Johann Sebastian Bach starts each of his hundreds of fugues the same way: The master composer beckons forth a simple strain of melody before he recapitulates the original tune. From there, he introduces a countermelody, piles on new textures and styles, and reverses the original order of the notes. It all culminates in glorious counterpoint as melodies and countermelodies unite.
After last week’s “Stranger Things 2” release, it seems Bach’s 300-year-old style hasn’t lost its power. The show’s creators and writers, the Duffer brothers, assembled Season 2 like Bach wrote his fugues. As themes appear in their work, they overlap and create dissonance until they intertwine in harmonious, revealing unity.
The Duffer brothers (identical twins born in the year they set the show) ruined the first season’s tranquil ending as Will Byers, the Upside Down’s Season 1 captive, vomits up a slug-like creature. Such creatures of the Upside Down, a unearthly dimension, wreak havoc on Hawkins, Indiana, as Demodogs (new versions of the Demogorgon) maul their human prey and the shadow monster threatens world destruction. Will Byers and his gaggle of adolescent friends face these monsters and far worse as more of the Upside Down emerges.
The substantive storyline could sell Season 2 without aid, but the Duffer brothers’ craft in presenting that storyline deserves undivided attention. The show draws on many plot lines that coincide with one another and complement each other, especially in the beginning of the season.
The initial episodes establish several plotlines and transition between threads until the final two chapters. In the season opener, Eleven’s backstory develops as she peeks through the curtains of her safehouse and finally ventures out on a voyage of self-discovery. Then the focus cuts to Will Byers suffering what doctors diagnose as flashbacks to his time in the Upside Down. Visions of an incredibly destructive force start to haunt the boy when the story switches over to Nancy and Steve, whose relationship crumbles as they disagree about how to cope with her friend Barbara’s death.
Subplots rotate through the episodes just as different instruments further develop a fugue’s motifs. This movement from subplot to subplot maintains the suspense of the show while always driving the story forward, keeping the audience rapt and wanting more. The small-town relationships of the characters force the plots to collide, overlap, and work together to advance the theme.
The brief foray into Eleven’s backstory is the only dissonant chord in the show. The different strains are tied together by the proximity of living in the town together and thematic resemblance, i.e. the power of friendship, family, and romantic love, but Eleven’s backstory doesn’t focus on that. It’s good that the Duffer Brothers are willing to take risks, but the episode seven fieldtrip out of Hawkins doesn’t justify the discordant, big-city feel.
Despite straying from the original theme at times, the final episodes present a complex, mesmerizing culmination as the Duffer Brothers achieve glorious counterpoint. The separate plots converge in the final moments for a cathartic resolution made perfect through hours of tormenting suspense.
For this to affect a viewing, however, “Stranger Things” fans should watch the season in as concentrated a period as possible. The name of the show in itself suggests this: Netflix lists the new season as a separate entity from its original — “Stranger Things 2,” rather than “Stranger Things: Season Two.” The difference is subtle but profound. This is not an episodic show as much as it is a nine hour movie. Why would you stop reading a book when you only have eight chapters left? (It’s no coincidence that the episodes are called chapters.) And the teasers at the end of the episodes are so riveting it’s basically impossible to pace yourself anyway, so you might as well do yourself a favor and enjoy the show in one or two sittings if you can. You won’t regret it, at least until grades come out.