Summary: The kids discover a mysterious girl named Max who just moved in and has taken the high score on the game Dig Dug at the arcade. Will has visions of a massive monster in a storm coming to Hawkins in the Upside Down. Joyce has a new boyfriend named Bob and he is liked by the family. Barb's parents have hired a crazy PI named Murray to help them find Barb. El has been living with Hopper to nobody's knowledge.
The Good: I thought this was a very strong premiere. I was skeptical that there wouldn't be more story to tell in this world, but the writers have introduced new characters, concepts and storylines that give me some optimism for this season. I was very glad to see that the story doesn't seem to be repeating itself again this season as I feared it might. This premiere has accomplished what a lot of shows don't think is important: change. Without change we wouldn't want to keep watching, but impressively that was understood here and this episode has brought some notable changes to the characters and storytelling.
The 80s charm was introduced better here than I think it was in season 1 honestly. There were lots of references to 80s people, lots of 80s movie-esque scenes and of course the addition of the arcade also helped.
But the best thing the show is doing, that it has been wildly successful with since the start, is it's doing a superb job of portraying kids. They remain so intensely likeable and foolish in a way that doesn't make them feel like stupid adults, but rather kids just goofing around. Nothing shows this better than their plan to figure out who Madmax is, and their scenes when they stalked Maxine were hilarious and yet felt very real at the same time. They were very well done.
Another good thing about this episode is the follow up on what happened last season, though not everything was followed up on well (see: The Bad). Barb's death being so inconsequential was one of my biggest gripes last season so I'm glad we got to see her parents reacting to what happened and also it was nice to see Nancy struggling to get past her best friend's death. It was emotionally powerful stuff, of the kind that the show rarely touched upon last season. I also like the change in Will as he seems awkwardly quiet now and very to himself. It has created good dynamics between him and his family and I really enjoyed seeing that. His scene with Jonathan in particular was sweet and helped me warm up more to both characters.
The comedy was top notch this episode too. There were a lot of funny moments throughout. Things that stood out where Dustin and his new teeth, Mike robbing Nancy and Murray accusing the Russians for everything that happened to El. The latter particularly amused me because it was a US creation, but naturally everyone just blames the Russians.
The Bad: This episode still suffers from Stranger Things' biggest problem though: it's clichéd nature and predictability. However I am pleased to say that things were toned down in this episode, but still there. Of course we got a few twists but they were predictable. El and Hopper wasn't a surprise for me and I got the sense we were heading to that reveal at the end of the episode. Will being back in the Upside Down was a nice development (more on that in The Unknown), but it was obviously going to happen.
At least there were few clichéd moments this time around. Bob seems to be a clichéd happy guy, but I do hope there is more to him than there seems to be. Will visiting the doctor was as clichéd of a "doctor tries to help but can't" scene as possible. I also wasn't very happy with Will talking about the Upside Down in such a clichéd way.
There was some poor follow up on certain things last season. There needed to be more regarding Will returning to life in a miracle. How was that explained and why does nobody treat him any differently at school because of that? Also the zombie boy taunts just feel stupid. There also needed to be some follow up on the school killings by the monster. How were they explained and who was impacted by it? How did everyone just go back to being normal again? We needed to see that.
The only worrying thing for me is that the characters' may not have anything different or new to do. Hopper's act of investigating is already starting to wear thin and the season only just started. I also hope we can see more from Joyce other than "worried mom" but it doesn't seem to be happening so far.
The Unknown: Lots to put here.
Who is 008? What is her history and how did she get to where she is? How will she factor into the overall story? I was very happy with the opening scene as it proved to me that there is more to this world that needs to be explored. But the question is what is it? Are there other experiments? How were they made? How did they get away? What are their individual powers? 008 clearly has different powers from El.
Speaking of El, what happened to her after she vanished? How did she end up living with Hopper?
Why does Will keep flashing back into the Upside Down? What is the storm he saw? Is it just another monster or something more?
What is Max's story? Will she become part of the kids crew?
How long have Joyce and Bob been together?
What was the significance of the raven in the pumpkin field? What destroyed the pumpkins because it couldn't be Eugene. That would just be anticlimactic.
What was in Dustin's trash can?
Best Moment: The kids stalking Max was brilliant and felt pretty realistic for kids their age.
Character of the Episode: Dustin for still being awesome.
Conclusion: This was a really good premiere, despite the follow up issues it had. I had my doubts, but this season has the potential to be better than the first. If we get more quality like this than I would be happy with the decision to continue the series after season 1.
Just a university student who loves to watch TV. And criticize it like hell.