“Stranger Things” Season 2 – Growth in Character and Action

   If you enjoyed the first season of “Stranger Things,” chances are you will greatly enjoy the second. This is a season that builds on character development, expanding the world and action. It does everything a sequel akin to “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Terminator 2” and “Aliens” did and succeeds because of it. If you haven’t watched this show yet and enjoy sci. fi. or 80’s films…check this out. I doubt you will be disappointed.

The show was created by the Duffer Brothers who truly have once again done it again.

The story picks up where we left off with a few months having passed. The new status quo is 11 is now living in hiding with Sheriff Hopper, Will’s trauma from the Upside Down is shown to be much more than anyone realizes and Max is a new girl in town who changes the Team’s dynamic while Nancy and Jonathan wrestle with their trauma and revealing the events of Season 1 to the world.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Cinematography and Action – I’m putting these together this time because they are somewhat obvious and don’t contribute anything substantial to how characters grow or change. These are things that really work in the context of the narrative and are an improvement from Season 1 but aren’t what stand out the most. I loved how the film looks and the action scenes are amazing, especially the action shots of the Team. So these are both positive that I wanted to state up front.

The Expanding Upside Down and the Mind Flayer – One of the main arcs this season is the Mind Flayer and it’s expansion of the Upside Down. The Mind Flayer is the giant smoke creature that appears in a lot of the posters and is usually always behind a red cloud. In this the creature even possess Will, making him a spy and a way to outsmart the humans it knows it is trying to stop it. The Mind Flayer is a great enemy and a wonderful way of raising the stakes from the Demogorgon from the first film.

Fathers and Those Who Become Good Fathers – Another major theme is fatherhood from our adoptive fathers of Sean Astin as Bob who is dating Joyce and helps take care of Will and supports the Team in their fight. We also see it in Sheriff Hopper and his raising of 11 and him failing until he takes responsiblity for his anger and finally as a contrast Neil who is Billy’s and Max’s abusive father. Through the film this contrast drives how many of our characters are shaped. Sean Astin’s Bob is an amazing character and you will feel for the arc he goes through. I’m glad he’s a part of this season.

Mad Max and her arc – Max’s arc is finding family and standing up to her abusive brother Billy. We see this in how she stays away from the team but as they open up to her she begins to trust them and finally stands against them and defeats Billy who had been attempting to isolate her and abuse her through the show.

8 and her Team – This season we meet 8 who is another experiment who can make people see things that aren’t there with her mind. She is awesome and like Magneto she is out for revenge against the government agents with her band of punks. She’s not entirely an antagonist but she isn’t a protagonist either. This arc was good because she finds them after she finds her mother in a comatose state (that the government forced on her after stealing 11 from her) which makes 11 ready for revenge until she learns that she can’t kill out of rage, only out of love for another. 11 leaves her but we know she is still out there and I can’t wait to see her again and any other experiments who are free or exist.

Saving Will – Another arc that is handled really well is saving Will. Last season set up the Upside Down was still a part of him when he threw up a slug and in this we see the Mind Flayer possess him leading to him going through hell as the Team seeks to save him. It is tough and he isn’t rescued until the end and it is a fight to get to that point. The danger and visions give a good foreboding tone through the entire season.

11 and Hopper – I love this relationship. Hopper lost his daughter and 11 is his new daughter and Hopper is 11’s new dad. They’ve both been through trauma loss and it shapes how hard it is for them to trust one another. Hopper is extremely over protective at first and 11 is counting down the days she’s been stuck away from the world being protected. It is powerful and comes to a head when she runs away and Hopper calls her finally ending in them meeting up and her reunion with the Team and Mike. The resolution is powerful and we see that her standing together with her new family gives her the power to take on the expanding influence of the Mind Flayer.

The Team (old and new) – The Team is fantastic in this! You have Nancy and Jonathan revealing the government corruption, Steve and Dustin teaming up to find Dart (a baby Demogorgon), Lucas and Max and their budding relationship and Will and Mike dealing with the Mind Flayer with his mother and Sheriff Hopper as 11 joins them after she learns more about her backstory and finds 8 and her crew. I loved the new team dynamics and how all of them grew. None of these characters are the same after the events, they all grow and change and become stronger as they face their own trauma and loss.

The Cons: Slow Start – The one problem that stood out about this season was the slow start. It really picks up after episode 4 but before that it has a pretty slow build. I think this pays off later on but I also think more could have been done to give us more information on the Mind Flayer and it’s influence and just how pervasive the Upside Down had become. This was the only issue for me that kept it from being perfect.

This was one of the best seasons of television I’ve watched and much how “Defenders” season 1 fixes some of the problems in the first season of “Iron Fist” this does the same thing. This is a season of moving past nostalgia and dealing with consequences. This is a show that is more than 80’s movie and music references. This show faces trauma, loss and our characters grow and what they do matters. I’m not sure what is going to happen Season 3 as Season 2 ties things up rather nicely, but I I still can’t help but be fascinated by seeing how the characters grow further.

Final Score: 9. 8 / 10 Perfect length, great action and characters grow. The slow start is the only thing working against it.

“Stranger Things” Season 1 – A Powerful Sci. Fi. Coming of Age Story Reminiscent of the Best of the 80’s Sci. Fi. Films

Stranger Things Poster

   “Stranger Things” is a show born out of love and appreciation for so many great films during the 80’s. You can see elements of Stephen King, “John Carpenter’s The Thing,” “E.T.” “Goonies” and countless others that were clearly inspiration for a show that in the end isn’t any of them and clearly stands on it’s own as a drama and show. Non-spoiler thoughts, if you like any of the things I listed above you should watch this show. Netflix has once again created gold and if you are looking for a timeless and classic story, this is the show for you.

Their will be some SPOILERS coming up.

     The series was created by the Duffer Brothers for Netflix and produced by Shawn Levy.

     The story involves the mysterious disappearance of Will Byers in a small town in Indiana and what his family (his mother and brother) and friends do to find him as a mysterious entity is on the lose and government agents hunt a young girl with superpowers named Eleven, who joins Will’s friends Mike, Lucas and Dustin to find and rescue Will.

The Pros: The World – The world has the small town feel with the greater mystery as we have a small town where everyone knows everyone yet the threat from both El, the State and the alien entity making the small town threatening beyond the bullies who already inhabit the town.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and captures both the fun of Dungeons and Dragons when the boys are playing it, to the alien nature of the Upside Down where the alien entity comes from and is breaking through into our world.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is awesome and has wonderful 80’s songs littered through the entire show with a haunting 80’s synth for the opening. It is a film level soundtrack. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein did a great job on it.

The Writing – The writing feels real…the characters don’t speak contrived dialogue and the kids sounds like kids, teens like teens and adults sound like adults. It is surprising how rare this is in shows and films but this series doesn’t have that problem.

The Alien – The alien looks like a misshapen grey human from the back with long arms and am mouth like a Venus fly trip. It is terrifying in that you hardly ever see it fully. It is also deadly too as it kills Nancy’s friend Barb and has pumped Will full of it’s possible young even after he is rescued and it is defeated.

The Characters – The characters drive the story and each of them are more compelling than their stereotype or trope they represent in 80’s film.

Nancy Wheeler – Nancy is the nerd who joins the popular kids but after sees they are bullies leaves them. This is her trope that she goes beyond by building a relationship with Jonathan after both of them lose people to the alien and they take the fight to it. She becomes a leader and shows that she is awesome with a gun.

Jonathan Byers – Jonathan is the awkward creeper outsider who we learn is actually sensitive and respectful. That is his trope and how he goes beyond it is building a relationship with his mom when he learns she was telling the truth of talking to Will through the lights and seeing the alien. He’s also a cool older brother to Will and introduces him to great rock.

Chief Jim Hopper – Jim Hopper is the alcoholic divorced Police Chief who lost his daughter and never recovered from it. He changes in that he is the first to back Joyce when he discovers the State base and the area where the alien has made it’s home and the government wipes his memory. He is a dealmaker who doesn’t want to lose people and makes a deal for the State to get El back if he can save Will since he doesn’t want Joyce to lose a child too. For the bitter Police Chief he has a lot of compassion and empathy, and is quite good at his job.

Joyce Byers – Joyce is the main character besides Will’s friends. She is the one who is seen as crazy and in many ways did crack after Will went missing. She is also the one who sees the unknown and takes the risks and discovers the alien entity first. She is great in that she is someone who is doing the best she can with so much working against her. When she helps rescue Will we also see her begin to heal from her past abusive relationship and now having good relationships with her sons. Winona Ryder is wonderful in this role.

Dustin – Dustin is the guy who perceives a lot. He guessed the lunch lady was hiding the chocolate pudding, he knew when the State was coming and to get away and in the end it hints that he knows greater threats are on the horizon too. He is also the one who helps Lucas and Mike resolve their issues and brings the group back together. He is a pretty awesome kid with a lisp.

Lucas – Lucas is the member of Will’s friends who is the most driven and connected to those in the group. He distrusts El when they meet her partially out of fear of losing Mike but also because he wants to protect his friends. In the end he comes around though and even after he and Mike fight he warns and protects them and Eleven from the State as he sees who the real threat is.

Eleven – El is a character with superpowers who was taken from her mother in a government experiment and was being used to spy on the Russians during the Cold War before she escapes after she ends up opening the portal to the world the alien comes from. She is an amazing character who is learning how to control her powers and discovers what having friends is actually like and what it means. In the end she uses her power to hold away the entity and to keep it from our world after she and Mike basically admit love for one another. It is powerful and sad and we get the idea she is still out there fighting the entity.

Mike Wheeler – Mike is the main character and his arc is healing his relationship with his friends, his love for El and saving Will. He is a cool character and we see him willing to risk his life to protect those he cares about. He is also the DM for the boys’ Dungeons and Dragons game.

Coming of Age and Loss – This is the town’s coming of age and Nancy has sex for the first time and discovers her sexuality, Will discovers attraction, El discovers her own beauty and wants for the first time and Joyce and Jim confront their grief and loss and in it come together to heal as they try to save Will. It is powerful and these themes are always their below the surface in the many events and confrontations that take place through the show.

The Cons: The State and Their Motivations and Execution – I get they are fighting the Russians during the Cold War but beyond a faceless entity there was no depth to them at all. Even El’s “Papa” was just a monster who had no depth. This was a major con as every good show needs a good villain.

Leaving the Ending Open – The series could have ended and even though I want to see more I’m putting it as a con since they could have easily wrapped everything up and had the perfect show.

  This was a series that could have ended amazing with just 1 season and not setting up future seasons. I like that there will be more of this show, but like any story that keeps going, especially with television…I fear how it could bring around the overall quality of the show if it isn’t handled well. After defeating the alien things could have ended and it would have been perfect. Leaving it open brought it down a little for me. This is a world well worth your time though and the acting and writing is absolutely amazing. I have yet to have a bad experience with Netflix shows and this one is easily one of their best.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

“Continuum” Season 4 Retrospect – Good but not Great Series End

continuum Season 4

      “Continuum” is a great series, sadly the final season is only good and brings down the overall arc and messages in the process. What were the reasons it didn’t quite work in the end and why I would rate “Battlestar Galactica” and “Star Trek: Deep Space 9” as better shows in how they finally brought things to a close? I’ll get into that further down, one thing though is that “Continuum” Season 4 only had 6 episodes to tell it’s story, so ironically a show about Time Travel had time working against it.

    This will be a spoiler review as it’s hard to write about his season without mentioning past events in regards to characters and past seasons. I will say right now that this show is worth checking out, even if the ending is merely good and not great. It is one of the few shows that handles Time Travel and Politics in a serious manner and fully explores ideologies and methods. I do plan on reviewing the series as a whole later on and individually by episode since it is just that good quality of show and some of the ideas deserve more than a paragraph of exploration.

     The series picks up where we left off with Future Marines coming through a Portal and Kiera, Liber8, Alec, Carlos and the Police and Kellog dealing with the fallout as new factions arise and choices are made as things are finally coming to a head on what future will be created.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise this season is that a bunch of factions are vying for a final future…and that is pretty cool. You have Future Kellog and his Future Marines who wants to rule our present where resources are ripe and he can get a liver transplant from his past self, you have Liber8 who wants to stop the Corporate Congress from forming, you have the Police who want to use the tech. to remove crime, you have Kellog who wants to rule, the Traveler who wants to stop the chaos in time and Kiera and Alec who want stop the other factions and get Kiera home now that Alec no longer wants to be the Corporate dictator.

Liber8 – The members of this faction of future terrorists trying to prevent the Corporate Congress never stop being interesting or fascinating and the survivors from last season being Garza, Lucas and Travis continue to be some of the best characters on the show.

Lucas – Omari Newton does a wonderful job as the nerd who leaves Liber8 to really become a non-violent fighter working with Alec to find the best way to a future as he sees Liber8’s violent tactics just bringing about the Corporate Congress faster. In the end he is killed by Brad when he goes to rescue Garza and Kiera from the Future Marines. I always liked this guy.

Travis – Travis is the violent leader of Liber8 but in the end finds something more to live for beyond fighting against the Police Force when he takes out the Future Marine’s leader from Bard’s dark timeline where Kellog is a Warlord. It’s a great scene that somewhat gives him redemption but more shows that he will do anything to protect his own. He’s the ideologue and has been in all of the timelines the show has done but in the end shows he was always more complicated and would fight, even for those he may consider an enemy. Roger Cross was fantastic!

Garza – Garza survives! She is working with Kiera at multiple points to help bring down the Future Marines and in the end she is in the final battle against them to keep them from conquering our Time. What happens to her after is an unknown though, we just know she stayed in the present and didn’t travel to the future like Kiera. Luvia Peterson did a wonderful job.

Future Kellog – Future Kellog is pretty cool. He’s this dark Warlord willing to risk everything to provide a new home for his faction as his world is dying. To this end he will trap his past self and use him in order to save the self from the future even going so far as to have his daughter keep tabs on her dad to make sure he doesn’t mess things up. Sadly, his present self messes things up.

Kiera’s Faction – Kiera’s faction doesn’t always get along but the members of her faction still manage to remain interesting, unlike the Future Marines who just felt like tropes and not fully realized characters (including Brad as his character development was just abandoned).

The Police Department – This faction worked against Kiera on a few different occasions but eventually comes to her aid in the final battle against the Future Marines. She’s also on and off worked for them throughout the course of the series.

Carlos – Carlos is in charge of the Police Department and is working against Kiera for part of it because of all the secrets her and Alec are keeping but he eventually comes around and works with them to stop Kellog and the Future Marines. He has a great moment with Kiera too where we see how much he’ll miss her with her returning back to her own time. Victor Webster did a good job and his character really did grow on me over the course of the series.

Inspector Jack Dillon – This guy was in charge of the Police but after an attack that nearly killed him went to work for Kellog. He is the man lost and looking for purpose and it is the events of this season and Kiera being honest about the Time Travel factions in play that help him come around and stand with them in the final fight.

Alec Sadler – Alec is a great character and in this we see him try to run away with the woman he rescues from Kellog and leaves him when she learns from Alec’s son that she isn’t the mother…leading Alec to go full solo and join the Police Department in order to work more closely with Kiera with finding a way to get her home as he is no longer the one bent on domination (that version of himself was killed). In the end he greets Kiera in the good future as he worked with others at the end to bring about the peaceful future. William Davis (the Cigarette Smoking Man from “X-Files”) and Erik Knudsen did a great job being one of the more compelling characters in the series.

Okay/Pro: Kiera Cameron – Kiera’s arc kind of takes a  step back and we get the Kiera from Season 1 and 2 who just wanted to go home and not work for creating a better future in the present. This was sad as we see the Kiera who has grown in her relationship with members of Liber8, Brad and the Police Force showing that she knows politics and factions are complicated but her resolve to live at the end of last season was just thrown under the rug and forgotten to give us a Savior Story where she helps create paradise by going into the future while her friends create that future in our present and in the end she can’t be with her son as another Kiera was created in the timeline of that good future…and it ends.

Okay: The Traveler and Curtis Chen – These were the guys trying to prevent the dark future as the Traveler brought Curtis back to life so he left Liber8 and worked with the Traveler to put things in play for the ending we got. Neither was explored all that well and the Traveler just felt like a plot device. He was created from a future that doesn’t exist and he can bring people back from the dead? What? At least this faction wasn’t a con unlike Kellog and the Space Marines…

The Ending – Kiera creates a good future by traveling into the future but she can’t be with her son as another Kiera already exists. This is the bittersweet (besides all the lives lost in the fight this and past season). This was good but not great, I didn’t buy an idyllic future as even “Star Trek” wasn’t paradise.

The Cons: The Space Marines – The Space Marines are all macho idiots who are in the end bent on conquest. They have no depth to them and all chances of development feel contrived. They want to bring people through to conquer…the world is more than Canada, they’d be screwed…there plan just wasn’t thought out all that well, especially since Kellog ends up hitting on and killing his daughter. Smart move guys, smart move. Worst faction.

Brad – Brad’s character development gets tossed out the door as the Space Marines are meant to be from his timeline. I hated this as his relationship with them felt so stilted and their anger at everything didn’t make any sense given that they did have relationships they were trying to rescue by creating a new Time Travel Portal. Brad of course turns against them in the end when he learns that this isn’t saving refugees, this is conquest.

Kellog – I wanted to like Kellog but he was never given any depth. Gaius Baltar became a complex character over the course of “Battlestar Galactica,” Kellog did not. He was always the manipulator and selfish hedonist. This was sad given that there was so much they could have done with him rather than making him a card board cutout villain. He was the biggest wasted potential besides the ending and Space Marines.

   This is a show worth checking out though this is the weakest season in the series. So much potential was wasted with Brad, Kellog, the Traveler and exploring different pasts and how they lead to character choices. This season was primarily focused on action and suffered for it as the Future Marines just weren’t compelling and cheapened or destroyed a lot of the character relationships that had been established prior, just as making Kiera’s focus going home again did too…last season she had demonstrated moving past that and living, all that was done away with to tie things up.

Final Score: 8 / 10. Good but not great.