Stay Strange, Stranger Things Season Two

How will the show maintain its charm while unraveling its mysteries?

The Strange Things 2 trailer

Stranger Things will return in 2017 for a second season with nine episodes by original writers/directors Matt and Ross Duffer, Netflix announced today. The news is about as unsurprising as, say, the idea that four Dungeons and Dragons-playing nerds in 1983 would be bullied at school. But it’s also an intriguing development—not unlike the revelation of an alternate dimension that resembles our own but has unfriendly plant-headed monsters roaming about.

The first eight episodes of the nostalgia-soaked sci-fi saga became the unpredicted breakout pop-culture conversation piece of summer 2016, spawning memes online and faux funerals in real life. Netflix doesn’t reveal viewership numbers, but this week the independent data-measurement company Symphony Advanced Media estimated that the series drew an average of 14.07 million adults age 18-49 in the first 35 days of streaming. That would make it the second most-watched Netflix original of 2016, just behind Fuller House and the latest Orange Is the New Black season, both of which (unlike Stranger Things ) arrived with established fan bases. Netflix’s business model relies on shows doing exactly what Stranger Things has done: draw buzz to lure subscribers.

The teaser video for the second season does a nice job of renewing that buzz while revealing very little information:

Part of the show’s mystique lies in the title music and visuals, re-used smartly here. Another novelty factor was that it aped not only Steven Spielberg’s and John Carpenters’ 1980s films but also the paperback novels of that era, an influence it signaled with prominent chapter titles for each episode. This felt like more than a gimmick—it was a nod at how modern serialized TV is a medium somewhere between the movies and written fiction. It appears the Duffer Brothers are sticking with the trick: The the nine phrases in the trailer—Madmax, The Boy Who Came Back to Life, The Pumpkin Patch, The Palace, The Storm, The Pollywog, The Secret Cabin, The Brain, and The Lost Brother—sound like chapter titles.

Another formal note: The show is being sold as Stranger Things 2, a titling that represents both a period nod and a signal of storytelling mentality—this is not another season, it’s a complete sequel. “I know movie sequels get a lot of shit, but the ones we look up to aspire to pivot and do something different,” Matt Duffer explained to EW. “There’s Temple of Doom, Aliens, Terminator 2. I guess a lot of this is James Cameron. But he’s brilliant. And I think one of the reasons his sequels are as successful as they are is he makes them feel very different without losing what we loved about the original. So I think we kinda looked to him and what he does and tried to capture a little bit of the magic of his work.”

Anyone who finished all of Stranger Things season one knew to expect more story to come. In the finale—spoiler—the young lost Will had been saved from the creepy world of The Upside Down, but then viewers saw him spit up a slug into the family sink during Christmas dinner. It was a cliffhanger that promised the Upside Down would continue to influence these peoples’ lives, but it also hinted at possible new directions for the show—maybe we’ll see some disgusting body horror a la Peter Jackson’s splatter phase. The creators say that the main cast will return (except, perhaps, Eleven), that four new characters will join the mix, and that parts of the season will take place outside of the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. And the trailer indicates the story will pick up in in the near future from the previous season: the fall of 1984.

“We obviously have this gate to another dimension, which is still very much open in the town of Hawkins,” Ross Duffer told EW. “And a lot of questions there in terms of, if the Monster is dead, was it a singular monster? What else could be out there? We really don’t go in there much until they go in to find Will at the end. So we’ve opened up this doorway, and to us it’s exciting to talk about, like, what else is behind there? There’s a lot more mystery there to be solved.”

But the trick will be to maintain the first season’s balancing of fantastical drama with the development of recognizable-but-not-rote characters. The show also needs to indulge the audience’s nostalgia for a previous era of entertainment while serving up a story that’s relentlessly entertaining in its own right today. And as the grand conspiracies and metaphysical impossibilities hinted at in the first season necessarily become revealed, there’s a danger that the show—like with later seasons of mystery-laden original TV universes such as Orphan Black—might become too entangled in its own mythology.

The heartening thing is that the Duffers seem to realize the nature of the challenge. Speaking to The Daily Beast earlier this year, Matt Duffer said that the creators drew up a 30-page document to explain the rules of the Upside Down to themselves, and that some—but probably not all—of the document would likely come into play in the future. We want to explain, we want to reveal more of it, we want characters and the audience to understand more about it,” he said. “But you’ll never understand everything.” Perfect.