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The Unsung, Empowering Mother-Daughter Scene of Stranger Things Season Three

Nancy and Karen Wheeler in Netflix's Stranger Things.

**Warning: Spoilers for Stranger Things season 3 ahead.**

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While fans of Netflix’s Stranger Things focused on the parenting skills and questionable methods of Chief Hopper (David Harbour) in season three, they might have missed the best parent-kid scene of this new installment—and it was a great lesson in female empowerment, too.

The sci-fi dramedy set in the ’80s premiered in July, and it immediately struck as a more female-focused season compared to the previous two, with the long-awaited friendship between Max (Sadie Sink) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), Joyce (Winona Ryder) being more involved in the action, and more screen time for two interesting characters: Erica (Priah Ferguson) and Karen Wheeler, played by Mad Men actress Cara Buono.

The latter, who portrays the mom to protagonist Mike (Finn Wolfhard), experiences an unusual attraction to bad boy Billy (Dacre Montgomery). Most importantly, she also shares a tender scene with her eldest kid, daughter Nancy (Natalia Dyer). Season three sees Nancy entering the adult world from the back door with an internship at The Hawkins Post, where she’s only expected to serve coffee and speak when spoken to.

Attempting to make her big break into the journalism world, Mike’s sister bumps into what seems like an interesting yet inexplicably supernatural story … only to face the open hostility of the white male newsroom. That belittling, toxic, male-dominated work environment, which still resembles far too many offices, takes a toll on Nancy when she eventually gets fired for not sticking to her coffee duty.

In episode four, “The Sauna Test,” a recently fired, inconsolable Nancy opens up to her mother, Karen.

“I wanted to be right,” Nancy says. “Maybe I just don’t want to admit that I’m wrong, because if I’m wrong, then …” she continues.

“You’re what everyone thinks you are,” Karen finishes the thought, proving to have an understanding that surely came from experiencing her daughter’s struggles firsthand. From there, Karen reveals her own insecurities when she gives Nancy the best pep talk of the whole season.

It sure isn’t easy out there, and people are ready to diminish you, but Nancy, Karen says, is a fighter. She is not a quitter like other people, including Karen herself. This strength, that Nancy says she has inherited from Karen, is what will help the aspiring reporter bounce back and, who knows, perhaps sell the story to a national paper.

“I’m proud of you,” Karen also says, while the mother-daughter duo smiles at each other—a short, underrated moment that might be one of the reasons Nancy ends up not giving up after all. This is the sort of positive, empowering parenting we’d like to see onscreen. More of this in season four, please.

(image: Netflix)

Stefania Sarrubba is an Arts and Culture journalist based in London. When she is not adding movies she will probably never see to her infinite watchlist, she likes spotting urban foxes, making plans and engaging in passionate conversations about women’s rights. Read her annoying tweets on @freckledvixen.

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Dan Van Winkle
Dan Van Winkle (he) is an editor and manager who has been working in digital media since 2013, first at now-defunct <em>Geekosystem</em> (RIP), and then at <em>The Mary Sue</em> starting in 2014, specializing in gaming, science, and technology. Outside of his professional experience, he has been active in video game modding and development as a hobby for many years. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (their dog), both of whom are the best, and you will regret challenging him at <em>Smash Bros.</em>

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