Mike Wheeler, the primary protagonist of Stranger Things, played by Finn Wolfhard, is an intriguing yet perplexing character. A shy yet witty person, humble yet dramatic, compassionate yet stubborn – such characteristics contradict one another, but he exhibits them all.
Now, three seasons later, the question that arises is, “What is Duffer’s target with this character?” Is that Eleven’s boyfriend? A protagonist? Or a Comic relief? With his range of situations and moods, feelings, and actions, the show suggests that he is more than this.
Consider Mike in comparison to Lucas or Dustin. Lucas, your strong-willed, clever, and brave friend. Dustin the wise, level-headed, and sympathetic guide. These characters appear throughout the show. They exhibit both positive and negative characteristics that influence their lives, generate issues, and result in prompt remedies. We are shown the difficulties they face from beginning to end, as well as their thoughts and feelings, which are all displayed for the audience to observe. But it’s not like that with Mike Wheeler. That’s the reason the character is so complex.
In season one, we watch him stumble when he misses Will, but we also see him work incredibly hard when he has the chance to assist Eleven. In season 2, he’s miserable, calling for Eleven and trying to save her until Will becomes possessed. Eventually, he needs to save someone else. He dedicates three days to rescuing Will and putting an end to the Upside Down. In the meantime, Eleven has mastered her talents in Season 3. He disliked her strength since it implied she didn’t require his assistance. We also see that every time Will detects the Upside Down, Mike rushes over to check on him.
The main question over here is why Mike Wheeler is written to be contradictory to himself?
Finn Wolfhard’s persona appears to have several facets, and his acting is quite multi-dimensional. Mike Wheeler appeared to be rather one-dimensional in season three, completely smitten with Eleven. However, Mike is more than meets the eye.
According to the recent premiere interviews, Mike’s ultimate purpose is to save the people he loves, and when they don’t need saving, he’s unsure of himself. It’s as if his mind instructs him how to defend and care for himself in frightening situations but not how to ‘be normal’ in ‘regular’ ones. I believe it’s reasonable to say he’s gotten at ease with his friends, but when, say, Max is introduced, he’s uneasy, resentful, and bashful, at least until Will has an episode and he regains confidence.
It’s been a long time since he’s had someone to ‘save’ in season three. Will has recovered to almost normal after Eleven has been living safely with Hopper. I believe he loses himself when he is unable to anchor himself in helping the people he cares about. I feel his drive to impress people is also a factor, mainly El, the first girl who showed any signs of wanting to be with him. He then adapts Lucas’ maturity and enhances his own dramatics, departing from who he was in previous seasons since he believes that is what made him ‘unlikeable.’
Eleven’s unwavering admiration for him didn’t help either. He could act in whatever way he desired, and she would still want to be with him. She confused respect and gratitude for something akin to love due to her extensive exposure to soap operas. It’s not Eleven’s or Mike’s fault; it’s simply a lack of understanding and communication.
Mike approached Will when he was alone on the swings, despite not knowing him at all. He opted to save someone he had never met. Mike is not the one-dimensional person he appears to be; he is simply indecisive. Uncertain of himself, the people around him, and his relationships. You might even argue he’s attempting to figure himself out. I believe in season four, he will learn a lot about himself and how he perceives his interactions with other people, and he will grow a lot.