Christ, October was busy. It seems like every day Netflix or Amazon or Schmazoid or Goobah were plopping down another must-see special or can’t-miss show, making it next to impossible to keep track of everything that was already streaming. To make matters worse, the NBA returned with a rare kind of energy and the MLB playoffs actually got exciting for a second or two. So, yeah, things were pretty, pretty … pretty hectic in this past month, and seeing Larry David and Nathan Fielder on a weekly basis only exacerbated that anxiety. This sound familiar? It should. We’ve complained about it all year in these monthly writeups, and no, we still have no idea how to rectify the situation. Clearly. But hey, too much of a good thing is never a bad thing, at least when it comes to pop culture, so let’s just take this all one episode at a time. Sound good?
“Trick or Treat, Freak”
True to the show’s throwback spirit, the Duffers are treating the second season of Stranger Things like a sequel. Hence, the whole Stranger Things 2 title and all the nods to James Cameron, who flipped the script on the medium with Aliens, Rambo: First Blood Part II, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Like those movies, this second go-around in Hawkins, Indiana expands the world, ups the stakes, and digs deeper into its core cast while adding new ones. Granted, the season premiere, “MADMAX”, does most of the table-setting for the rest of the eight episodes, but it’s not until the second chapter, “Trick or Treat, Freak”, that we get a sense of where everyone’s going and what they’ll be doing. To top it all off, the action takes place on Halloween, and naturally, the spooky holiday marries the show’s Spielbergian aesthetic with aplomb, adding an even broader nostalgic wash that’s like being wrapped up in a wool blanket, while sitting next to a moon-glazed window that’s looking out into a windy, autumn night. Too treacly for you? Oh well.
“Trick or Treat, Freak” is peak Stranger Things. Aesthetically, it doesn’t get better than watching the Hawkins kids stumbling around in era-specific costumes (from Nancy and Steve’s Risky Business getup to Mike’s team of Ghostbusters), or Hooper investigating rotten pumpkin patches, or Eleven flipping through old-school horror movies by her lonesome. These are the sugary treats that draw us in, but it’s the episode’s bitter tricks that keep us glued. Basically, everyone’s going through the motions after last season’s harrowing events — Will suffers from a kind of supernatural PTSD; Joyce is now a wired helicopter parent; Eleven misses Mike; Mike misses Eleven; Hooper’s irritably paranoid; and Dustin’s no longer the MVP of the Hawkins arcade — but shit gets real when Nancy has an emotional, drunken breakdown at an epic Halloween party. Much like us, Steve watches in horror as she berates herself, their relationship, and their bullshit life. It’s all pretty heavy, but that’s why Stranger Things 2 is such a worthy sequel.
Everything’s familiar, nothing’s the same. –Michael Roffman