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TV Review: Stranger Things 2 Finale "The Gate"

EPISODE: 2.09 "The Gate"

SYNOPSIS: Eleven makes plans to finish what she started while the survivors turn up the heat on the monstrous force that's holding Will hostage.

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REVIEW: Coming to the end of any story is difficult. Stephen King himself is notorious for not quite sticking the landing with some of his more epic tales, but the Duffer Brothers manage to almost pull this one out after a mediocre second season. Redeemed only by the perfect cast, child and adult alike, Stranger Things 2 works brilliantly when it is on and is desperately bland when it is off. There is a lot that happens in this season finale that made me forget about complaints earlier in the season but there are some nagging questions that remain that I just cannot overlook (no, I am not referring to what the giant spider monster is, either). Stranger Things 2, like many sequels before it, fails to live up to the original but comes pretty damn close to doing so.

Picking up where the prior episode left off, Eleven and Mike are finally reunited and the truth of Hopper keeping her hidden is revealed. This results in Mike having a temper tantrum but it quickly passes when they realize what they need to do to save Hawkins. Having opened the gate last season, it is now up to Eleven to close it again. But, when the Mind Flayer dies, so will Will, so everyone has to once again go their separate ways to save the day. Heading to Hopper's cabin, Nancy, Jonathan and Joyce take Will to try and free him from the alien possession controlling him while Hopper and Eleven head to the Lab to fight the Upside Down creatures. Everyone else remains at the Byers home with not much to do. Nancy is sent off by Steve who still pines for her but realizes that she wants to be with Jonathan. Remaining at the house, they put the dead Demodog in the fridge since Dustin wants to save it for science. After an uncomfortable flirt session with Mike's mom, Billy Hargrove is on the warpath and heads right for the Byers home.

I have a major issue with Billy's inclusion this season. Dacre Montgomery does a nice job of playing a typical 80s villain, but his appearances this season have done nothing substantial to impact this season in any way. His abused/abuser dynamic in the prior episode did not do much to redeem him as his only purpose seems to be in order for Steve Harrington to get his face smashed in (just like last season) and give Max a chance to beat his ass and threaten him. When all is said and done, I am more concerned by the fact that Mike, Lucas, and Dustin did virtually nothing but stand around and watch as Steve gets beaten. Yeah, Max saves herself and a later scene shows Billy has learned his lesson and is leaving her alone, but it feels unearned and too convenient. Nevertheless, the kids decide they need to create a diversion to help Will as well as clear a path for Hopper and Eleven and decide to descend into the tunnels at the pumpkin patch to burn the evil away and draw the Demodogs towards them.

At Hopper's cabin, Joyce turns up the heat to try and force the Mind Flayer to leave her son. As the pain racks Will, Jonathan is barely able to contain himself and wants it to stop. At one point, Joyce gets to close and the demonic Will wraps his hand around her throat. For a moment, all seems lost, but Nancy takes a poker and sticks Will with it which is powerful enough to release his grip on his mother. The demon purges itself from Will and disappears into the night sky, likely back to the lab or maybe into the forest to return next season. At the same time, after fighting off the vines in the tunnels, Dustin comes face to face with Dart. The bond forged between boy and monster is actually strong enough and they have a chance to say goodbye. They set fire to the central connecting point of the vines and as they prepare to face off against the Demodogs, the creatures rush past them and they make their way out and to safety. At the Lab, Hopper finds an injured Dr. Owens and asks him to help Eleven lead a normal life if they survive. He then descends with her down into the Gate where Eleven uses her powers to fight the massive evil lurking beyond the veil. Summoning the lesson she learned from her sister, Eleven rises off the ground and powers the gate closes as Hopper kills the encroaching monsters. Eleven pushes herself to the brink and the gate closes.

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With everyone safe and Hawkins saved, we have just enough time for everyone to return to normalcy. One month after the closing of the gate, Hawkins Lab is closed thanks to Murray Bauman's mailed tapes. Hopper meets with Owens at a local restaurant and he gifts the cop with fake identity papers declaring Eleven to be his legal daughter. Owens also grants Eleven a night to be a kid which so happens to be the school dance. Steve mentors Dustin in the ways of hairstyling and approaching women, which all backfires on him. Will gets asked to dance by a girl, Max and Lucas pair up, and Mike waits for Eleven. A sad Dustin gets rejected but eventually Nancy steps in which raises Dustin's profile in the eyes of his female classmates. It is a nice moment, punctuated by Eleven's arrival. She and Mike dance and kiss and finally get to be together after such a long time. Outside, Joyce and Hopper share a smoke and an embrace which hopefully bodes well for them next season. I love everything about this sequence because even with no supernatural stakes, these characters are fun to watch. It just feels like the build up to this massive showdown didn't really start until episode five and then was wrapped up far too neatly and quickly. Billy and Steve both felt like wasted opportunities in a season that focused too much on stories that didn't need as much attention and glossed over others that should have been more important. And, like the season before, the final scene gives us a glimpse of the Upside Down and the still lingering menace that is even closer than before.

For those of you that have been reading my reviews of this season of Stranger Things, I tried to approach each review independently of the season as a whole. Taking each chapter on it's own merits, I assigned a score. I then went back and rewatched the entire season to judge it as a whole. Unlike other series I have reviewed, I came to the same conclusion in both viewings of the Duffer Brothers' sophomore effort: it is not as good as the first season but the likeability of the cast and characters wins out in the end. The nostalgia factor didn't carry as much weight for me this time around but I did appreciate the risks taken to distinguish some of the second season from the beloved first. While it didn't all work as intended, Stranger Things 2 was still superior to many series on televison and could hold it's own with some big screen sequels. There was far too much reliance on replicating some elements of the first season and the foray outside of Hawkins just did not work for me. I am completely bought into this mythology and will be first in line to see what these kids have to face next season and hope the Duffers will compare what worked and what didn't in order to deliver a worthwhile follow-up.

Next on Stranger Things: The series has already been renewed for a third season, expected to debut in 2018.

Source: JoBlo.com

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