In the latest The Wonder Years episode “Brightwing,” the show focuses on two main themes: Kevin and his sister Karen’s relationship, and Karen’s identity issues. The writers did a great job in fleshing out the former to the front and center, while the latter is more subtly played throughout the episode.
Currently, Kevin doesn’t understand Karen, mostly because she has become a hippie and embraced values and fashion that are contrary to the norm within the family. Karen doesn’t pay much attention to Kevin. However, that was not always the case for these siblings. Kevin remembers a time during his childhood when his sister lovingly played with him. Unlike Wayne, who hated Kevin right from the beginning, Karen at one point enjoyed her youngest brother’s company.
One day, Karen asks Kevin’s help in delivering a note to someone at her school; Karen and her friends are ditching school and she needs Kevin to put the note in her friend’s locker. Kevin is hesitant at first because he doesn’t want to be late for school (he is in junior high, while Karen is in high school) and doesn’t like that his sister is skipping school. However, he relents because he sees his sister’s pleading face and wants to please her. He delivers Karen’s notes several more times throughout the week but feels guilty when both he and his sister lie to their parents.
The last time Kevin delivers the note, he reads it and discovers where Karen has been going during school – to a hill, where she and her friends are lounging around, playing guitar, swimming, etc. When Kevin confronts his sister after his own school is over, he expects her to get mad, but she embraces him instead and welcomes him to join the festivities. Kevin is thrilled to be sharing a secret with his sister- like the good ole times- and is happy for about a week- until his conscience takes over. At the end of the week, he tells Karen that she has to go back to school, and she agrees. Kevin is smug about how easily convinces her, until he wakes up later at night to see his parents frantically on the phone. Karen has run away.
I liked that we got to see Karen and Kevin interact more than in other episodes; in previous episodes, Karen barely has any lines and viewers couldn’t tell whether she liked or disliked Kevin. We realize after this episode that she is just indifferent and self-involved. She only warms up to Kevin because he protects her from her parents, not because she particularly wants to get to know him better.
I couldn’t decide whether this episode was meant more for viewers to sympathize with Kevin, who is eager to develop a relationship with his sister, or with Karen, whose rebelling and complaining that no one is listening to her is just a sign of someone who is in need of guidance. While I did feel bad for Kevin because he was caught between his sister and parents, I felt more sympathy for Karen after hearing Kevin’s narration when Karen eventually comes home and cries while talking to her parents. Kevin states:
In 1969 people tried so hard to find themselves. Sometimes they got lost. Sometimes they found their way home again.
To be a teenager – when things are already confusing- amidst a movement that challenges the norms would certainly be challenging,