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There’s a storm coming to Hawkins.
The second season of The Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things has officially landed on Netflix, and with it comes a swirling nightmare visible only to Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) — at least, that’s the case as of the season two premiere, “Chapter One: Mad Max.”
In the season two premiere of Stranger Things, the Duffers sow the seeds for several different storylines guaranteed to make an impact over the course of the season. Will, alternately known as “Zombie Boy,” stands at the heart of the mystery once again, as the only person who can see into the Upside Down and sense a looming force of “evil,” one he feels wants to kill everybody but himself.
The story picks up almost a year after season one, with Will routinely visiting Dr. Sam Owens (Paul Reiser) at the Hawkins Lab to check in on his continued connection to the Upside Down. In speaking with Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Hopper (David Harbour), Dr. Owens insists that Will’s visions are little more than an “Anniversary Effect,” a form of post-traumatic stress. But when Hopper and the Byers family leave, Dr. Owens enters a subterranean chamber where a soldier in a hazmat suit torches bits of squealing Upside Down remnants with a flame thrower — as clear a sign as any that Hawkins and the home of the Demogorgon remain intricately tied together.
Luckily, the greatest champion against the Upside Down remains in Hawkins: Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), last seen in season one destroying the Demogorgon, and seemingly herself in the process. In the season two premiere, Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) tries to contact Eleven via radio (apparently, he’s been reaching out to her for 352 days straight), to no avail. However, the episode ends with the reveal that Eleven is alive and well, eating frozen dinners and waffles (preferably in that order) in a remote cabin, with Hopper serving as her protector. Exactly how Eleven survived her encounter with the Demogorgon and why she’s in apparent isolation remains unclear through this first episode, but it’s surely explored as the season progresses.
What’s more, Eleven isn’t the only one of her kind out there in the Stranger Things universe. Season two begins with a sequence set in Pittsburgh, as a group of outcasts led by a young woman named Kali (Linnea Berthelsen) flee from authorities. Kali manages to lose the cops with a concentrated nosebleed and a single word: “Boom.” A pursuing police officer hits the brakes just as Kali’s crew enters a tunnel, believing it to have caved in on itself. But when we return to the scene of the explosion a beat later, it appears as if the tunnel’s collapse was nothing more than an illusion. Who exactly is Kali, and why does she have the number “008” tattooed to her wrist? As the mildest of spoilers, viewers can expect further answers to the Kali question in the seventh episode of the season.
Some other highlights from the season two premiere:
• Why is the first episode titled “Mad Max”? Good question! It refers to the moniker of a new girl in town named Max (Sadie Sink), whose abilities on a skateboard and as a counter-sleuth are surpassed only by her proficiency as a video gamer. She’s the high-score leader at multiple games at the local arcade, leaving both Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) speechless and impressed.
• Max’s older brother debuts in this episode, though he’s not identified by name: Billy, played by Power Rangers alum Dacre Montgomery. As of now, the only thing we know about Billy is that he drives fast cars, has ridiculous hair, looks good in tight jeans and has a contentious relationship with his sister. Also, he’ll rock you like a hurricane — a tease of the visions Will’s seeing, perhaps.
• Returning quickly to Dustin, who boasts new teeth this season. After returning from the arcade, Dustin hears a noise in his trash can. He doesn’t investigate it any further, believing it to be his mother’s cat, Mr. Mews. But it’s clear that something unusual — Stranger, even — is lurking nearby.
• Speaking of stranger things happening within the premiere of Stranger Things, Hopper is called to look at a rotting pumpkin patch. It’s believed to be neighborly sabotage, but the ominous way the scene plays out should make it clear that there’s more than meets the eye to this rotting piece of farmland.
• While Joyce and Hopper remain close friends, their relationship hasn’t developed into anything romantic. Instead, Joyce has another man in her life: Bob Newby, played by The Goonies star Sean Astin. (For their part, the Duffers and executive producer Shawn Levy have cited The Goonies as one of their primary influences in season two.) Bob is a newbie as far as his name and season two are concerned, but in terms of Hawkins, he’s a lifelong local — not exactly the most popular kid in high school, as Hopper refers to him as “Bob the Brain,” but an affable enough guy all the same.
• The premiere focuses on another character with roots in the past, albeit someone who’s no longer alive: Barbara “Barb” Holland (Shannon Purser). Unfortunately, justice has not been delivered on Barb’s behalf. Her whereabouts remain unknown, though her parents are very optimistic about a lead being pursued by investigative journalist and conspiracy theorist Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman). His current theory: Barb’s disappearance ties in to a Russian presence in Hawkins. Hopper laughs off Bauman’s line of inquiry, even though the man is closer to the truth than he realizes.
• Finally, there’s Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) and Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), both of whom are still dating, rather happily it seems. Deep down, however, Nancy remains thoroughly gutted by what happened to Barb and the lack of resolution, quietly breaking down during dinner with Barb’s parents. Indeed, it’s a loneliness that keeps her connected to Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton), himself still fixated on the aftermath of his younger brother’s weeklong disappearance more than a year ago.
Follow THR.com/StrangerThings for full season two coverage, including theories, deep dives, and interviews with the Duffer Brothers and the cast.
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