"Roseanne" took a deep dive into one of the most divisive issues of the day by having a Muslim family move in next door to the Conners. Immediately, Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) was suspicious because they had an inordinate amount of fertilizer piled up next to their house.
"I'm telling you, this is what people from Iraq and Talibanjistan do. They hide out in neighborhoods like Lanford," she told her sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf).
"You don't mean the news. You mean Fox News," Jackie countered.
While the bulk of the episode was Roseanne having to come to terms with coexisting alongside people different from her, they also carved out some time to explore DJ's (Michael Fishman) life as a veteran, complete with the challenges he faces in dealing with the VA, and Dan's struggles to win construction contracts while competing with undocumented workers.
EVOLUTION OF RACISM
It was a brilliant stroke to have the Conner's family friends Chuck and Anne-Marie in the house as the episode began, because it showed how racism and prejudice continue to evolve. The Conners might seem progressive to people decades ago by being so close to an African-American couple, but their racism has just evolved and redirected itself.
Prejudice is simply hating that which is different. What the Conners did was come to realize that Chuck (James Pickens Jr.) and Anne Marie (Adilah Barnes) were no different from them. The original run had a controversial episode where they had to come to terms with their own passive racism, despite having "black friends," as white people love to tout to prove they're not.
In this case, Chuck actually sided with Roseanne in being nervous about the new neighbors, without having met them or knowing anything about them beyond their excessive amount of fertilizer.
"What if they're a sleeper cell planning to blow up our neighborhood," Roseanne asked Jackie.
"What proof do you have, Roseanne?"
"This proof. Anytime something bad happens, it's always somebody who lives next door to somebody."
Darlene (Sara Gilbert) tried to talk some sense into Roseanne that the new neighbors aren't inherently evil because of their ethnicity. "You have no reason to believe those people want to hurt you," she said. "They'd have to get to know you first."
What needs to happen for anyone to get over these kids of prejudices is simply to cross that divide, make an introduction, and discover that the terrifying mysterious people you're so afraid of are ... just people. Like you.
Roseanne and Jackie did this out of desperation, when Roseanne's wi-fi went out as Mary (Jayden Rey) was hoping to speak to her mother via Skype, still deployed to Afghanistan. When the neighbors invited them to just come in and make their call there, Roseanne balked at it.
"You don't want us to see the Skype so we'll know where in Afghanistan her mother is," Samir (Alain Washnevsky) said. "Because you think we'll find out her coordinates and give them to our ISIS friends on Facebook."
He then turned to his wife. "You see they hate us."
"We don't hate you. We're scared of you," Roseanne said honestly.
"Well, we're scared of you, too."
"Well we have way more reason to be scared of you. How do you explain all that fertilizer in your yard?"
At this, Samir's wife Fatima (Anne Bedian) interjected. "That's because genius over here doesn't know every time you click on the Amazon order button you're putting another 50-pound bag in the cart."
And just like that the answer couldn't be any more human or relateable, and Roseanne's fear was proven baseless. All it took was a conversation. Then, Roseanne asked about their son, who appeared to be wearing a bullet-proof vest, and got a look at what her prejudice looked like from the other side.
"Some people yelled some pretty terrible things at us the other day and he started having nightmares," Fatima explained. "Helps him feel safer."
Fear goes both ways, and fear can lead to violence and how silly is it to think that two groups of people could be attacking one another simply because they're each afraid of the other and too full of fear or pride or stupidity to have an actual conversation and bridge that cultural divide?
The show hasn't explored much about DJ and his wife Geena (Xosha Roquemore), until this week's episode. Not only did we get our first look at Marie's mother via that Skype call, but we got a glimpse into DJ's post-war life as he had to head out a day early to try and make an appointment with the VA's office.
"Why are you leaving tonight if you've got an appointment in the morning," Roseanne asked him.
"Because the line'll be all the way down the sidewalk. A lot of vets live on the sidewalk so they have an advantage."
The VA is underfunded and overworked and completely incapable of taking care of the physical and psychological needs of all the veterans that come home. Certainly the average American doesn't think much about them. We tout our active military as heroes, but after they come home, we tend to forget all about them.
These are men and women who risked their lives for our country, and we treat them like cattle. After DJ returned, Dan asked him how it went. "It's a lot like Black Friday. Except instead of waiting for a cheap TV, everyone's waiting for a cheap doctor," DJ joked, but no one was laughing.
We certainly don't appreciate what being in war can do to someone, as DJ hinted at this week when he admitted to Dan that he had seen a therapist as well as the usual physical checkup. Dan wasn't equipped to deal with that kind of "girl" talk about feelings, but we got hints that DJ might be suffering some form of PTSD. He revealed that he'd wanted to re-enlist, but got rejected. We expect there's more to come on this front.
Dan came up against what seemed to be his first case of trying to compete against undocumented workers (or at least that was the best theory he and Chuck could come up with after someone undercut their bid).
"We work for union minimum. Nobody's going to beat that, Al," Chuck told the client they'd been working with for over a decade during a lunch meeting at a Mexican restaurant.
"Well, somebody did and I can't pass it up."
"Beat my bid?" Dan marveled. "You must be going non-union. Oh Al, you're not hiring illegals?"
"Uh Dan, please say undocumented workers until our tamales get out here," Chuck whispered.
When he got home, Dan had to tell Roseanne that they'd lost a job his and many other families had been counting on.
"Those guys are so desperate they'll work for nothing, and we're getting screwed in the process," Dan lamented.
"It's Al that sucks. He's taking advantage," Roseanne pointed out.
"All's I know is we can't pay our bills."
"Too late. I thought the money was for sure so I sent out the checks a couple of days ago. I always try to pay the final final notice on time. I hear that's good for your credit... Round and round and round she goes. Who'll get paid, nobody knows."
There are no easy answers to this problem plaguing many labor industries. So long as companies are willing to not ask questions about how bids can possibly be so low, union workers will continue to struggle. And working outside of unions isn't always the answer, because we have to remember why they were instituted in the first place.
Many companies have and will do whatever it takes to maximize profits, whether its overworking and underpaying workers, to maintaining unsafe work environments or hiring undocumented workers at way below market value and sometimes even below the legal minimum wage. There are no easy answers, but when push comes to shove, it's usually working class families like the Conners who take the hit first.
And the hits just keep on coming as "Roseanne" continues every Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.