I finished the second season of Stranger Things Tuesday night. Or rather I should say “we,” as I was grateful to get to watch the season with friends (the same from season one). That kind of thing seems only appropriate for a show rooted in friendship, in a kind of adventure that eludes most of us now that we are deeper into adulthood.
It was a good season. Odd, really, because of the show’s comfortability. Really, I suppose, it’s our comfortability with the characters. The show, really, is anything but comfortable. At moments, it felt like an after-school version of Broadchurch, with everyone struggling to make sense of something both foreign and right before their eyes. To summarize the thoughts of others: the season was part Aliens, part Goonies, and part the Exorcist (and that doesn’t even include Eleven’s X-Men like turn in episode seven). I suppose that, on some level, it was easier to take certain thematic elements for granted now that we have two seasons of Hawkins goodness.
Nick Olson recently posted an article at Image Journal that gets at something about the show and its allure (hat-tip to Twitter for the find). Olson asserts:
My mind is first drawn to the context of watching Stranger Things before the show itself. This is instructive for how the show has become a pop cultural phenomenon: Its attention to the past isn’t reducible to its 1980s setting. I was born in 1985, but I am a child of the 90s. I miss more of the show’s references than I recognize, yet its nostalgic spell affects me.
If nostalgia is the ache of homesickness, then the longing that animates Stranger Things isn’t reducible to the desire for Phil Collins and mullets and Dungeons and Dragons. The show’s sense of nostalgia is deeper and wider—perhaps the powerful subtext that some critics have been looking for.
Stranger Things recognizes the profound ways that we are estranged from home, enfolding the resultant nostalgia into the show’s every layer.
Nostalgia compounds “homecoming” and “pain.” I’m intrigued by how the show’s nostalgic sensibility is situated in horror and science fiction. The scares are fundamentally about homesickness, and science fiction, even when set in the past, orients us to the future—to where our scientific discovery and technological application can lead us.
Stranger Things combines these—nostalgia, horror, and science fiction—into a potent brew for us to binge until we are familiar again with what ails us.
I’m not quite sure most are willing to do much more “with what ails us” than by being reminded of it, but something like Stranger Things is at least good for that if not more.
I think the thing that stood out the most to me this time around was how utterly fearless most of these characters were written to be: jumping into underground tunnels, driving into the lions-den of demadogs, wielding gnarly bats and drug-soaked needles. The single-synapse reactions were a good and refreshing challenge for those of us who take way to much time to decide to do what is good and right.
There’s a part of me, of course, that wants there to be a third season. Another part of me, though, feels like this was a good and appropriate ending to the story (at least on the personal level, not so much on the narrative of the Upside-Down invasion). In that way, it’s like Broadchurch season two, too. Even still, I’ll enjoy the third season when it comes, hopefully with friends.
You can read the rest of Olson’s article here. The last three paragraphs are quite good.
(image from heroichollywood.com)