For the past two seasons of Stranger Things, Karen Wheeler has basically been seen as a stereotypical stay-at-home mom to kids Nancy, Mike, and Holly. Most of her scenes involve her serving a home-cooked meal, making sure Holly’s pigtails look perfect, and remaining blissfully unaware of the insanity taking place in Hawkins, Indiana. What she’s not doing—as far as we know, at least—is getting it on with her husband, Ted.
That’s why the scene in the bathtub in the final episode of Stranger Things‘ second season was such a big moment: It’s the first time viewers see Karen as a sexual human being. She’s taking a sensual bath by candlelight (to Barbra Streisand’s “Memories,” naturally) and reading a romance novel when neighborhood heartthrob Billy drops by unannounced. When Karen comes to the door in her bathrobe, Billy undresses her with his eyes, bites into a cookie, and gives us the hottest new coupling we didn’t know we wanted. As executive producer Shawn Levy told us, the scene is “an instant classic.”
And if you’re hoping that Billy’s flirting has ignited a fire in Karen, then you’re in luck because we’ll see more of this Mrs. Wheeler in coming seasons. “You will see that side of her explored,” Levy revealed. “We have much more story for Karen that is linked to her discontent and her dissatisfied sexuality. In the end, there wasn’t room [in season two] to service all the ideas. Some ideas got punted to next season and maybe beyond, but we’re not done with Karen Wheeler and her failing marriage.”
Cara Buono—who plays Mrs. Wheeler—is on board with seeing where her character’s flirtation with Billy might lead (“I mean, sure,” she told us), she’s more excited to get to the root of Karen’s discontentment. “I think [the Duffer brothers] have been talking about tapping into really who she is,” she revealed. “Is she more than just the ‘happy’ homemaker? Why is she married to Ted? There’s not a lot there. The tension is just there in the writing. We are kind of that married couple where if you’re married for a while there all those little arguments and little things that get to you. That’s kind of where they are.”
That’s why Buono adds subtle touches to Karen to add potential backstory. “I pick up chardonnay in all the scenes,” Buono shared. “Maybe Karen is going to become an alcoholic. I try to see little things that will help develop the character.”
No matter what Levy and the Duffer brothers have in store for Karen (and Ted, for that matter), Buono is just excited to be along for the ride. “I said to the Duffers, ‘I want to be in your show whether it’s season one or season four.’ I didn’t know what was going to become of Karen Wheeler. I mean, she really is the ‘mom.’ A lot of times actresses will say—and for good reason—‘I don’t want to just be the mom,’ and that just means that a lot of the roles are not developed, which I totally get. But sometimes I’d rather be part of a really good project, and I will bring as much as I can and hopefully we’ll all collaborate and make something of it.”
Looks like she’s definitely going to get her wish next season and beyond.