'Stranger Things' - "Chapter One: Madmax" Recap

Last summer, nostalgic dark house Stranger Things came out of nowhere to become one of the most popular television shows around. A little over a year later, Stranger Things 2 has been unleashed unto the world by Netflix. It no longer arrives as a sleeper hit in the making. This second season is being flocked to with the hype of the biggest summer blockbusters. There's a lot of pressure for the Duffer Brothers to catch lightning in a bottle twice. After a pretty self-contained debut season, many even wondered if season 2 was worth the bother at all. So, now that all of the episodes are available for audience viewing pleasure, could they find gold again?
Based off the first episode, "Madmax", Stranger Things is very much back at the top of its game.

It's been a year since we last saw our favorite characters. After a cold open featuring a bank robbery orchestrated by test subject Eight, we quickly are thrown back into the quaint town of Hawkins and its new status quo. Joyce is understandably overprotective of Will. Dustin and Lucas become obsessed with new girl Max. Mike is a bit more sullen due to the continued absence of Eleven. The Nancy, Steve, Jonathan love triangle continues. For the most part, everything has gone back to just about how things were before Will's disappearance, only slightly....stranger. 

As far as new developments, there's a conspiracy theorist in town named Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman) who's been hearing stories about a bald Russian child with psychic powers. He also happens to be charging Barb's parents a fortune in order to help them find their lost daughter. This piece of news is particularly upsetting to Nancy, driving a wedge between her and Steve. #JusticeForBarbsParents.

Paul Reiser shows up as Dr. Owens from Hawkins Labs. He was put in charge after Dr. Brenner (Papa) to clean up the entire Upside Down mess and is also attending to any of Will's ongoing needs. He insists there's nothing to the new visions Will keeps having. They're all basically symptoms of Upside Down PTSD. Odds are, the doc is wrong and Will's visions are very much real. Unfortunately for Hawkins, what Will sees is a giant Shadow Monster ready to kill everyone in town.

It's not until the closing moments of the episode that we discover the fate of Eleven. She is not, as Mike and most viewers would believe, stuck in the Upside Down. In fact, she's living in seclusion with Sheriff Hopper. Her whereabouts are to remain a secret for her own protection, but knowing Stranger Things, she won't be protected for too long.

Overall, I thought this was a very solid season premiere. It's so great to be back in Hawkins with all of these characters, and the Duffer Brothers make the wise decision of taking the time to let the audience settle back into things before ratcheting up the drama. All of the new cast additions were great. I especially loved Paul Reiser as Dr. Owens, who managed to bring a whole lot of effortless charm and warmth to a role that is inevitably hiding something a bit more sinister.

Other than the looming presence of the Shadow Monster, there wasn't a whole lot of insight into where the season is headed. There's no propulsive starting point like Will's disappearance in season one to drive the story forward and keep the viewers engaged. But that wasn't needed. The characters can more than hold their own, and the world that's been built around them is so fascinating and well-constructed that there doesn't need to be as exciting of an inciting incident. That's the biggest takeaway for me from the premiere episode. The Duffer Brothers have created such an amazing cast of characters that they can more than hold their own when separated from the 80s nostalgia monster mashness.

As the start of an exciting new season, "Madmax" was finger-lickin' good.

Let us know your thoughts on "Chapter One: Madmax" below!