Welcome to the ninth installment of our 2021 Pride Month Series! Each day in the month of June, we will be highlighting a different member of the LGBTQ+ community who we think is a great example of representation and dynamic characterization. We will focus on fictional characters, celebrities, and activists alike — the positive voices within the LGBTQ+ community and in mainstream media.
Karen Wilson, played by Tracie Thoms, is a literal rocket scientist and wife of 118 firefighter paramedic, Hen, on FOX’s 9-1-1. Together, the two of them raise their son, Denny, and are also foster parents. Like any marriage, there have been ups and downs, but Karen is always supportive of her wife and understanding, whether it’d be about a former partner, a career change, or a major life change. Keep reading to see why Karen Wilson is being recognized in the Pride Month Spotlight.
Karen and Hen’s relationship during the first season is a somewhat complicated one. Karen finds out that Hen’s ex, Eva, wants her help to get parole but she isn’t on board with the decision. While Hen still wants Eva in her life and to help her since she is her first love, Karen doesn’t want her in their lives or anywhere near their son, Denny. Hen, depressed, rebounds to Eva and cheats on Karen with her, also revealing that she can’t have kids. Karen finds out while receiving the papers from Eva and she decides to take Denny to live with her parents, ultimately leaving Hen.
In the season finale, after getting some wise words from Athena, Hen confronts Karen and Karen gives Hen one more chance. Their relationship over the next few seasons is a tumultuous one, and has ups and downs but in the end their love for each other and Denny is all that matters. They both support each other through major life changes and even career changes and are always there for one another.
The beginning of the second season sees Karen and Hen slowly trying to rebuild their relationship. In the fifth episode while at a park with Michael and the kids, Eva walks up to Denny, who has no idea that she’s his birth mother. Karen and Hen, though, notice her before she can talk to him, telling her to back off since she gave away her parental rights. Nathaniel Green, Denny’s biological father, never did, as he’s standing right behind Eva. Karen and Hen meet with their lawyer, who tells them that Nathaniel has a strong case if he really wants to take Denny. Nathaniel later meets with the two of them, seeing how much they care for Denny and that he has a really good home and life. It’s a time in Karen’s life where she’s afraid that she’ll not only lose Hen but she’ll lose Denny too, the two most important people in her life.
In Season 3, Karen and Hen try to expand their family, though when they have six viable embryos, which Karen is carrying, they lose all of them. In the eighth episode, Karen takes the loss pretty hard, not really spending any time with Hen and Denny, yelling at Denny for no reason. Hen tries her best to support Karen, but Karen doesn’t know how to do what she does, just put it away. Hen mentions she got really attached to the idea of a new baby, but to Karen, it wasn’t just an idea. Those embryos were actually a part of her. Knowing how important it is for them to be parents again, Hen brings up the idea to become foster parents and Karen sets up an appointment for them following the holidays. This marked the beginning of a new chapter in their lives, and while in the following season it was hard on them at times, they wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Something else that changed for both Karen and Hen this season was a potential new job, though it didn’t start that way. In the penultimate episode of the season, after checking their financial records, seeing a text message from another woman on Hen’s phone, and finding an address and dates on a post-it note, Karen suspects Hen might be cheating on her. Karen meets with Chimney, who tells her that he didn’t hang out with Hen despite what she said. They get drunk, and Hen finally comes over. Hen admits that the woman she’s been talking to is the doctor that she met while on a call. She’s been thinking about going to medical school and she didn’t want to tell Karen because she thought it was a crazy idea. Karen, fully supportive, tells Hen that she would make an amazing doctor. Karen is supportive through career changes and life changes and she will always love Hen no matter what. She’s afraid of losing her but deep down she knows that she never will.
This latest season shows Karen and Hen continue their journey as foster parents, beginning the season with little Nia. Everything is great with them, and Denny is loving being a big brother. Even Nia at one point helps Karen after she hurts herself, wanting to be just like Mama Hen. Being foster parents, Karen and Hen knew that they might have to let Nia go, which is what happened. In the winter finale, Karen and Hen received news from the social worker that Nia’s birth mother was ready to be with her again. The spring premiere sees them take Nia to her scheduled meetings with her birth mother. Though Hen is concerned about whether or not Nia’s birth mother is capable of taking care of Nia and she wants to keep fighting for her, Karen is calm about it. The two of them soon argue over Karen’s apparent lack of fight for Nia, but Karen mentions that she wants to keep her. This is their job as foster parents and she’s choosing to hold on as long as she can. In the following episode, Nia leaves, breaking Karen, Hen and Denny’s hearts. Karen later confesses she found Nia’s birth mother, Evangeline, through a private investigator. They find out what really happened and Karen assures Hen that Nia’s going to be okay, they did the right thing. Karen wants to do this again. She loves Nia and she will always miss having her in their lives but knowing that she’s with a mother who loves her and that they helped give a second chance, she’s so proud of them for that. Hen obliges and they are soon set up with two new foster kids.
While becoming foster parents and losing a child they had become so close to and were ready to adopt wasn’t easy, Karen knew that they had to do this again. They have to be foster parents so they can give more chances to kids and care for them, and give families a second chance. And they got to see the second chance that they gave both Nia and Evangeline. In the season finale, while Karen is at the park with Hen, Hen’s mother and Denny, Nia unexpectedly runs up to them, excited to see Mama Karen, Mama Hen, Grammy and big brother once again. While Hen’s mother watches Denny and Nia, Karen and Hen introduce themselves to Evangeline, who has no clue what the rules are. Karen suggests they start with lunch and Evangeline thanks them. It’s the start of a new chapter in not only Karen and Hen’s life, but in Evangeline’s. Fostering Nia was one of the best things to ever happen to Karen and Hen, and when they had to let her go, just as they were ready to adopt her, it nearly destroyed them. But after finding out that Evangeline was only trying to get her life together, and then meeting her, they realize that Nia is being taken care of and that her birth mother is in a good place. Being a foster parent this season made Karen realize just how much good they can do. And even if it hurts her to let a kid go, she knows she’s doing the right thing. And it only brings her closer to Hen.
In the upcoming fifth season, Karen and Hen will likely continue meeting with Evangeline and Nia as a way to keep Nia in their lives. Seeing them as foster parents and how that affects them and makes them a closer family will be something to look forward to. Hopefully we’ll also get more of Karen and her life outside of Hen. Tracie Thoms portrays a strong and caring woman who is so supportive and understanding of her partner and her family. It would be great to get more storylines involving her or involving both of them. Maybe season 5 will finally be Karen’s time to shine.
The first four seasons of 9-1-1 are streaming on Hulu. Season 5 premieres this fall on Monday’s at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT on FOX.