The "Roseanne"-less spinoff series deals with her absence through Dan's grieving process, even as the franchise takes a deep dive into political waters again.
This was a really powerful episode of "The Conners" in how it took a deep dive into how personal grief can be, and how everyone has to process it differently. It also gave us a glimpse of how the post-"Roseanne" series could still get political.
Tuesday night's episode was the second filmed for the series relaunch, but ABC opted to hold it back for a bit because it continued the pilot's exploration of the death of Roseanne (Roseanne Barr). Honestly, they probably should have had a little faith in the show and given fans a one-hour premiere block featuring both episodes, as this one felt pretty out of place coming fourth in the season.
On top of that, it comes after a two-week hiatus, making it like watching the premiere all over again. Was the idea to remind viewers after the break that this is still a post-"Roseanne" world? Trust us, we remember.
Logistically, why would Dan's (John Goodman) mourning take center stage now when it didn't appear to be a dominant force in his characterization in the previous two episodes. If viewers don't realize these were aired out of order, it can be pretty jarring.
Without Roseanne's pro-Trump angle, there's been a lot of interest in if and how "The Conners" would explore political issues. The sparring match between Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) and Roseanne was one of the most polarizing of the "Roseanne" Season 10 premiere, so how would the show carry on without that very loud voice of opposition?
Would it return to the unabashedly liberal "Roseanne" of its original run, or would it lean as far as Jackie did in that premiere? It turns out the answer is neither. "The Conners" would continue the same conversation that "Roseanne" did in preaching about intolerance and communication.
While Roseanne and Jackie fought on opposite sides of Trump, they nevertheless loved one another to the point they were able to look past their differences. This is something that has become lost in the modern political conversation, and without Roseanne, it's become lost in Jackie, too.
She was always beautifully obtuse, oblivious to her own shallow weaknesses and character flaws, but Jackie was on full display this week in helping Mark (Ames McNamara) conduct a political poll to see how people voted. Only rather than be impartial, as she reminded him he needed to be, Jackie got worked up over every single person that passed.
The jab came at the end when Mark revealed that he'd changed his project to an essay about how people don't listen or communicate anymore, instead choosing to yell at one another from their ideological platforms even if they're propped up on false information. As Jackie and a Republican shouted at one another, "Fake News" is rampant on both sides of the aisle.
The key is to calm the rhetoric and take heated emotion out of politics. It's okay to be emotionally invested in your beliefs, but it should never be to the point that you are violently angry at someone for thinking differently. For one, you're never going to persuade them to your point of view with fists and shouting. It takes reasoned discourse and the common ground of basic humanity to achieve that.
Now somebody tell Jackie that.
The Mourning After
With plenty of laughter and love along the way, the Conners did everything they could to connect with Dan and help him process the loss of his wife, but this is a manly man who's never been comfortable exploring his feelings or being vulnerable. He certainly wasn't ready to show that side of himself to his family, grieving their own losses.
John Goodman was a towering presence in this episode, beautifully playing the restrained grief of a man adrift at sea with no idea how or where to drop his anchor. The loss was etched in every line on his face, and it spoke volumes that he even went to a grief meeting to try and work through it.
In that meeting, Dan showed the typical impatience and selfishness that is reasonable for someone freshly grieving such a loss. In those first moments, nothing is as big as your loss, your experiences, your feelings of helplessness, emptiness.
That helplessness came through when he finally decided to speak out of fear that he might otherwise have to show up for the next two decades feeling the way he does right now. And when that didn't provide the instant answers he was looking for, he had to move on. There is no right way to grieve and no right way to learn how to move on.
Dan showed that by stumbling through his family's efforts to help him with staged poker games and following him around the house. But finally, he found his release in riding the same motorcycle Roseanne never wanted him to ride for fear he'd break his neck and leave her behind. This was the catharsis he needed.
You never know what will carry you through such an event, but it's important to not give up until you find it. And even though he seemed to reject them and push them away at every turn, the constant love and support from his family throughout this helped carry him until he found his way to what worked for him.
No one should have to suffer alone. And whether it's family, friends or complete strangers, every encounter helps bridge the gap from the pain of now to what's next.
Just Pray Along
We're still waiting for Geena (Maya Lynne Robinson) to be fleshed out beyond the controlling, super-religious black woman stereotype. It's fine that she's deeply religious, as that creates a fun dynamic with the unapologetic non-religious Conners. But there needs to be a little nuance to her personality beyond Jesus.
After all, why did DJ (Michael Fishman) first fall in love with her if this is all she is and this isn't something he's all that interested in? We're four episodes deep (and yes, we didn't forget this is technically the second one), and we've still not seen much more out of her.
This is the girl we all have history with as DJ refused to kiss her for a school play when they were both kids and the Conners had to realize their own issues with race. This is a character with a rich history as part of this family, and representing a pivotal moment in their development. Is it too much to ask for a third dimension to her character.
We did appreciate the Conners all going to church with her to help encourage Mary (Jayden Rey) to re-embrace the religious world. It's a sacrifice of sorts for them to step out of their comfort zone, but they were willing to do it for Mary. They all seem a little afraid of Geena. But the real highlight of the scene, other than the deaconess teasing them, was Jackie's glorious church hat.
It was a thing of such mass and beauty it might prove even too much for a Royal wedding!
"The Conners" continues "Roseanne's" formula by mixing laughter with lessons on humanity every Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC._
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