The first episode is a slog, as it aims to reestablish the world of Hawkins, Indiana. Mike, Dustin, Lucas and Will are doing their best to get their lives back to normal following Will’s return from the Upside Down. Following a trip to the arcade, the party (as they affectionately call themselves) are thrust into a new adventure.
Will can’t seem to escape the pulls of the Upside Down and is dealing with visions of the other realm. Then there is the introduction of the mysterious new addition Max, who is welcomed into the party with open arms by Dustin and Lucas. Not by Mike though; he is still hung up on Eleven.
I will say, beyond her induction into the party, Max’s storyline and its payoff are some of the best moments of the season. Max comes with her own baggage in the form of her older brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery, from this summer’s absolutely fantastic Power Rangers). He also comes equipped with perfect hair and music queues. He provides a nice contrast to the other high school kids from season 1.
The one character who feels out of place is the breakout star from Stranger Things season 1, Eleven. There is a full episode detour to explore her story, and it stops the flow of the season dead in its tracks. It feels especially odd because it just dives into tropes that have been done time and time again. It comes off as uninspiring and flat. I would have much rather seen that journey sprinkled throughout the season, instead of all at once in one episode.
As far as the threats of the Upside Down, they continue to escalate in fun and inventive ways. Seeing the constantly growing casts adapt to these ever changing circumstances is great, and where most sequels split the party and it ends up just further complicating the story, Stranger Things 2 uses that to its advantage. Each storyline and plot comes together in a natural way, and there is even an unexpected fan favorite who comes off as cheesy first, but turns the corner back to greatness by the end.
Ultimately, Stranger Things 2 is more of the same, but thanks to some clever plotting you get to see most characters grow organically through their interaction. The new additions of Max and Billy help up the drama and tension thanks to their superb performances, and the Upside Down is just as creepy and mysterious as it was in the first season.
Thankfully, this season is only 9 episodes long, so it feels like an adventure without overstaying its welcome. There are some great twists and turns, and the younger cast continues to shine in their established roles. I sincerely hope the next season branches more characters out of their comfort zones, as that is where Stranger Things 2 thrives.
This review originally appeared on RoguesPortal.com.