*this article contains spoilers
Since Netflix released Stranger Things 3 on July 4th, the internet and fans have been going crazy. There’s been a countless amount of tears, swooning over new characters, praising of friendships, and plenty of shipping. Where are my Jopper fans at? However, I won’t be talking about ANY of that. Gasp, I know. I’m also not here to talk about a possible death, El and Mike’s make-out sessions and the nostalgia of the eighties. I’m here to talk about Karen Wheeler (Cara Buono), Mike and Nancy Wheeler’s mother.
In Seasons 1 and 2 of Stranger Things, viewers did not see Mrs. Wheeler. She was a static character who was oblivious to the mayhem and dangers occurring in Hawkins, Indiana. She was the mother that had people questioning: “Shouldn’t she know what her children are up to?” Viewers didn’t truly see what was behind the beautiful appearance. Well, Mrs. Wheeler’s character develops in season 3 of Stranger Things. She transforms from an oblivious, wine mother, to an understanding, feminist mother. This shift may possibly be one of the greatest gifts we’ve been given this season.
The introduction to Mrs. Wheeler’s character shift occurs during her heart to heart with Nancy in “Chapter Four: The Sauna Test.” Nancy gets fired from her job at The Hawkins Post and is seemingly devastated and discouraged. Her job was mainly a summer internship that consisted of quietly accepting sexism and workplace harassment. As a young woman and aspiring journalist, Nancy wants to spend time at The Hawkins Post to get her foot in the door, so to speak. Even if that means pouring coffee, getting lunch for all the sexist men ruling the space, and being disrespected continuously. Gross. Although Nancy doesn’t have the opportunity to showcase her journalist skills, she is still crushed when she’s fired. After all, her dream is to report true stories and to show the world she is a powerful female. A force to be reckoned with. This is the moment we really see Mrs. Wheeler. When she’s helping her daughter.
Mrs. Wheeler’s heart to heart with Nancy is one of fragility, it’s deeply personal, and eventually rooted in feminist encouragement (she’s also wearing a vagina necklace in this scene- truly embodying female empowerment). She speaks to her crying daughter (with tears in her own eyes) and says, “It’s not easy out there, Nance. People are always saying that you can’t, that you shouldn’t. You’re not smart enough, not good enough. This world, it- it beats you up again and again until eventually I- most people they just stop trying.” Ultimately, I believe that this is the first glimpse of Mrs. Wheeler where she sheds her static character. She talks about herself. We, as viewers can see that she has been told no throughout her life. She doesn’t think she’s smart enough or good enough. In life, Mrs. Wheeler has given up her dreams and she’s stopped trying. This is so prevalent for women today. Many women believe that they are not smart enough or good enough to follow their dreams (I am one of them!). Many women give up and simply do what is expected of them. So, viewers see a fragile, honest, relatable side to the wine mother that is Karen Wheeler, and this is very powerful.
Mrs. Wheeler desires a different life for her children, especially Nancy. She continues by saying, “But you’re not like that. You’re a fighter. You always have been.” Gosh, the encouragement we all crave from our mothers. Encouragement that tells females that they are strong enough to keep going, that they are strong enough to stand up to injustices, and that they are strong enough to succeed. Nancy tells her mother that she gets her strength from Mrs. Wheeler, and after plenty of laughter, tears, “I’m proud of you, and “finish the story,” viewers see that Mrs. Wheeler truly believes in her daughter.
I cried throughout this entire scene. Okay… okay, cried is an understatement. I sobbed like a baby. I wish I had a mother like Mrs. Wheeler. I so desperately desire a mother that believes in my dream of becoming a successful writer. I think the fragility of Mrs. Wheeler, her feminist encouragement (ladies we can do anything!), and her relatability is what makes Mrs. Wheeler’s character development so incredibly important.
She’s not oblivious after all.