The binge-worthy fan favorite Stranger Things has hit screens again for a second season, to a great deal of fanfare. And while this season does not contain as many allusions to faith, it does contain some valuable themes related to community.
Built on nostalgia and driven by fear, Stranger Things is an intriguing mixture of tones that has become one of Netflix’s biggest hits. The first season, revolving around the kidnapping of Will Byers in a sinister alternate dimension, provides ample opportunity for comparison to the Christian worldview. There is an absolute evil, a realm beyond our own, and the characters come to believe in “the upside down” in a way that is similar to Christian apologetics.
Season two, while still maintaining those ideas as the foundation of the series, is interested in other themes. Stranger Things 2 features the return of the Upside Down, as the Shadow Monster exerts its influence on Will in an attempt to fully escape into our world. The Demogorgon was just the tip of the iceberg, it seems. The aching absence of Will in Season One is replaced by terrible shadow of evil in Season Two as the primary motivating tone of the series. In the context of this looming darkness, the show gives us a character-centric approach, showing how these people react and change when they are forced to stare absolute evil in the face.
In so doing, there is no investigation analogy to draw to apologetics. Instead there are character beats which encourage us to view all human beings in light of the Imago Dei (created in the image of God). One of the trademarks of the series from a story perspective is the subversion of archetypes. In the hands of the Duffer Brothers, the drunk sheriff becomes a grieving father, the shallow boyfriend a complex and compromised teenager. The complexity of these characters is given further voice in this season, while also introducing new characters with similar strokes. And in that complexity, there’s a progressive emphasis on community, in spite of the messy nature of human relationships, as a tool to help overcome the darkness.
This becomes apparent in several cases. “The Party” of Will, Mike, Dustin, and Lucas is as strong as ever. Joyce, who was in many ways a loner outside of her sons in the first season, is now involved with a serious boyfriend. Hopper has built a community as well, including a closer friendship with Joyce and Will. Even Steve forms an unlikely friendship with Dustin, which provides for some of the best character interactions the show has produced. Through these subplots, everyone becomes connected to everyone. The season’s most pivotal moments happen when they’re in groups. The show even reminds us of choosing the right community, as one of the characters gets burned by being too curious and friendly with The Upside Down. One of the most oft-quoted refrains of the series is, appropriately, “Friends don’t lie.” It reminds us that when true darkness comes, community gives us strength, as cliche as “We’re stronger together” may be.
In broad strokes, the series gets a lot right through this concept. It’s hard for me to ignore the absence of absolute good to contrast the series’ absolute evil, but acknowledging the presence of that evil is valuable, and the concept of banding together to fight evil, rather than just going all Rambo, is a Biblical idea. In the particulars, there can be some issues. This is not a family-friendly show. Some of these beloved characters partake in morally questionable activities, and although many of these are not viewed favorably, there are some exceptions, including an implied sex scene. Outside of the moral arena, the horror influence of the series becomes more apparent in Stranger Things 2, with more frequent appearances of gore and an aesthetic that seems greatly influenced by the Alien film series.
That said, the series gets far more right than it does wrong. It is an engaging and intriguing story that pulls some of the nostalgic mask off of childhood for a considerable fear factor, while also reminding us of the positive things that surround us to aid in fighting off the demons. While it is not an undertaking for the faint of heart, it is a worthwhile one.