Review: ‘Stranger Things’ Season 2, Episode 1, “Madmax”

By Troi Watts

The highly anticipated second season of the Netflix original series Stranger Things is finally available! Most people have already binged their way through the nine-episode season and have answered the very important question: is this season better than the first? I won’t answer that here, but I will let you know if you’re going to be left satisfied after the season premiere.

Warning: Potential spoilers ahead!

Season 2 picks up one year after the rescue of Will Byers and the disappearance of Eleven. Things seem to be back to normal, with the exception of a new avid gamer who happens to be a girl (the episode’s namesake) and Will’s strange flashes of the Upside Down. Couple these strange flashes with the odd plague ravishing Hawkins’ pumpkin patches, and it seems like Hawkins isn’t out of the woods yet.

The opening scene hits the audience like truck: it’s sudden and disorienting and seems like an isolated incident. The introduction of another child like Eleven is a high point of interest for fans, but this is the only time she appears in the entire episode. There isn’t even an allusion to her at the end of the episode, which is a strategy the Duffer Brothers typically use to build suspense. Not only that, but Kali, as Eight is later identified, has a power that is hard to understand in this scene alone. To clarify: she can control what people see, as in she makes the cop chasing her think that the bridge has collapsed when it is really fine.

One of the best things about Stranger Things Season 1 was the acting. Winona Ryder and David Harbour, along with the child actors, all did phenomenal jobs and earned themselves a lot of awards and nominations. Looking at the first episode of the second season, these performances seem to hold up. As for the new actors, including Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings, The Goonies) as Bob Newby, Sadie Sink (The Glass Castle, American Odyssey) as Max, and Dacre Montgomery (Power Rangers, Better Watch Out) as Billy, the performances are more hit or miss. Sean Astin lives up to his reputation as a skilled actor while Sink and Montgomery fall short of greatness, but is this their fault? I don’t think so. In my opinion, the characters of Billy and Max are not well-rounded or deep. This doesn’t leave much for the actors to work with in terms of interpretation and presentation.

Unsurprisingly, this episode is one you can’t skip (not that any true Stranger Things fan would want to) because it sets up so much of the season’s extended storylines, including Will’s connection to the Upside Down, Eleven and her recuperation after Season 1, and the shifting group dynamics between the boys. This episode’s plot is definitely in-line and up to par with the previous episodes of Stranger Things, leaving the audience with burning questions and palpable suspense. You can’t help but let the episode automatically advance to the next.

Overall, the first episode of Stranger Things Season 2 lives up to the expectations set up by Season 1. Fans should be satisfied by this debut as well as properly prepared for what is to come. Will the rest of the season hold its own against Season 1? Only you can answer that for yourself. So start watching.

Rating: 3.9/5