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Stranger Things season 2: a guide

Everything you need to know about what’s happening in the Upside Down.

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Stranger Things 2, the second season of 2016’s surprise hit Netflix series, is upon us. Though it’s only been out in the world since October 27, plenty of fans have already binged all nine episodes and started looking ahead toward season three.

By and large, season two has fully delivered on the expectations and high hopes that fans had after season one, which instantly lured in viewers with its ’80s homages and throwback atmosphere. Stranger Things is still full of nostalgia for an analog world, still full of kids on bikes battling monsters by using moves they learned from Dungeons & Dragons, and still packed to the brim with ’80s references. But season two finds the show’s ensemble cast embarking on a thrilling new adventure, as the bizarre hellmouth known as the Upside Down unleashes a whole new threat on the small town of Hawkins, Indiana.

Here’s a guide to Stranger Things 2 what will keep you up to date on everything you need to know.

Review: How good is Season 2? Pretty good!

Season two debuted Friday, October 27, with all nine episodes hitting Netflix at 3:01 am Eastern/12:01 am Pacific. Simultaneously, Netflix also launched a dedicated aftershow, hosted by Community’s Jim Rash.

Amid the concurrent marketing gimmicks, app tie-ins, and Halloween costume trends surrounding the show’s return, there arose an obvious question: Can Stranger Things 2 possibly live up to expectations?

The verdicts are now in, and fans can rest assured: It’s arguably even better than season one.

“Season two is, in the grand tradition of sequels, even more than season one,” writes Vox critic at large Todd VanDerWerff. “Second seasons are often so good because those involved in them now know exactly how to write to their actors’ strengths. The same seems to be true for Stranger Things.”

However, if you’re not ready for a full rundown of Stranger Things 2 just yet, here’s a spoiler-free preview of what to expect.


Netflix’s official synopsis for Stranger Things 2 is as follows:

It’s 1984 and the citizens of Hawkins, Indiana are still reeling from the horrors of the demogorgon and the secrets of Hawkins Lab. Will Byers has been rescued from the Upside Down but a bigger, sinister entity still threatens those who survived.

And here are the titles and synopses for each episode of Stranger Things 2.

“MadMax” (season two, episode one)

As the town preps for Halloween, a high-scoring rival shakes things up at the arcade, and a skeptical Hopper inspects a field of rotting pumpkins.

“Trick or Treat, Freak” (season two, episode two)

After Will sees something terrible on trick-or-treat night, Mike wonders whether Eleven's still out there. Nancy wrestles with the truth about Barb.

“The Pollywog” (season two, episode three)

Dustin adopts a strange new pet, and Eleven grows increasingly impatient. A well-meaning Bob urges Will to stand up to his fears.

“Will the Wise” (season two, episode four)

An ailing Will opens up to Joyce — with disturbing results. While Hopper digs for the truth, Eleven unearths a surprising discovery.

“Dig Dug” (season two, episode five)

Nancy and Jonathan swap conspiracy theories with a new ally as Eleven searches for someone from her past. "Bob the Brain" tackles a difficult problem.

“The Spy” (season two, episode six)

Will's connection to a shadowy evil grows stronger but no one's quite sure how to stop it. Elsewhere, Dustin and Steve forge an unlikely bond.

“The Lost Sister” (season two, episode seven)

Psychic visions draw Eleven to a band of violent outcasts and an angry girl with a shadowy past.

“The Mind Flayer” (season two, episode eight)

An unlikely hero steps forward when a deadly development puts the Hawkins lab on lockdown, trapping Will and several others inside.

“The Gate” (season two, episode nine)

Eleven makes plans to finish what she started while the survivors turn up the heat on the monstrous force that's holding Will hostage.

Plots and predictions

Before season two’s release, most of what we knew about it came via interviews with the series’ creators and showrunners, brothers Matt and Russ Duffer. The pair made it clear that they view season two as a separate series rather than a strictly continuous follow-up to season one, telling IGN, “These characters have changed and the audience has to sort of fill in those gaps of what went on in that year.”

The poster for Stranger Things 2

What that has turned out to mean in practice is that, yes, a certain beloved character is still dead, because Stranger Things 2 focuses on different characters within its large ensemble. One of those characters is Will Byers, whose disappearance was the catalyst for much of the action in season one. Noah Schnapp, who plays Will, was upgraded to series regular status for season two, and his storyline drives most of the season two plot.

In its marketing for season two, Netflix continually emphasized the show’s ’80s roots, with trailers doubling as Michael Jackson homages and promotional posters that referenced famous horror movie posters of the decade. But they also seemed to contain plenty of clues pointing to what seemed to be a much darker plot for season two.

Stranger Things 2 ultimately takes us back to Hawkins a full year after the events of season one. The story focuses mainly on a mysterious ailment that’s causing Will to see visions of the Upside Down long after his rescue from it. And we soon learn that the Demogorgon wasn’t the only thing threatening Hawkins from the Upside Down, as an unexpected link between Will and a terrifying new creature begins to reveal itself.

Like season one, Stranger Things 2 ends in a way that could have made for a satisfying series finale. But Netflix has already greenlit season three, and season two introduces a few new characters who could push Stranger Things’ plot in interesting new directions. So it seems safe to assume that any unanswered questions, as well as any residual mysteries from season one, will keep playing out in future episodes.

Cast and characters

Here’s a breakdown of the returning and new characters who appear in Stranger Things 2, plus a reminder of where we left them in season one.

The kids

  • Noah Schnapp plays the unlucky Will Byers, who spent most of his time in season one fighting to escape the Upside Down. Though he was eventually rescued, his time in the underworld has left him vomiting slug creatures and seeing terrifying visions. In season two, he takes on a much more central role.
  • Millie Bobby Brown plays Eleven, the walking lab experiment with a shaved head and a powerful mind who captured instantly became a fan favorite in season one. After Eleven nobly sacrificed herself in the season finale, her status was uncertain: Stranger Things let on that she was alive, but it wasn’t clear whether she’d managed to escape the Upside Down. We won’t spoil how or when, but rest assured that season two sees her make a triumphant return.
  • Finn Wolfhard (whom you may recognize from It) plays Mike Wheeler, who befriended Eleven in season one and begins season two angsting over the question of her fate, as he believes he can somehow sense her calling out to him from the Upside Down.
  • Gaten Matarazzo plays Dustin Henderson, who along with the rest of Stranger Things’ kid ensemble helped narrowly defeat the monstrous Demogorgon in the season one finale. Dustin was thankfully spared any major fallout from the events of the season finale. In the trailers for season two, we saw him suiting up to lead the gang as they cosplay the Ghostbusters for Halloween — complete with a real-life ghost trapper that may or may not actually come in handy as the season progresses.
  • Caleb McLaughlin plays Stranger Things’ resident Rambo fan Lucas Sinclair, the final member of the show’s preteen cast. Like Dustin, Lucas was largely unaffected by the season one fallout ... or at least as unaffected as you can be from the discovery that monsters are real and living in another dimension within your town. Season two sees Lucas stepping slightly away from his group of friends to become a romantic lead, and learning some important lessons about how to treat girls (hint: not as sex objects).
  • Sadie Sink plays Max, a tough, tomboyish teenage girl who’s new to season two. Although Max fits right into the ensemble as a skateboarding gamer girl who blows the boys away with her high Dig Dug score and totally tubular moves, her ultimate role in the season is as more that of an outsider. But the show makes it clear that there’s still a lot we don’t know about Max and her older brother, and season three will doubtless have more to say about Max’s past and her impact on her new group of friends.

The teens

  • Natalia Dyer plays Mike’s older sister Nancy Wheeler. Torn between her jealous boyfriend Steve and the creepy nice guy next door in season one, Nancy stuck with Steve in the end — but things aren’t rosy between them. In any case, with her best friend dead and her younger brother obsessing over a telekinetic girl who may or may not be trapped in the netherworld, in season two Nancy has much bigger issues to worry about.
  • Charlie Heaton plays Will’s taciturn older brother Jonathan Byers. Jonathan struggled to keep his family together throughout season one while trying to express his love for Nancy (yes, he’s the aforementioned guy next door). But with Will back, Jonathan resumes his role in Stranger Things season two as the primary emotional support for his mom, his brother, and Nancy. Thankfully, his days of stalking Nancy by taking tons of invasive photos of her from afar seem to be in the past, and the two of them manage to finally get on the same page.
  • Joe Keery plays Steve Harrington — Nancy’s jealous boyfriend turned resigned ex. Though Steve was largely in the background for most of season one, he came through in the end to help Nancy and Jonathan fight the Demogorgon. And in season two, he evolves into a hilariously ineffective but courageous babysitter and caretaker for Stranger Things’ younger characters, to that point that the new, improved “Dad Steve” version of the character is now an unexpectedly beloved fan favorite.
  • Linnea Berthelsen plays a new character named Kali, a mysterious teen with a traumatic past and unexpected ties to Eleven.
  • Dacre Montgomery plays Billy, Max’s hot-tempered older brother who’s also a new character for season two — and his role has actually been confusing to both fans and critics, who haven’t been quite sure how to read Billy. Is he racist? Gay? Neither? Check out Polygon’s interview with Montgomery here for his thoughts on the matter.

The adults:

  • Winona Ryder plays Joyce Byers, Will’s mother. Where season one saw Joyce frantic to rescue her missing son, now she has to deal with the version of her son who came back: Will is suffering from a mysterious ailment, and Joyce faces quite a challenge in trying to care for him.
  • David Harbour plays Hawkins Police Chief Jim Hopper. Though Chief Hopper came through in season one by befriending Eleven and rescuing Will from the Upside Down, it was hinted that might have also have formed a sinister alliance with the Hawkins National Laboratory, the mysterious research facility that kidnapped Eleven to begin with. In the final scenes of season one, we saw him leaving food for her in the woods, including her beloved Eggo waffles. Season two fills in the blanks about what was going on there, as Hopper takes on a pretty central role in the story.
  • Sean Astin plays new character Bob Newby, a kindhearted nerd who begins dating Joyce. To say much more about Bob’s character arc would constitute a pretty big spoiler, but if you’ve already finished the season, you’ll understand why he turned out to be one of its most beloved characters.
  • Brett Gelman plays new character Murray Bauman, a disgraced journalist who now chases conspiracy theories. Naturally, the Hawkins National Laboratory is of prime interest to him.
  • Paul Reiser plays new character Dr. Owens, a morally ambiguous Department of Energy honcho who now works at the Hawkins lab, where he’s focused on keeping the events of season one under wraps.

Trailers and clips

The first teaser for Stranger Things 2 was released during the Super Bowl and instantly won hearts with its creepy “Leggo my Eggo!” retro vibe.

Then came the first official trailer, released at Comic-Con in July, complete with a full-on “Thriller” reference and lots of intrigue.

Netflix also released a couple of additional teasers in October, including one that hinted at the role of conspiracy theories in season two, while still playing around with Stranger Things’ endless litany of ’80s homages:

Then it released this short clip of Eleven breaking out of the Upside Down, where she’d apparently been trapped for a short time following the events of the season one finale:

Finally, there’s the second full trailer, featuring more ’80s references, more clues to what’s in store for season two, more characters, and, well, more.

What to read and watch to deepen your understanding of the show

Can’t get enough Stranger Things content? Here are plenty of goodies to keep you busy long after you’ve finished the season.

Must-read commentary:

Predictions for season three:

Extra credit: