Can we talk about the amazing mom in Stranger Things?
No, not Winona Ryder, the other one. The one who is constantly there for her kids pleading with them to open up. Who actually isn’t a tightwad dingleberry (see: Mr. Wheeler).
Yes, Mrs. Wheeler, Mrs. Karen Wheeler, played by Cara Buono, goes underrated in this series. For so many reasons Netflix’s Stranger Things is a hit. The music, the intro, the actually good sci-fi story, the Dungeons & Dragons and the great actors both proven and new. It feels like it knew where it was going and did so extremely competently. It’s fun, and rewatching the second time around shows just how detailed they nailed it. I mean, did you see the Trapper Keeper in Nancy’s locker!?
Stranger Things also has a more unconventional, or maybe updated love story in the triangle between Nancy Wheeler, the Hair, and the Scowl played respectively by Natalia Dyer, Joe Keery and Charlie Heaton. The triangle doesn’t insult the audience with tired tropes. The Hair isn’t a totally dislikable douche when he so easily could have been.
The kids too don’t feel like a burden either, least of all Eleven despite her trauma. What stands out to me though is their relationships with their parents or parental figures. Will Byer’s mother Joyce is a bedrock of resolve, to the point she looks like a lost working-class basket case. Matthew Modine’s Dr. Brenner has a paternal authority over Eleven. Even the boys’ teacher, uber-nerd Mr. Clarke winds up being a huge insight and help.
A monster kidnapping a kid, teenagers trying to have whatever sex they have, Dungeons & Dragons and synth pop, Stranger Things has it all.
And through it all, it’s Mrs. Karen Wheeler whose entire purpose as a character seems to be like “talk to me! I’m not a fucking idiot like the rest of these jagoffs”, to paraphrase.
And she gets ignored pretty right well ‘til the end.
I think the very fact we have a depiction of an adult who isn’t a complete out-of-touch idiot is something to talk about. Yeah she’s continued the trend of a smart woman marrying a complete putz (see: Mr. Wheeler) but that comes off like it’s just the kind of cross a woman like her has to bear all the way back in 19…83?
At least she’s trying to reach out to her teenage daughter and be like “yeah I remember clumsy teenage sex seeming so much more important than it really was and pushing away my square parents too but come the fuck on” or reach out to her son with “yeah you’re friend is missing and likely dead, I’m here for you in your pain and anguish, please don’t bottle it up, it’ll kill you slowly, but I get it if you don’t because you’re certain the Demogorgon took him and your planning a rescue, no biggie.”
So here’s to Karen Wheeler, I hope we see more of her put-upon valiance to be the anachronistic adult who “gets it” in a story centered so much around youths and the paranormal.