Stranger Things Seasons 1 & 2: Every Episode, Ranked From Worst To Best
The time is now! Season 3 of Stranger Things has come to Netflix, so you can spend your Independence Day bingeing the streaming service's most popular show. It's been almost two years since we've seen Eleven, Mike, the rest of the gang, and the Upside Down. It's about time we got back to Hawkins.
Naturally, there was no other choice but to rank every single episode of the show, from the pilot to the Season 2 finale, from every Demogorgon sighting to every time Eleven did something wild with her superpowers. It's easy to see just how special Stranger Things is as a whole, but there are some truly rough bumps along the way. How rough? Take a look at the rankings and find out for yourself.
17. Season Two, Chapter Seven: The Lost Sister
It's no secret that Season 2, Episode 7 was an unwelcome distraction from the thrust of Stranger Things. While the second season didn't quite catch the magic of the first, it was still filled with some truly great moments. Not this episode, though. Instead of the fight against the Upside Down in Hawkins, this installment sends Eleven to Chicago, where she meets a sister figure that also has powers and falls in with a bad crowd that leads her to make questionable choices. It's as if Stranger Things decided to do an after-school special right as Season 2 was ramping up to a climax. It's the biggest mistake the show has made, and one we're hopeful doesn't happen again.
16. Season Two, Chapter Six: The Spy
Outside of "The Lost Sister," even the "worst" episodes of Stranger Things have something to love. In "The Spy," it's the friendship sparked between Steve and Dustin that became one of the best parts about Season 2--and something we can't wait to see more of in Season 3. Beyond that, the episode is average, compared to the rest of the season. The monster continues to infect Will and everyone realizes it's manipulating him and using him for information, Nancy and Jonathan admit they're into each other, and Max reveals her stepbrother sucks because his dad sucks. It's a lot of place-setting for an episode this late in the season.
15. Season Two, Chapter Five: Dig Dug
"Dig Dug" is a prime example with one of the most glaring flaws throughout Season 2 of Stranger Things. The majority of the season sees everyone off on their own adventures, rather than the massive team-up that would come right at the end. In that way, it felt like a bit of a retread of Season 1, where you're just waiting for the moment the kids, teens, and adults all come together to face the evil. Instead, it's all very scattered. The highlights are Dustin seeking out Steve for help with Dart and Eleven coming face-to-face with her mother. Still, by this point we were itching for a reunion.
14. Season One, Chapter Two: The Weirdo on Maple Street
The big flaw with this episode is what a creep it makes Jonathan out to be. At first, he's shown to be out in the woods looking for his brother when he hears a ruckus and comes across the pool party at Steve's house, which is normal enough. However, it takes a turn when he begins taking photos of Nancy and her friends--including one of Nancy undressing. This a truly bizarre route for the show to take in its second episode, especially considering how sympathetic a figure Jonathan was going to become. He really is the weirdo on Maple Street.
13. Season Two, Chapter One: MADMAX
The biggest issue with "MADMAX" is that as the Season 2 premiere, it was held to an impossible standard. It was our first taste of the show after Season 1's fantastic finale and also had to be as good as the Season 1 premiere. Unfortunately, it missed the mark on both accounts. "MADMAX" introduces a few new characters, but other than that, it mostly spins its wheels after everything we learned in the Season 1 finale. What's more, it's the first hint of one of the biggest faux pas of the season, keeping Eleven away from all of her friends.
12. Season Two, Chapter Four: Will the Wise
The biggest issue with this episode is that government agents take Nancy and Jonathan hostage, explain the Upside Down to them, show them the portal, and ask them to keep it a secret so other governments don't learn about it. The government confided in these two teenagers and didn't bother checking to see if they were recording it--which Nancy was. How bad are these people at secrets? Outside of that, it's an average episode with more world-building. Unfortunately, it also has the death of Dustin's cat, who is eaten by Dart. Poor cat.
11. Season Two, Chapter Three: The Pollywog
This is the episode where Dustin first finds Dart, which is awesome. However, it's also the episode that dangled Mike and Eleven's reunion in front of us when she left the cabin to find him, only to see him talking to Max and assuming it was flirtatious which was not only weird but felt like a moment that came from a completely different show. As you know by now, the actual reunion doesn't come until the end of Season 2, which I still believe was a mistake. Hopefully, one the show has learned from.
10. Season One, Chapter Seven: The Bathtub
The penultimate episode of Season 1 does what most penultimate episodes do; it sets up the finale. In doing so, though, it wrapped up Barb's storyline without much thought (she's definitely dead) and included a scene where the kids somehow outrun several vehicles filled with government agents on their bikes. That's a little ridiculous, even for a show like this. Still, that show of Eleven using her mind to flip a van is seriously cool.
9. Season One, Chapter Four: The Body
While a fairly average episode of the show, "The Body" is an important one. It's here that the boys realize the body found in the lake isn't Will's. It's also the episode where Joyce uses an ax to make a hole in the side of her house after seeing Will stuck in it--via the Upside Down. Hopper, meanwhile, punches his way into the morgue and finds out that the "body" discovered was actually a dummy. Still, the best part of the episode is absolutely the boys giving Eleven a makeover so they can sneak her into school, introducing her as Will's Swedish cousin. It's just silly and cliche enough to feel right at home in the early 1980s.
8. Season Two, Chapter Two: Trick or Treat, Freak
This is the episode where we learned what happened to Eleven after the events of Season 1 and get a look at her life with Hopper, in which she's made to stay hidden from the world. It also introduces Dustin's new "pet" Dart, who will grow up to be a demodog, seemingly ends the relationship between Nancy and Steve, and shows Eleven and Mike trying to make contact with each other, though they both ultimately fail. This is also the episode where Will comes clean about his visions of the Upside Down, signaling to Mike that they're not done with monsters just yet.
7. Season One, Chapter Three: Holly, Jolly
No, "Holly, Jolly" isn't a Christmas episode. However, it is the episode that introduces the most iconic visual associated with Stranger Things. Joyce realizes she can communicate with Will through lights, leading her to string up Christmas lights throughout her home. It's also the episode where characters beyond Nancy and the kids begin realizing something otherworldly is going on, as Hopper investigates the lab, while Nancy sees the monster in the woods for the first time.
This episode also has the most sobering moments of Season 1. First, viewers see Barb dragged to what is ultimately her death in the Upside Down, while the episode ends with the discovery of Will's dead body--though, we later learn that's not really Will.
6. Season Two, Chapter Nine: The Gate
While the Season 2 finale isn't as impressive as the first, it's still a very good episode with some magnificent performances. In it, Eleven seemingly closes the portal to the Upside Down once and for all, while the kids and Steve go underground to lure the demodogs away from the lab--buying Eleven and Hopper time. Lastly, Nancy, Joyce, and Jonathan work to get the Upside Down virus out of Will to free him from the Shadow Monster once and for all.
At the end, we move forward in time to the Snow Ball dance where seemingly everyone gets a happy ending. It would have been a perfect note for the series to go out on. Until that is, it's revealed that even after closing the portal, the Shadow Monster is alive and well in the Upside Down.
The best part of the episode is the very beginning, though. After her jaunt in Chicago in the show's worst installment, Eleven returns to Hawkins to save her friends from the demodogs and, in the process, Mike and the rest of the group learns it was Hopper keeping her hidden away. As good as Mike and Eleven's reunion is, it's exceeded by the scene that immediately follows, in which Mike and Hopper argue over the officer's actions.
5. Season Two, Chapter Eight: The Mind Flayer
So many of the best Stranger Things episodes come down to moments. This is hands-down the best episode of Season 2, and it all comes down to a single moment and some wonderful acting. At the end of the episode, fans finally get what they've been craving in the reunion between Eleven and her friends--especially Mike.
The only strike against this episode is the death of Bob, which we're still not okay with.
4. Season One, Chapter Six: The Monster
"The Monster" has some great story development, like the rift between Nancy and Steve, Joyce and Hopper finding Eleven's mom, and Eleven flashing back to being made to make contact with the Demogorgon in the lab--giving us a truly disturbing look at the monster. However, the moment that shines through is Eleven's reunion with Dustin and Mike, as she dispatches the bullies threatening them, levitates Mike off the ground, and admits to her friends that she is the one who opened the portal. "I'm the monster," she tells Mike, who assures her she's not. It's such a pure moment of friendship in the midst of the chaos that makes "The Monster" such a great installment.
3. Season One, Chapter Five: The Flea and the Acrobat
This is the episode where we learn about the Upside Down, thanks to Eleven's info dump on her friends and Hopper finding a portal in the basement lab. We also learn about some of the things that were being done to Eleven in the lab, Barb's car is found, and Nancy enters the Upside Down after finding a passage. This episode reveals so much about what these characters are dealing with, while keeping the tension as high as possible. It's a hard line to walk, but "The Flea and the Acrobat" does it well.
2. Season One, Chapter Eight: The Upside Down
The Season 1 finale of Stranger Things is a sight to behold. It features the final showdown with the Demogorgon at the school, the rescue of Will by Joyce and Hopper, the disappearance of Eleven, and the aftermath of the craziest experience any of them had been though. Just when you think life has gone back to normal for everyone, though, Will coughs up a slimy creature, hooking viewers in for what was to come in a new season.
1. Season One, Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers
The pilot for Stranger Things is as perfect as an hour of television can get. It not only sets up the central mystery of Will's disappearance but introduces us to a slew of interesting characters and situations, along with a tease of just how supernatural things were going to get. What's more, it ends with the now-iconic moment of Mike, Lucas, and Dustin meeting Eleven. This set the table so well for everything that was to follow and is a great example of how to build a world without giving too much away too soon.