"Roseanne" has never been shy in addressing tough issues of the day, and the hit sitcom stepped right into one of the biggest ones America is facing right now: the opioid crisis. And rather than have a b-story with no connection to it at all, the series perfectly married its opioid story with an exploration of the overall state of health care in the United States.
As always, the show offered no solutions, and it's sure to divide America down its usual lines of hate and intolerance. But the truth is, there is a problem in this country with opioids, and it may well relate to the exorbitant costs of surgeries and other treatments that could eliminate the need for them.
In the Conners' case, if Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) could afford the deductible on their health insurance, she could get the knee surgery she so desperately needs. And if Darlene (Sara Gilbert) didn't need to have health insurance for the sake of her kids, she could pursue what she actually wants to do with her life, rather than debase herself simply for full coverage.
But this is the system we've adopted and that we live in. People chase jobs for their health benefits and then still struggle to manage their health even with that coverage.
"Roseanne" began setting up its opioid addiction storyline from the very first scene of the revival when Dan (John Goodman) and Roseanne were playing pills roulette because his insurance had changed and they were now getting less for more. This week, Roseanne faced a crisis as she'd run out of pills two weeks before she could refill them and her pain was becoming unmanageable. At least that's how she sold it.
"My knee is killing me and a bunch of my pain pills are missing. This thing was like half full. How many did you take?" Roseanne asked Dan, innocently.
"Just a couple for my back. Are you sure you didn't take more than you thought?"
"If I was taking hands full of these pills I'd be in a way better mood."
And then Roseanne sat there as Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) confronted first Darlene and then her daughter Harris (Emma Kenney), suspecting both of them of stealing the pills. All the while, Roseanne knew exactly what was going on. And this wasn't the only time her behavior was truly reprehensible in hindsight.
"Let's just hide the pills in a better place," Dan suggested.
"Well that doesn't solve my damn problem. I can't get a refill for two more weeks and my knee is holding a gun to my head."
"Well, I could go to my doctor and tell him my back's flaring up again."
"That's so sweet. Tonight I'm gonna give your back a reason to flare up."
Like many addicts, Roseanne could turn on the charm when she needed in order to get what she wanted, and in this case it was more pills. That her husband is going to lie to his doctor and possibly impact his own ability to manage his own very real pain isn't even a blip on her radar at this point. Of course, she wasn't thinking about him at all in that moment. Even the promise of sex for pills is a classic move for a junkie looking to get a fix.
Later, though, it all came to a head when Roseanne and Dan shared some fine Mexican wine for their 45th wedding anniversary night and she took slap-happy drunk to a whole new level.
"What the hell, Rose? You only had a couple of drinks," Dan noted with concern as the wine was clearly hitting her way too hard.
"Well it's not my fault. The champagne on the vicodin should say, 'Do not take with label," she slurred in response. "But the good news is, my knees are gone."
"How could you possibly have taken more vicodin, I didn't even get the prescription yet."
"Well you better get on it, because my secret bottles are running low."
With her secret accidentally exposed, Dan set up a major confrontation for the next morning after Roseanne woke up -- okay, closer to afternoon.
"Let's talk," he said to her sternly.
"Not until I get a pill. I'm hurtin'."
"You want pills? I got pills." At this, he pulled three bottles out and placed them on the table in front of her.
"Wow, that's a lot of pills, Dan. I think you might have a problem."
"I do have a problem. I found these pills hidden all over the house. Why don't you tell me how big of a problem I have."
"Well, you already admitted you have a problem, so that's your first step. Now you should go find a meeting."
And then Dan got to the crux of the problem, even as she continued to try and lie her way out of it.
"You're hoarding pills. You sent me out for more. You blamed the kids. All lies. 45 years of marriage, you've never lied to me like this before, or have you?"
"No. I just didn't say anything because we can't afford the surgery. And I got these pills 'cause I'm gonna be dealing with this for a long time. You don't have any idea how bad it hurts."
Setting aside her very real concern about the cost of the surgery being something that is out of the realm of possibility for this family, Dan was absolutely right to be mad that not only had she lied to him, but she essentially let the kids in the household take the blame for it. And he missed one other thing. She had pills hidden around a house that has young children in it all the time, placing them in danger. Not to mention teenage Harris, who has already proven a propensity for acting out.
Yes, all of this is classic addict behavior, but what if Dan had decided to punish Harris for stealing the pills, or thrown Darlene and her kids out if he'd suspected it was her? These would be real-world consequences and would Roseanne continue to just sit there and let it happen? Honestly, she probably would.
"I'll cut back," she argued but Dan wasn't buying that at all.
"No you won't. You're taking these for more than pain. Book the surgery."
"Where are we gonna get $3,000 for the deductible?"
"Look, if it's between you OD'ing and me coming up with the money, I'll figure out something."
Obviously, we're not done with this storyline, as the moment Dan left, Roseanne revealed another secret stash she'd kept in her ice pack. How many more might there be? How many has she been taking, how serious is this addiction?
The sad part is, Roseanne is not a terrible person. She's a desperate person who was in pain, and didn't know what to do. Surgery would have likely made all of this go away and she wouldn't even be in this position, but the prohibitive cost of even meeting her deductible means she has to live with pain rather than fix the root problem.
That is not a health system that is working at peak performance. Pain management is not a solution, unless the problem is how to make way more money off of her and people like her throughout the span of their lives by not fixing the cause of the problem, but rather simply treating the symptoms ... forever.
The issue leads perfectly into the side plot of the episode, which was Darlene being faced with a job opportunity to be a waitress at a casino -- complete with a humiliating "cigarette girl" costume. Obviously, this goes against everything Darlene has always stood for as a person, debasing her dignity and pride for a job. And so she initially turned it down, to Dan's surprise.
"Are you sure you want to turn that job down? For full dental and medical I'd wear that dress," Dan told Darlene.
"Oh, well you got to that pretty quick. Anything you want to tell me, Dad?"
"I gotta be honest, Darlene. I don't know how you can pass on a job with full benefits?"
"I have some pretty good reasons. Shall we start with the riverboat whore vibe."
But that wasn't the only thing.
"I still want to be a writer. I mean, I've gone from novels to textbooks to menus. If I take this waitress job, I'm just giving up completely."
"What are you gonna do if your kids get sick? Write about it?"
"Well, we've managed so far."
"You've been lucky. One emergency can wipe you out. You know what I'd give right now to have full coverage for your mother's knee? Sometimes you just gotta suck it up and put your family first."
It means that Darlene is taking a job solely based on the health insurance benefits it offers. Dan and Roseanne are dealing with the consequences of being under-insured right now, so Dan understands how important it it to have good health insurance. And apparently, that means we need to be willing to do anything to get it. For many people, the health coverage is the most important thing about a job. Not what the job is, what you'll have to do, or whether you have any interest or aptitude in that area.
As a fun reminder that the Conners are poor, and thus are not quite as worthy of respect as their wealthier counterparts, the episode also slipped in some good old-fashioned class shaming when Dan and Roseanne tried to use their credit card points to enjoy a romantic evening at the local hotel
"Good evening," the man behind the counter said as they walked in.
"Checking in," Dan replied
"Points?" With one word he had reduced them to something less than.
And then, of course, the rub that anyone on a limited income knows all too well. Even if you can afford the room -- via points or whatever -- you have to have even more money for them to simply put a hold on for "incidentals."
"Listen here, my good man. We won't be getting any incidentals so you can just skip that part," Dan tried after their credit card was declined.
"Oh I'm sorry I can't check you in without a credit card. It's just the policy of the hotel ... and every hotel in the world."
"What the hell's this country coming to when you need money to get free stuff?" Dan lamented.
"Let me tell you something, I don't even want to stay here now. I just want to go home," Roseanne told the desk clerk. "And if you saw where we live you'd know what an insult that is."
It's a standard policy, sure, but it's also one that systematically means people below a certain income level simply can't afford to stay at those hotels, even if they thought they could. And you can be certain a lot of them are being turned away at the desk, ashamed and feeling every bit their economic status.
"Do you guys get points on your credit card?" -- DJ (Michael Fishman)
"We get threats. Is that the same thing?" -- Roseanne
"I'm booking it, and as my anniversary present to you guys, I'll babysit the kids." -- Darlene (booking the hotel with Dan and Roseanne's points)
"It's not babysitting when they're yours!" -- Roseanne
"I didn't know exactly when the Women's Movement would end, but now seems like a pretty good time to call it. -- Darlene (after seeing both Becky (Lecy Goranson) and Crystal (Natalie West) in their "sexy" waitress uniforms)