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.
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.