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With two seasons in the books, there’s little else left for Stranger Things fans to do but wait for season three — unless they want to watch it all over again.
OK, maybe it’s too time-consuming to revisit the entirety of Stranger Things so swiftly after making the way through season two. Consider it an offseason assignment. In the meantime, here’s another way to revisit the world of Hawkins, Indiana and the Upside Down universe lurking below: our official rankings of every episode from Stranger Things, through two seasons of the series. How do the two finales measure against each other? How does the season two premiere stack up against the very first episode ever? Read our answers to those questions below, and prepare your counter-arguments accordingly.
Without further ado …
17. “Chapter Seven: The Lost Sister” (Season 2)
Without a doubt, it’s the biggest swing of the series, as well as the biggest miss: Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) trading Hawkins for Chicago, where she meets a similarly powered sister of sorts in Linnea Berthelsen’s Kali. It’s an ambitious idea, and clearly an important one as the Duffer Brothers look to expand their story past the small town borders of Hawkins. Unfortunately, it’s lacking in the execution, without a single standout character aside from Kali, not to mention the fact that it completely railroads the momentum of the season. If “Lost Sister” is the future of Stranger Things, it’s a bleak future indeed.
16. “Chapter Five: Dig Dug” (Season 2)
The final image of the episode is a standout: Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), convulsing in the dirt in the middle of an Upside Down infected pumpkin patch. The mechanics of Jim Hopper (David Harbour) somehow surviving inside the spore-strewn tunnels still don’t quite add up, though kudos to Bob (Sean Astin) for figuring out how to find the Hawkins sheriff.
15. “Chapter Four: Will the Wise” (Season 2)
The first episode featuring a fully possessed Will, complete with the bone-chilling line: “He likes it cold.” The fourth chapter of season two pushes Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan’s (Charlie Heaton) plan to take down Hawkins Lab forward, with the help of incredibly well-hidden recording devices from Radio Shack. Hrm.
14. “Chapter Eight: The Mind Flayer” (Season 2)
Bob’s death would have been an unavoidable tragedy, if it wasn’t so avoidable. It plays out as a comedy of errors, starting with Bob forgetting his gun and ending with him hopelessly gawking at Joyce (Winona Ryder) with a demo-dog right on his tail. The events before and after the death are riveting, but it’s such an underwritten exit that it keeps the penultimate chapter from moving any further up on the list.
13. “Chapter Five: The Flea and the Acrobat” (Season 1)
The first season one episode on the board, the fifth chapter of the series derives its title from a great science lesson courtesy of the majestic Mr. Clarke (Randy Havens). It also features Jonathan and Nancy taking the fight to the Upside Down for the very first time. Otherwise, something of a table-setting episode, but few shows set a table better.
12. “Chapter Six: The Spy” (Season 2)
Back to season two! Will’s full descent into Mind Flayer mode means total destruction for a bunch of Hawkins soldiers — a scene akin to the marine massacre from James Cameron’s Aliens, to the point that one soldier even says the words: “Stay frosty.” It’s a fun homage, though it sorely lacks the emotional investment in the soldiers earned at this same point by Aliens.
11. “Chapter Three: Holly, Jolly” (Season 1)
The final sighting of Barb — at least while she’s alive, anyway! The episode also sees Joyce reaching out to Will via Christmas lights, which means the great scene featuring Holly Wheeler (Anniston and Tinsley Price) tensely walking through the Byers household is in here as well. The show’s first chapter three also includes one hell of an ending: Will’s body turning up in the nearby quarry.
10. “Chapter Four: The Body” (Season 1)
Moving right into the next outing, Hopper ends up discovering Will’s body isn’t Will’s body after all, a necessary step toward getting David Harbour’s brooding brute of a hero further entrenched in the stranger side of Stranger Things. Meanwhile, Eleven independently confirms the news about Will to Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), which produces some mixed reactions within the group.
9. “Chapter Seven: The Bathtub” (Season 1)
All roads lead to the same spot, as the various different characters come together to create a sensory depravation tank for Eleven, which she then uses to locate Will. It’s always great when new players meet each other in Stranger Things, and this is the first interaction for so many incredible character combinations: Eleven and Joyce, just as one example.
8. “Chapter Nine: The Gate” (Season 2)
The season two finale places relatively low on the list, thanks in large part to the derailed momentum caused by “The Lost Girl.” But the final movement of the season, featuring the Snow Ball and the haunting last look at the Mind Flayer, stands out as one of the single best stretches in Stranger Things lore.
7. “Chapter Two: The Weirdo on Maple Street” (Season 1)
Alternately known as “The Vanishing of Barb Holland,” this is the episode that launched fans firmly into #JusticeForBarb territory. Shannon Purser’s tragically-fated character gets dragged into the Upside Down at the end of this episode, significantly increasing the stakes at this early point in the series.
6. “Chapter One: MADMAX” (Season 2)
The season two premiere kicks things off into immediate high gear, beginning with the Kali cold open (a strong sequence, previous “Lost Girl” knocks notwithstanding) and continuing through Will’s easy slip between the world of Hawkins and the Upside Down — a fact that’s very much on the radar of many characters around him, which was a wise storytelling decision on the Duffers’ part.
5. “Chapter Three: The Pollywog” (Season 2)
Meet D’Artagnan, the Gizmo of Stranger Things, until he goes full Mohawk. (Or is it Stripe? Hard to keep the Gremlins straight.) Episode three of season two features some truly classic interactions between the Hawkins party, as they debate what to do about Dustin’s new friend Dart. It ends on one of the single most disturbing images of the whole series, too: Will getting caught in the Mind Flayer’s storm.
4. “Chapter Two: Trick or Treat, Freak” (Season 2)
As the Halloween episode of Stranger Things, this was an outing that came paired with extraordinary expectations. The incredible “Thriller” trailer only helped to increase the hype. Unsurprisingly, the Duffers lived up to the high bar, with an episode that perfectly captures the haunting holiday’s spirit, thanks to some very convincing Ghostbusters costumes.
3. “Chapter Six: The Monster” (Season 1)
Sometimes, a single image is so iconic that it elevates an entire episode: Eleven using her telekinetic powers to stop a pair of bullies from severely torturing Mike and Dustin, if not kill them outright, at the edge of the Quarry. When you think about Stranger Things, few images will come to mind faster than Eleven’s determined approach, and the three-way hug that solidifies her friendship with Mike and Dustin forever.
2. “Chapter Eight: The Upside Down” (Season 1)
The final scenes of the season — Hopper bringing Eggos into the woods, Steve (Joe Keery) and Nancy unexpectedly still together, Will vomiting a pollywog into the sink — are among the greatest in the entire series. But the true heart of the episode lies in the Hopper flashbacks, learning more about the heartbreaking loss of his daughter, adding a level of emotionality that makes Hopper’s rewarding season two arc all the more powerful.
1. “Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers” (Season 1)
The one that started it all. Good luck finding a person who wasn’t immediately hooked into the world of Hawkins and the Upside Down bubbling beneath following the very first scene: a Dungeons and Dragons session gone horribly wrong, as poor Will Byers goes missing on his way home. Without such a strong start, Stranger Things wouldn’t even be 17 episodes deep into its run and counting — and for that reason alone, the top honor goes to the original.
Sound off with your own episode rankings in the comments section below, and keep checking in on our season two coverage over at THR.com/StrangerThings.
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