It has been about a year since the events of the first season of Netflix’s Stranger Things and the last time we saw this group. The series its, as described by the Duffer Brothers as a sequel more than a follow-up. Many of the characters have moved on from the incident last year, but noticeably missing from the episode is 11. However, it is for a short time. It opens in Pittsburgh, where a robbery has taken place and they are nearly captured by the police. A hallucination takes place and the pursuit is ended. The individual that caused has a tattoo on her arm with the number 8.
After that cold open of a larger looming storyline, we return to the town to see where people are a year later. Will is treated as the most scarred. However, even he isn’t certain whether he is scarred or actually seeing something coming from the upside-down. After the incidents in season one, everyone is looking out for him. Dustin and Lucas are side-tracked by the mysterious new person that achieved the highest score on Dig Dug.
Max is introduced as a new character that captivates both Lucas and Dustin, ut angers Mike. He has been hostile toward his parents and everyone. It is slowly revealed that he is angry at the turn of events with Eleven and that he holds out hope that she is still alive. Silently calling out to her on his walkie-talkie.
“Mad Max” focuses us on catching up with the characters, while another anomaly is brewing. Jim receives a call that someone has poisoned his pumpkin field. While trying to play it cool with the townsfolk, the events of the previous season have not left him. Jim has seemed to soften in his approach to Joyce, even though she is dating Bob (Sean Astin). The chemistry between Astin and Ryder seems to offset the nearly perfect dynamic of the original season. However, the instant chemistry between Joyce and Jim is apparent more than ever.
Will’s character seems the most poignant of all. While remaining MIA during most of season one, they are giving him a lot to deal with. Having to deal with PTSD, the hallucinations and trying to fit in with everyone, Will is given a lot of the emotional burden of the show.
Paul Reiser’s Dr. Owen is introduced as the physician that is helping Will cope with his hallucinations. While being a complete 180 from Matthew Modine’s character last season, there is an immediate feeling of not to trust him. It is very reminiscent of his character in Aliens. He works out of the building where the experiments occurred and they are still working on the upside-down world.
Nancy and Steve are still together. There is a brief interaction between Nancy and Jonathan, about coming to a Halloween party. There is still an unspoken connection between them, but Steve is not the same emotionally-devoid douchebag from season one. He is looking into his future past high school and thinking about Nancy being in it. However, the mystery of Barbara hangs over Nancy, especially when visiting Barb’s family for dinner. The emotional turmoil of knowing Barb’s fate, while the family doesn’t know is tormenting.
“Madmax” is definitely an opener that is needed for the series. Instead of jumping into the next new arc, the slow build is designed perfectly for this series. The Duffer Brothers know, that being on Netflix, many of their fans will binge it in a night or over a couple of days. They can take it a bit slow and ramp things up. The characters are dealing with emotions of last year, which is required as no one would believe things turned out okay. New relationships are forming as is the new mystery. This is definitely a good episode to start on. However, you need to see season one first.