Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is All Connective Tissue
Fear Street 2: 1978 makes you wonder if Leigh Janiak and Netflix knew what they were doing. The streamer-turned-studio advertised the Fear Street trilogy aggressively, including the year-specific titles, inevitably piquing curiosity in the mechanics of the reverse chronology. The first: 1994. The second: 1978. And the third: 1666. After the uneven but intriguing first entry, we know that the quasi-titular “witch” Sarah Fier was persecuted in 1666. But why 1978? That question is asked and answered all before 1978 even begins, leaving us with a lifeless follow-up made up of little more than connective tissue.
This is Episode 3 of Fear Street: The Miniseries. At the end of 1994, the transition emerges both abruptly and seamlessly. “C. Berman” is the last known person to survive the ire of Sarah Fier, and as our present-day heroes connect with an older, wiser Berman, we leap backwards in time to witness her own harrowing experience with the Shadyside curse. It’s the type of flashback that can sustain an hour of television midway through a series - one where we know how it begins and how it ends, but the bits and pieces along the way can make for a compelling, tragic, and even beautiful tie-in to the broader story. And 1978 does exactly that...for about an hour. And then it continues for another hour, painstakingly checking every box and hitting each obligatory plot point that had been sketched out for it by its predecessor.
And what 1994 added in flair, 1978 is severely lacking. The former pulses with an unpredictable energy - specifically in its gutsy, often spontaneous death moments - while its follow-up is brimming with the energy of a high school senior going through the motions, just doing what’s required to get to the finish line. 1978 consists mostly of uninspired axe-kills, villainizing the same character over and over in a strange effort to protect the innocence and nuance of its core series regulars. It doubles down on the first installment’s needle drop nostalgia, including one ill-advised retread of a Neil Diamond track that’s a decade too early and was all-too recently used with better precision in 2019’s Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood. And in case you didn’t catch the first re-cast, 1978 brings back yet another Stranger Things star, this time in a central role.
For all that, it’s the substance in 1978 that let me down most. Focused as it is on pushing the series forward, the second film largely ignores the ripest dramatic fruit from 1994: what does it mean to grow up in a community that’s given up on you? Where 1994 mines meaningful relationships from this shared experience, especially through juxtaposition of Shadysiders and Sunnyvalers, 1978 tries to encapsulate the entire dynamic in a neat summer camp competition-as-parable. It doesn’t work as dramatic fiction and it doesn’t work as Dickensian fable. This is no Tale of Two Camp-Sites.
And yet here we are. 1978 ultimately places the series above itself, bringing the drama back to the present day, and perfectly teeing up its finale. Like the dutiful third episode it is, this transition perfectly sets up the two-part finale. Onwards we go.