The ’80s-set Netflix thriller was one of the most talked-about TV shows of last summer, in part due to its nostalgic appeal and heavy reliance on references and homages to classic ’80s horror and sci-fi. And from the looks of the two trailers for the second season, the show's homage-heavy feel will continue apace. As my colleague Todd VanDerWerff wrote, "If you were wondering where the show will be going, the answer seems clear: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, by way of H.P. Lovecraft."
But that's only scratching the surface. Since news of Stranger Things' renewal broke, the show’s cast, creators, and producers have dropped quite a lot of info about what to expect, from plot details to several new characters.
Here’s what we know so far.
The show’s trailers promise a “Thriller” night packed with weirdness
Netflix revealed the final trailer for Stranger Things Season 2 — when else? — on Friday, October 13, and it’s truly an epic ride, packed with all the ensemble characters and weird happenings any Stranger Things fan could desire. The gang seems to be dealing with even more monsters, even as Will deals with terrifying visions and Eleven struggles to free herself from within the Upside Down.
The second trailer arrived at Comic-Con on July 22, and it’s replete with a whole new set of ‘80s images and themes — including Ghostbusters and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
And of course, there was the second season’s original Super Bowl ad, which segued from a nostalgic ‘leggo my Eggo!’ commercial into the horror you’d been waiting for.
The show’s second season will premiere on October 27, 2017
The Super Bowl teaser trailer revealed that season two of the series will air around Halloween of this year, but Netflix didn’t confirm the date until July, when it unveiled the date — October 27 — on Twitter, along with gorgeous new poster art.
The first season aired during summer, so the season two premiere is a bit of a wait. But given how dependent this series is on ’80s horror tropes — even the teaser channels Ghostbusters and some scary Close Encounters with mysterious tentacle monsters — the weekend before Halloween makes sense as an air date.
Plus, it gives us more time to anticipate, and makes the show's rich debt to John Carpenter that much clearer.
Season two may be all about Will Byers
We’ve known for a while that Noah Schnapp, who plays season one Demogorgon-bait Will Byers, had been upgraded to regular status for season two (along with Joe Keery, who plays Nancy Wheeler's boyfriend Steve). But fans of Will, who didn’t get much screen time in season one, are in luck: He could be the most important figure in the season two ensemble.
Stranger Things director and executive producer Shawn Levy recently told Mashable that Will would feature prominently in the season two storyline, thanks to his trip to the Upside Down and the number of strange(r) things that have been happening to him since his return.
“Will Byers is very much at the center of season two,” Levy said. “Noah steps up in the most staggering way. The Duffers and I, depending on who’s directing when, we keep sending texts to each other going, ‘holy shit, Noah is crushing it’ and we knew he had it in him, and it’s really now to get in that moment, and put him firmly in the thick of story.”
When we last saw Will, he was experiencing some pretty gruesome side effects from his trip to the strange underworld that lurks within Hawkins, Indiana. It’s not likely he’ll be able to keep his escalating illness — if that’s the word for when you’re coughing up slugs — hidden for long, and we’re eager to learn what the fallout will be.
Season two will be “bigger and darker” — and may have some contemporary relevance
It seems as though Stranger Things has adopted a “go dark or go home” approach. Levy told Vanity Fair that the show’s second season will double down on all the themes of season one, describing it as “bigger and potentially darker in its stakes.”
But he also added the intriguing footnote that season two is about “the struggle to reclaim normalcy and maybe the impossibility of it.”
Given that season one ended with the town of Hawkins settling back into an uneasy routine after battling a giant supernatural monster from another dimension, Levy could be speaking in a purely non-allegorical sense. But it's also possible, given how much the question of what is "normal" has been on the minds of the American public lately, that Levy was speaking to broader concerns. Could Stranger Things season two have an unexpected political relevance?
Season one’s creative team and entire ensemble cast are returning
Stranger Things’ creative team, composed of ’80s kids Matt and Ross Duffer, will be back for the new season, as will producers Levy and Dan Cohen. Levy and the Duffers have said that season two will be very similar to season one in aesthetic, tone, pace, and the way the show focuses on its characters. Several of the show’s season one writers will also be back.
The main ensemble cast is returning, too. On November 4, the Stranger Things Twitter account shared season two’s first official cast photo — upside down in a cheeky homage to the show's alternate dimension.
sƃuıɥʇɹǝƃuɐɹʇs#— Stranger Things (@Stranger_Things) November 4, 2016
ɹɐǝʎ ʇxǝu noʎ ǝǝs
uoıʇɔnpoɹd uı ʞɔɐq pic.twitter.com/jYd1tDsPRi
Here's what that first cast photo looks like right side up:
The photo reveals that Stranger Things' lovable ensemble of teens and preteens is returning in force, including Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven. Initially, Ross Duffer hedged on whether she’d be back, but TV Line has since reported that Eleven will definitely return in season two — and most likely as a series regular, along with newly upgraded regulars Keery and Schnapp.
There will be at least three new kid characters
A casting call obtained by the Hollywood Reporter in September revealed that the roles that eventually went to Sink and Montgomery were for two new series regular characters named Max and Billy. Max and Billy are stepsiblings: Max (Sink) is a tough, tomboyish teenage girl, around age 13. Billy (Montgomery) is her older brother, a rebellious, edgy 17-year-old who’s rumored to have killed someone in the past. He’s described as the kind of kid who drinks and drives a black Camaro.
Max is described as being “good on a skateboard” and having “a complicated history,” in part because of her relationship with her brother, whose “violent and unpredictable nature” apparently comes out at home. Season two will undoubtedly explore their dynamic — though Billy, who’s reportedly only a potential series regular, may not be around that much.
The casting call also mentioned a third character, Roman, who’s really intriguing. Roman’s gender and ethnicity initially weren’t specified; the part ultimately went to Danish newcomer Linnea Berthelsen. Roman is an older teen with a traumatic past who has a mysterious connection to the experiments at the research facility. The initial casting description was quite vague, in keeping with the character’s cryptic, vengeance-driven purpose:
Roman, meanwhile, is described as a male or a female of any ethnicity between the ages of 30 and 38. After growing up homeless with a drug-addicted mother, he or she suffered a great loss at an early age and has been seeking revenge ever since. Roman is ultimately an outsider who doesn't understand how to connect with people.
This casting description has led some Stranger Things fans to speculate that the role is intended to be a kind of monster-hunter archetype: a loner passing through town, seeking vengeance for a past transgression against her family. (Think Supernatural’s road-tripping brothers, but with less family drama and more monster killing.)
New adult cast members include Paul Reiser and Sean Astin in roles that call back to the ’80s, and Brett Gelman as a conspiracy theorist
The teens aren’t the only new faces. Former Goonie Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings) will return to his ’80s roots to play Bob Newby, “a kind-hearted nerd” who grew up in Hawkins, went to school with Will Byers’s mom Joyce (Winona Ryder) and the local chief of police, and now manages the local Radio Shack.
Meanwhile, in keeping with what will be season two's previously announced homage to the classic action-horror movie Aliens — more on that below — the show's producers have cast Paul Reiser, who played the unforgettable villain Burke in the 1986 film. Burke was a smarmy bureaucratic shill for an evil research corporation, and on Stranger Things Reiser will play a Department of Energy bigwig who sweeps into Hawkins to hush up the events of season one. The more things change…
Finally, actor and comedian Brett Gelman (Eagleheart) will join Stranger Things’ growing season two ensemble as a disgraced journalist named Murray Bauman who now chases conspiracy theories. One of those theories will lead Bauman to Hawkins to look into a cold case that might just have to do with the Upside Down.
Barb is gone but not forgotten
For the doubters in the room who’ve been holding out hope that fan-favorite character Barb will be back, Stranger Things' New York Comic Con panel, held on October 7, had disappointing news. David Harbour, who plays police chief Jim Hopper, made it clear she won't return: “I can assure you that Barb is very much dead.”
But Harbour also recently appeared on a Stranger Things panel held during a fan-convention cruise called Fan2Sea, and while there, he dropped some intriguing information about season two’s plot.
According to Hollywood Life, Harbour said that Barb will continue to play a major part in the narrative, with Barb’s best friend Nancy doing her best to make sure people remember her.
“The question and the feelings that Nancy has that no one ever cares about her friend Barb are very much present in the beginning of the season,” he said, noting that “Justice for Barb” would be a theme.
Will’s sexuality may remain an unanswered question
In Stranger Things’ first season, 12-year-old Will Byers was the frequent subject of homophobic harassment and schoolyard bullying. Though we don't know Will's orientation, much speculation and commentary has been devoted to this potential aspect of his character.
After watching the conversation build, Noah Schnapp decided to weigh in himself. In an Instagram post, he wrote that the character's sexuality was “beside the point,” that hopefully everyone could “relate to being different,” and that he hoped Stranger Things will never actually answer the question.
“A good book, or a good show leaves a lot of unanswered questions but makes you think,” he said.
Season two’s nine episodes have titles reminiscent of their ’80s roots
The adventure continues. Stranger Things 2 is coming 2017. pic.twitter.com/3H4WR3DGEj— Stranger Things (@Stranger_Things) August 31, 2016
In a video Netflix released on August 31, fans were treated to a sneak peek at the titles for all nine episodes of season two, which will feature one more installment than the eight-episode first season:
- “The Boy Who Came Back to Life”
- “The Pumpkin Patch”
- “The Palace”
- “The Storm”
- “The Pollywog”
- “The Secret Cabin”
- “The Brain”
- “The Lost Brother”
Most of these titles seem to bear directly on the plot. “MadMax” seems to refer to the new character Montgomery plays, while “The Boy Who Came Back to Life” refers to an in-show newspaper headline about Will Byers’s miraculous return from the Upside Down in season one.
What’s clear is that the titles seem to have the ’80s theme firmly in mind, from the direct reference to the film franchise Mad Max to more oblique references to horror tropes found in slasher movies and films like Evil Dead — cabins in the woods, characters coming back from the dead, and scary things lurking in fields and fog.
Stranger Things’ creators are thinking of season two as a sequel that begins one year after the events of season one
The new season will pick up in the fall of 1984, a year after the events of Stranger Things season one. One of the reasons the show is jumping forward in time is to keep up with the real-life growth of its younger actors. The result, according to Ross Duffer, is that "[t]hese characters have changed and the audience has to sort of fill in those gaps of what went on in that year."
Though Netflix’s original renewal announcement touted a second season of Stranger Things, the company is billing the season as Stranger Things 2. This implies the second season is more like a second series.
That is, it’s more like a sequel than a continuation of season one. A recent logline for the new season suggests that Stranger Things will be telling new stories with some of the same characters rather than necessarily picking up the old story:
When terrifying supernatural forces once again begin to affect Hawkins, they realize Will's disappearance was only the beginning. And so the adventure continues...
In an interview with Slash Film, Levy described the trajectory of season two as “continu[ing] with this set of characters while introducing a few critical key new ones next season” and “unearthing new problems.”
- Why did Hopper get into that mysterious car in the season one finale?
- What was Will coughing up in the bathroom?
- Was the Demogorgon that Eleven defeated the only one of its kind, or are there more lurking in the Upside Down?
Season two will feature an undercurrent of romance and jealousy
Love is in the air for some of Stranger Things’ adult characters — but not everyone is happy about it. Harbour also said during the Fan2Sea panel that Astin’s new character Bob Newby will be Joyce’s new boyfriend. But according to Harbour, Chief Hopper is none too happy about that.
“We have Sean Astin … he’s Winona’s new boyfriend — much to the chagrin [of] the chief of police,” Harbour said.
The show will draw new inspiration from George Lucas and James Cameron
The first season of Stranger Things notably drew inspiration from the works and ideas of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, and Stephen King. The second season, according to the Duffers, will draw inspiration from ’80s action-adventure sequels — specifically, Temple of Doom, The Empire Strikes Back, Aliens, and Terminator 2.
The first two of these films are famous sequels by Spielberg and his frequent ’80s collaborator George Lucas. The others introduce a new influence in the form of James Cameron. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Matt Duffer elaborated:
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.
In other words, it sounds like anyone looking wanting to know how Stranger Things season two will expand on season one should go watch Ridley Scott’s Alien — famed for its mysteries, cosmic horrors, and suspense with gory payoffs — and then compare it to Cameron’s Aliens. The beloved sequel opts for more blockbuster action sequences, more character development, and more focus on the corrupt corporation whose greed provoked the clash with alien life to begin with. If that sounds similar to the strange research facility doing barbaric science experiments and tampering with the Upside Down in Stranger Things season one, it should.