the moments they do seem that much more special. One of the best Sophia episodes showed her reaction to the death of her son, Phil. She put up a wall of anger which Rose was finally able to break down in the final moments of the episode, revealing Sophia’s true feelings of guilt over Phil’s cross-dressing as she bursts into tears. Another favourite was when Dorothy expressed concern about her mother not doing enough with her days. We then get to see exactly what she gets up to sticking up for her friend and causing a scene at the grocery store while claiming to represent a fictional senior citizens union, volunteering at a sick kids hospital and later, conducting a senior citizens jazz band. Meanwhile, Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche do next to nothing except sit around and eat. When she’s asked what she did all day upon her return, she simply says she bought a nectarine, and Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche are none the wiser.

But if Sophia has one claim to fame, it is her colorful old-world tales about Sicily, which often as not, contain a pearl of wisdom or embellishment of some kind. We would have loved to have known her during her “picatta period (a wedge of lemon and a smart answer for everything),” when she was the most beautiful girl at a resort and all the men fought over her (so beautiful, in fact, that she had “a butt you could bounce a quarter off of”). She was also once painted by Picasso and was best friends with Mama Celeste. But I digress. Sophia Petrillo was a legend in her own mind who always had her way and like Mighty Mouse, always won. Her hunches were never wrong, and rarely, if ever did she meet her match. Sophia was, in short, a one-woman show. And thanks to re-runs and fan appreciation, that show will never be gone.

  • Dasilva

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published under our old brand, Sound On Sight.

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30 Years Later: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

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30 Years Later: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
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