In watching the episodes of The Conners to date, on the one hand, it’s admirable the way that the writers and cast have so successfully been able to move on beyond the death of the Roseanne character. At the same time, we’ve been left wondering why we really haven’t had an opportunity to see John Goodman’s Dan Conner grieve over the passing of his wife. Oh, sure, we’ve gotten his anger over the fact that she died as a result of an opioid overdose — in the season premiere — but from that point on there have been mentions of Roseanne here or there, and you get the sense that the family misses her, but they’re moving on (which, in a sense, they have to). Well — and beware of spoilers — on the most recent episode we got a greater sense of how Dan really feels.
“The Separation of Church and Dan,” which aired on Tuesday, Nov. 13, was originally scheduled to be the second episode of the season. Here’s how the episode is described by ABC: “When Geena learns that D.J. hasn’t been taking Mary to church while she’s been away, she insists they go as a family to uphold her traditional values. To make matters worse, Mary refuses to attend without her cousins Harris and Mark, leaving D.J. in the last situation he wants to be in — at the mercy of Darlene. Meanwhile, Mark’s attempt to conduct an unbiased survey on the upcoming election for his school project goes south when Jackie volunteers to help.”
Okay, a couple of things there. The Mark storyline is already out of date given the passing of the election, but, more importantly, there’s not a mention of Dan, which is surprising when you consider that this episode is, on so many levels, all about Dan Conner. More specifically, it’s about how Dan is — or actually isn’t — dealing with Roseanne’s passing. That’s best summed up when he finally goes to a support group and comments, “My wife died… You know, when you’re a little kid and they tell you in Sunday school, ‘Live right, be a good person, and say your prayers, and God will reward you.’ I tried. I mean, I’m not just saying this; I busted my a** to play by the rules and here’s my reward. I’m 66-years-old and I get to live the rest of my life without the woman I love. God and I made a deal; he did not come through on his end.”
That admission comes towards the end of the episode, with everything preceding it leading up to that heartrending moment. For the rest of it, it’s all about Dan’s denials, his desperate need to be alone; fighting with Sara Gilbert’s Darlene and with his friends, particularly James Pickens Jr.’s Chuck, who, during a game of poker, tries to get Dan to talk about his feelings. He comments that they know what he’s going through, to which Dan snaps, “I’m sorry, Chuck. I didn’t realize Anne-Marie was dead.” Ouch.
The surprising saving grace — and we say surprising when you consider how many times over the years we’ve watched the two of them butt heads over virtually everything — is Lecy Gorenson’s Becky, whose husband Mark had died in Afghanistan. When Dan asks how she got over the pain, she replies, “I never sat still long enough to to make sense of it all, so I went home and parked myself in a chair for a week and by blocking out all the noise in my life, I got some clarity and figured out how to move forward.”
This makes sense to Dan, who, having already tried isolating himself from pretty much everyone and everything, decides to go to that group that will conceivably help change his outlook on life.
In a way, ABC holding back “The Separation of Church and Dan” is actually to the benefit of The Conners. For a show, like Roseanne before it, that tries to keep its heart and emotions real no matter what else is going on, it’s actually far more powerful to have seen the family (and Dan in particular) bravely moving forward despite the pain. But to then have it come pouring out the way that it does, simply makes for powerful television and serves as another example of why The Conners itself should keep pushing forward.