The second season of Stranger Things brings back (most) of its main cast and reunites its main factions: There's the core four party of Mike, Lucas, Dustin, and the very scrambled Will; the love triangle of Nancy, Jonathan, and Steve (sorry, Barb); Joyce Byers, the walls of her house, and confused authority figures. The gangs are all back together.
**Spoiler Alert: If you haven't watched the second season of Stranger Things, you may want to hold off on reading this**
It's not a total rehash; thanks to the legacy of the first season's events and a few new cast members, the show's second go-round rearranges some plot points, scrambles up some existing group dynamics, and travels down a few new paths. But for fans of a show built on the power of teamwork and friendship, the reunions provide the comfort of familiarity. Where the Duffer Brothers' show best succeeds this season is in the new tandem it creates by bringing together the first season's two broken outsiders, Eleven and Chief Jim Hopper.
They're certainly an odd couple, on the surface. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is mysterious, semi-mute girl who escapes years of torture and would not be out of place at Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. Hopper is a bummed-out burnout police chief who lives on the fringes of a crappy small Indiana town, sworn to protect what seemed like a town that needed no particular protection. Their own true similarity is that they're both loners in a town where everybody knows everybody else's business.
The events of the first season drew each of them back into society and gave them new connections: Hopper became close again with Joyce, while Eleven tags along with Mike and his friends, alternately saving and perplexing them. But by the end of that season, when everyone's hugging and happy to be reunited with Will, whose disappearance drew them all into this strange odyssey, the missing link is filled, leaving no room for the newcomers.
One of the first season's last moments hints at what's to come: Hopper puts out Eggo waffles, Eleven's breakfast of choice, in an attempt to lure her back from the wild after the final showdown. And when the second season opens, Eleven is living with Hopper on the outskirts of town, creating an endearingly odd father-daughter relationship that, for all its supernatural complications and occasional unease, is the best part of the show.
Here are some of the moments that prove it.
At the end of the first episode, after a hard's day work in a rotting pumpkin patch, Hopper heads to his home on the outskirts of town. It's a quiet, lonely house, and it looks like he's ready to settle in for another night with the TV and poor nutritional choices. And yeah, he winds up eating a TV dinner, but at least he didn't eat dessert first, which is, frustratingly, more than he can say for his roommate, who snuck an Eggo waffle before Hopper got home.
Word of the day
Eleven has a lot to learn, and not just about the food pyramid. In the first season, she spoke just 238 words — a fan went back and counted all of them — and a lot of them were just "No!" and "Papa," so she really didn't have much of a vocabulary. Hopper is slowly working to build up Eleven's grasp of the English language, and some lessons serve more than one purpose.
Trick or treat
Hopper is extremely protective of Eleven, because he assumes — quite correctly — that "the bad men" will come after her. So when she wants to go trick or treating for the first time, he's obviously not all that cool with the idea... even when she suggests wearing a giant sheet, like a ghost. They do come up with a compromise, though: "I'll buy us a bunch of candy and we can get fat and watch a scary movie," Hopper promises.
Leggo the Eggo
One of the more delightful things to come out of the first season was Eleven's appetite for Eggo waffles. It's insatiable (though we wonder how much more she'd enjoy real waffles). And her Eggo obsession comes back to play a small role in the second season, mostly as a bribe Hopper gives to Eleven during her long house arrest.
Eleven starts losing her mind over being stuck at home, so Hopper tries to placate his surrogate daughter with roomier, more remote accommodations. Their teamwork in cleaning the place up is very much a sweet highlight; the two are making a home, however short a time it may last.
As you can imagine, the new digs don't exactly keep Eleven satisfied for very long. A fight erupts between surrogate father and daughter, and after she calls him a liar, Hopper delivers the most dad line of all time, a sentence he likely never thought he'd utter, especially not to a super-powered tween with weak blood vessels in her nose: "I feed. I protect. I teach!"
You CAN choose your family
As we said, these were two people who were loners, outcasts in a small and tight-knit town. And they found one another, and while their troubled pasts things made life difficult sometimes, they also understood one another... or at least understood that they needed one another. And so while Eleven does go out into the world to look for her birth mama, you can probably guess that, since we are writing this story, Hopper is her true family now.