Fleshing Out the Upside Down in “Stranger Things 2”


The second season of “Stranger Things” lived up to the hype. (COURTESY OF NETFLIX)


The weekend before Halloween may have been the most anticipated one for those viewers fascinated with the fictional small town of Hawkins, Indiana and the murky alternate dimension that is undeniably evil in its nature. This review intends to evaluate whether the second season of “Stranger Things” lived up to its predecessor and the craze it quickly sparked.

The terrifying parallel universe, or the “Upside Down,” as dubbed by the characters in the series, is a dark reflection of our world in which monsters such as the Demogorgon live― and the first season left us wanting more. Most of us were instantly hooked on the thrilling storyline told in “Stranger Things,” as well as the ‘80s nostalgia embedded in the chapters: from the pop culture references to classic scenes from insanely popular movies, this hauntingly good and highly appealing series has some to offer to every type of audience.

It should come as no surprise that “Stranger Things 2,” the sequel to the first season that quickly skyrocketed to popularity, was inevitably subject to high expectations from both viewers and social media. But did it live up to those expectations? Whereas the first season seemed more simple, the second season definitely intensified the horror of the story, ultimately making it a memorable and compelling season that instantly leads the viewers to be fully immersed with the unique storyline. “Stranger Things 2” shares the same magical spark as its predecessor, but it explores that plot in a deeper and darker manner, where its blend of the perfect haunting storm and fundamentally talented cast make this must-see season.

“Stranger Things 2” truly managed to capture the magic and eerie mood from the first season of the sci-fi Netflix series. It also answers all of the unanswered questions most of us had after watching the first eight chapters, whilst also further exploring the frightening Upside Down, whose supernatural forces are gradually bleeding into the small Indiana town. The malignant forces of the Upside Down are no longer represented by one single predator-like monster. Rather, this season goes in depth in scrutinizing the way the decaying parallel universe works, as the boys of the AV Club discover it functions like a “hive mind”, where thousands of “Demo dogs” are controlled by the “Shadow Monster,” later referred to as the Mind Flayer. This Shadow Monster continuously looms over Will Byers, and its presence haunts him.

Unfortunately for Will (played by Noah Schnapp), he is both mentally and physically recuperating from his near-death experience in the Upside Down. In this season, we get to see much more of Will and how he copes on a daily basis, which was a major yet refreshing difference from the first season, where he was engulfed by the Upside Down and we consequently did not get to know him as well as the other characters. Schnapp’s acting, nonetheless, was phenomenal and absolutely mesmerizing: he successfully grasped our expectations of fear and PTSD-like symptoms would look like. His acting in the second season was a truly goosebump-worthy performance.

Will’s vulnerability to the evil supernatural forces, which are visually stunning, instantly becomes apparent in the first episode “MADMAX”, which ultimately sets the tone for the rest of the series. The boys ― Mike Wheeler, Dustin Henderson and Lucas Sinclair― are playing “Dragon’s Lair” at a retro-style arcade, a game that almost seems to foreshadow the love triangle between Dustin, Lucas and the new skater girl Max. The significance of games in Stranger Things and how they are used as strategic tools to foreshadow certain events can also be seen in the first season, where the game of “Dungeons and Dragons” signaled Will’s loss against the Demogorgon.

It was also intriguing to see Eleven’s character development in the series as a whole. Her performance was captivating in terms of how she successfully portrayed her dynamic character and the different stages she goes through. The second season also shines a light on Eleven’s background: seeing Eleven’s pursuit of the truth and her struggles of defining her true home was captivating. The romantic highlight in the series, her relationship with Mike Wheeler, also made her experience in the second season rather heartbreaking, as she desperately tries to reach out to him.

“Stranger Things 2” reminded most of us why we fell in love with the series, as it made several references to the first season. For instance, instead of trashing Joyce Byers’ house with christmas lights, they sprawled Will’s scary drawings of his dark visions of the Shadow Monster all over her house, which they later use as a roadmap to understand the tunnels, or the hive mind, in the Upside Down.

All in all, this season highlights a recurrent theme of the importance of friendships and the formation of strong bonds, especially in times when the world is literally falling apart. Until then, we have two great seasons available at our disposal whenever we feel like watching a mysterious and enthralling science-fiction series that is truly a love letter to the ‘80s.