Warning: Spoilers Below:
Season two for Stranger Things has been out for a week, and by now, everyone has already binged it and began a discussion thread and/or a meme about their favorite scene.
And they should, ‘cause it was a whopper of a season. With no loss in quality, the Duffer brothers managed to keep the momentum of the first season hype going by maintaining the suck that is Will Byers life while holding onto the balance of great story arcs, fantastic casting and ‘80s kitsch.
And while the second season of Stranger Things continues to rally fans with compelling sci-fi storylines set among an ‘80s backdrop of Olivia Newton John songs and mullet haircuts, what makes the sophomore outing so superb are the characters. Particularly the supporting cast who add depth and nuance to the drama.
That is not to say that the main cast weren’t outstanding in their roles. The kids were adorable, Eleven was a badass, Joyce was brilliant in her manic fits of holiday light decorating, Sheriff Hopper was the subtle hero with a tragic backstory…all the players did their job with skill.
However, in season two, the supporting players were given a chance to blossom. And blossom they did.
Case Study #1: Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), who beat out Joyce in season two for Mother of the Year.
It would have been easy enough for Steve to fall into the William Zabka Guide For How To Be An ‘80s Douchebag. He had a polo shirts galore, gravity defying hair and attitude to spare. He was shitty to his girlfriend Nancy Wheeler and a bully to Jonathan Byers.
But apparently, and surprisingly, that was a phase.
He went from getting founding member of the Cobra Kai to Adventures in Babysitting in a few key episodes as he began to care for our ragtag group of tweens on their mission to save Will, save Hawkins and save the world. Soon, Steve went from ditching school and pressuring girls into sex to lecturing kids about safety while resting a dish towel on his shoulder.
In fact, his relationship with the kids, particularly Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) was one of the high points of the seasons.
Then there is Nancy. Her development took her from typical popular teen who couldn’t stand her kid brother or his dorky friends to a kind, gentle soul looking to heal a broken heart at the Snow Ball.
Again, Nancy could have been Caroline from 16 Candles or Claire Standish in the first half of Breakfast Club and just stayed there as a foil. But her growth in season one (some of it forced by the trauma of all she has seen) has made her kind.
It seems many of the secondary characters had a personal journey, a path they have traveled to get where they are.
But in addition to the character development of the seasoned supporting cast, there are also surprises in the new characters themselves that make the second season of Stranger Things so compelling.
Let’s look at Bob Newby (Sean Astin), superhero.
When first introduced, many people were waiting for the catch. No one can be this good. This kind. This nice and accepting of strange fucking circumstances and weird kids and Joyce’s hang-ups…
But alas, there he was.
Bob. The Barb of season two.
Founder of Hawkins first AV club. Knows BASIC. Works at Radio Shack. Figured out Will’s drawings. Just a nice guy who sacrificed everything to be with Joyce because he couldn’t believe how lucky he was just to be with her.
RIP Bob. You deserve better than what you got. Which was eaten by a lizard-dog.
Now look at Dr. Owens, played by Paul Reiser.
We have seen Reiser in a role like this before. It would have been simple for him to slip into this slimy Aliens persona and go into autopilot. But instead, we got a nuanced character, filled with surprises.
Yes, he worked for the big, bad lab that did big, bad things to Eleven, the town of Hawkins, Barb and countless others. But by the end of the run, the man as a heart. He didn’t want Will to die and was unwilling to sacrifice anyone for the mistakes that were made.
In the end, he opted to stay behind to give the others the chance to escape. A move Burke would never even contemplate.
In the end, the second season of Stranger Things is just as strong as the first season thanks in part because of the supporting cast and the writers who opted to stray from well-worn path of ‘80s tropes and give their audience characters to care about.