‘Stranger Things’ S2 Premiere Review: Return to the Upside-Down

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Netflix’s STRANGER THINGS returns just in time for the Hallo-weekend. The series return sees the main cast from season one still reeling from the events of last year. Along with all the new characters in the world, the premiere sets up the frightening new monster. Hawkins is certainly a much bigger town this go-around, with a noticeably larger cast. However, “MADMAX” paces out the returns and reveals incredibly well.

Season two picks up a year after the events of last season. The boys are obsessing over arcade games, and the teenagers are getting ready for dances. But Upside-Down survivor Will (Noah Schnapp) is having increased episodes of seeing the demonic realm he’d spent most of last season in. While Will’s new doctor (Paul Reiser) tries to soothe his mother (Winona Ryder) and Chief Hopper (David Harbour), there’s no denying something is amiss. But what exactly is this new demonic creature planning?

Noah Schnapp, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin (Copyright Netflix)

While “MADMAX” offers few answers, it serves as a great re-entry point into STRANGER THINGS. The dynamic between Will and the other protagonists is really interesting – they’re all approaching him with caution. There’s an air of normalcy to the majority of the episode, with undercurrents of the fantastical world below. Nancy (Natalia Dyer) weeps when she can’t tell Barb’s parents the truth about their daughter. Chief Hopper nurses a healthy distrust for everyone at the Hawkins Lab. “MADMAX” strikes a perfect tone of small-town life with a supernatural underbelly.

A lot of the episode focuses on introducing all the new players of the season. “MADMAX” begins with the high-stakes heist pulled off by Roman (Linnea Berthelsen) – aka “Eight.” The episode gets its name from new girl Max (Sadie Sink). The parents of the dearly deceased Barb have hired Murray (Brett Gelman), a detective-conspiracist, to find their “missing” daughter. It’s a bit much to absorb all at once, but the new characters are introduced in a well-paced way. We don’t spend too much time with characters we don’t need to worry about.

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Stranger Things
Millie Bobby Brown (Copyright Netflix)

The highlight of the episode, by far, is the return of Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). While it was no secret that Eleven would return to the show, the question of “how?” still dominated many fan’s minds. It’s not until the end of “MADMAX” that we get our answer – Eleven is now under Hopper’s care, living in secret. It’s exciting to see such a cornerstone of the series alive and well, and what her role will be in episodes to come is an enthralling mystery.

The new Hawkins that “MADMAX” introduces viewers to is far larger than last season. It’s hard to say how beneficial this new scope will be. Even with an extended season, STRANGER THINGS runs the risk of becoming bloated with characters and side-plots. The episode is reminiscent of early GAME OF THRONES, asking viewers to remember many new players. However, the way “MADMAX” balances all the elements promises good things. The tone and well-done storytelling that made STRANGER THINGS a hit last year is still present. STRANGER THINGS 2 promises a season every bit as amazing as last season with this premiere.

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