Wheeler’s got what I wanted for Carter

Long ago when I first started watching Stargate SG-1, I was under the impression Sam was a serious, competent female military officer who had a fascinating mentor-student relationship with Jack, her equally competent, if sometimes goofy, commanding officer. It was up to Jack to either pass onto her the skills men had passed onto one another for centuries, or subtly stonewall her.

For three seasons, a respectful partnership was clearly implied, if under-explored. Then things started to go seriously awry.

I’m finally getting what I wanted from Law & Order: CI in the form of Detective Megan Wheeler (Julianne Nicholson). She’s smart and serious. She’s young for her position (with visible freckles to reinforce the perception). Her demeanor is subdued, but she’s hardly shy about sharing her opinions and convictions with her partner (Logan) and her boss (Ross) who are a generation older than she is and a little more “old school”. Ross is her “rabbi” – the man who’s staked his word on her ability to handle this position. He and Logan both clearly trust her and rely upon her in ways that imply better than words how competent they consider her to be.

Continue for specifics that contain mild spoilers for Season 6.

She’s got game, too. In only her second episode (“Maltese Cross”), Logan and the alpha male of a fire department butt heads – figuratively at first, then the punches start flying. Wheeler jumps right in with some of the firefighters in trying to pull the two apart. She gets hit, knocked down, then pinned by someone’s foot. She twists the leg of that guy, sending him sprawling so she can get up. She loudly and pointedly radios in that they have an “officer assaulted”. But by then, it’s too late – the brawl is in full swing with more and more men getting involved.

Later in the same episode, some suspects flee from them. Logan goes off chasing one of them. Wheeler just stands there looking ineffective until one of the guys is about to run past her. Then she neatly sidesteps and checks him, using his momentum to knock him down.

And in her first season, she’s already gotten an episode (“Players”) that focused an emotional B-plot on her (and gave her plenty to do in the A-plot as well). In the B-plot, she discovered that her long-missing father had been a mob bagman. She handles this freshly re-opened childhood wound in her quiet, close-to-the-vest way, refusing to bother Logan or Ross with her personal problems… until a task force informs Ross that Wheeler has been meeting with bad guys. At which point Ross takes her to meet with the lead on the task force, who explains to her how she’s being manipulated. Throughout the episode, her mantra is “I’m fine” – until she gets a phone call and learns the task force has found a mob burial ground in which they may well find her father’s body. This time when Logan asks if she’s okay, she says “Maybe not” and asks him to drive her there. The medical examiner (Rodgers) also tries to extend Wheeler some sympathy, but as soon as they establish that her father’s body is not among the ones they’ve dug up so far, she goes right back to “I’m fine.” She presents a compelling mix of strength (not toughness) and vulnerability (not weakness) in this episode, which is well-supported by the script.

She’s also got a sense of humor even when she’s the butt of it. In “Blasters”, she and Logan end up investigating an actor from an old sitcom (thinly disguised “Saved By the Bell”) upon whom Wheeler once had a huge crush. In one scene, the actor – mistaking her for a reporter – comes up and kisses her on the cheek. Logan laughs his head off while Wheeler stands there flustered. You’d think something like this could make her look stupid, but it’s just too relatable to be anything but funny. No matter how Ross or Logan react, she’s not at all embarrassed to own that she had this crush and the situation is awkward for her.

And sometimes she gets Logan right back. There’s a classic conversation in “Maltese Cross” when she and Logan trying to figure out who the victim was having an affair with. Wheeler recommends starting near his place of work, according to “the nearest donut theory”. Logan asks what that is, and she explains: “Men are lazy. Even if there’s a good meal across town, they’ll usually just reach for the nearest donut.” He considers that, chuckles and says, “Sounds about right.” These two have just the sort of buddy vibe I’ve always wanted to see between female and male partners/team members – just what Stargate systematically annihilated by introducing alleged sexual tension between Sam and Jack. It’s very similar to what we’ve seen between two male partners a generation apart, in any number of shows over the years: a sibling-like relationship in which the partners can argue or tease each other, but when someone from outside threatens them (even Ross, at times), they stand together.

Because that’s the sort of teamwork women are absolutely capable of, despite oh-so-hilarious myths that we can’t be trusted one week out of the month, are prone to catfighting, or can’t be around guys without creating sexual tension.

Comments

  1. Gategrrl says

    Heh. You mean *alleged* sexual tension between Carter and O’Neill on Stargate. There kind of was, during their mentor/student days, but when it got hammered in with all the finesse of a lion pouncing a zebra, it went away.

    This show sounds pretty interesting.

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    I said “alleged”, but then I also said they “introduced” it. You’re right – in the early years, there was a perfectly enjoyable sense they weren’t not attracted to each other, but it certainly wasn’t as important as all the other facets of their relationship. Then, as you say, the lion pounced the zebra and all other aspects to their interaction were destroyed because the writers thought the audience wanted a “will they/won’t they” situation. I think to an extent we can thank X-files for this crap.

    As for CI, it alternates episodes between two teams – Goren and Eames, Logan and Wheeler. A lot of people don’t like Goren, but with his storylines you get abnormal psychology stuff (which I like, but you may or may not). Wheeler and Logan get more traditional high-profile cases, and there’s a lot more subtle comedy in theirs. So there’s a lot of facets to the show, and you may find one or more that you like.

    And so far, there’s never been even a hint that there’s any sexual attraction between either team’s members. Both teams have a more familial vibe. Well, there was one time when Goren’s crazy family got it in their heads that Eames was his girlfriend, but Goren and Eames just laughed about it and went on about their business.

  3. SunlessNick says

    A lot of people don’t like Goren, but with his storylines you get abnormal psychology stuff (which I like, but you may or may not). - BetaCandy

    I suspect I’ll like Goren much better when the series isn’t all about him (we’re years behind you in the L&O series; we’ve only just got the point where Eames has a real part, and I already like it, him, and her better).

    Wheeler sounds cool; and I am a mild fan of Julianne Nicholson, so I’ll be looking forward to that.

  4. Mecha says

    I personally adore Goren, but I’m a real sucker for obviously neurotic/semi-functional types. Also good psychological interplay. I can see how he’d get a bit old, though. ;)

    -Mecha

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    Nick, I’m fast becoming a serious fangirl for Nicholson, and I’d never seen her in anything before. She really does her role well.

    Mecha, Goren got a lot of lengthy near-soliloquies in the early years and I have a feeling that’s where a lot of people got turned off. It turned me off a bit to the scripts, but not really to him, so when they toned him down and beefed Eames up, I was quite happy.

  6. Patrick says

    Also a big Julianne Nicholson fan.

    It warms my heart that she doesn’t let makeup artists hide her freckles, as they seem to do with every single freckled woman on TV.

  7. Jennifer Kesler says

    It warms my heart that she doesn’t let makeup artists hide her freckles, as they seem to do with every single freckled woman on TV.

    I knew you’d like that. ;)

    Years ago, Hollywood studios cultivated actresses to have their own gimmicks, to be very distinctive from one another. Now they want everyone to be a clone. I think JN is smart to play up the things that make her unique. I believe it can really pay off when an actress is in that “too old to play the hottie, too young to play the mom” part of her life where the roles are few and far between.

  8. SunlessNick says

    I’m fast becoming a serious fangirl for Nicholson, and I’d never seen her in anything before. She really does her role well. - BetaCandy

    I saw her in The Others, which was a (very unsuccessful)paranormal drama; she was the lead. Also a legal series called Conviction, which I think has something to do with the Law and Order franchise.

  9. Jennifer Kesler says

    Nick: Yeah, “Conviction” is Dick Wolf. “The Others”… I saw the movie of that title with Nicole Kidman, but it sounds like you’re describing a series…?

    Patrick: Ally McBeal? I never watched that. Hmm.

  10. MaggieCat says

    I remember The Others. It was actually pretty good, but being cursed to the Saturday night wasteland doomed it from the start.

    I haven’t seen much of the new season of L&O:CI so I’ve only seen about 2 episodes with Wheeler, but one of them was the episode with the firehouse brawl that you mentioned. She did acquit herself very well in that. (Which means I might have to get over my sadness at losing Barek, who I really liked.)

    Ally McBeal? I never watched that. Hmm.

    Um, yeah, that might be a blessing in disguise. I watched the early seasons in their entirety when they were new, and I never really got why they tried to call Ally a feminist. If there was ever a show that reinforced the stereotype of the twitchy neurotic woman who’s always looking for a man but can’t keep one, that was it. And no respectable lawyer wanders around in micro-minis like that.

    I left in disgust sometime around when they decided to completely trash Courtney Thorne Smith’s character. Then of course there was the starring role given to the dreaded love triangle, which was a major part of the series from the pilot episode. But I didn’t see the last season at ALL, so it may have been different.

  11. Patrick says

    Ally McBeal was “feminist” only in that it showed a woman succeeding in a male-dominated profession, but otherwise… oi, so many problems with that show.

    Nicholson’s character was introduced at the start of the final season, featured heavily for several episodes, then pretty much faded into the background.

  12. Jennifer Kesler says

    Barek was… they just didn’t really do anything with her, so I never really felt like I got to know her. Apparently Sciorra got frustrated as many L&O actors have: not enough character stuff, because the plot is the star. Maybe the staff learned something, because Wheeler has gotten some comparatively decent character stuff to do already.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>