[Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers for “Roseanne” Episode 6 (Season 10), “No Country For Old Women.”]
Another week of “Roseanne,” another list of grievances, another ending without any solutions.
To be fair, “No Country For Old Women” provided the slightest bit of self-realization and acceptance, if not actual progress or change for the better. After spending the sixth episode of ABC’s revival season complaining about who would take care of Beverly (Estelle Parsons), the Conner sisters’ mother, Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) ends up with the honors — but only after her mom threatens to kill herself.
Beverly entered into the mix last week when she was booted out of her nursing home for inappropriate behavior. The audience gets a taste of what monstrosities she’s capable of this week, and boy are they… fine? Beverly insists on adding mustards to her cocktail wieners. She calls Roseanne bossy. She rearranges the furniture in Jackie’s house to make it more suitable for guests (since she’s planning to stay there), and she has sex with her boyfriend in Becky’s house.
Sure, some of these actions can be annoying — especially when they’re committed without any remorse — but constant pestering breeds rebuke. Near the end of the episode, Beverly tells Jackie that she knew her daughters didn’t like her, but she didn’t think they hated her. Think about that statement: That’s painful. Even in a sitcom built around people picking on each other, you have to feel for Beverly. Jackie does, and agrees to let her mom stay with her. But she still doesn’t like her.
This is the kind of episode that’s meant to be a cathartic release for people who are fed up with their own frustrating family members. “Honey, look at Roseanne and Jackie mock their mom! I wish we could do that with your mother! No, no, of course I’m kidding. I love Janice…” That’s a fine purpose for escapist comedy, even if the episode lays it on a little too thick, but the real sticking point is that “No Country for Old Women” lacks a proper reminder of why we ultimately put up with them. Hint: It’s not because we’d feel too guilty if they killed themselves. At the very least, it’s because caring for our parents is part of the cycle of life: They took care of us when we couldn’t take care of ourselves (you know, when we were babies), and we’ll take care of them when they can’t do it anymore.
A simpler answer is that we love them, but “Roseanne” wasn’t about to cop out on that old stand by. These characters are too disciplined; they use humor as a defense mechanism and see feelings as a weakness. Roseanne doesn’t want to deal with her mother, just like in past episodes she made clear that she doesn’t want to deal with her grandkids, and she doesn’t want to deal with anyone challenging her political beliefs. She doesn’t want to do much of anything, and that raises an telling question given the title of the episode: Does Roseanne care about her mom, and from a broader perspective, does she care about older women?
A related query is bluntly posed by Dan when he asks if Roseanne would have actually put Beverly in a home. She says she doesn’t know and that indecision is as much of an answer as we get, since Dan ends the topic with a joke: “We don’t want the kids to get any ideas,” he says, nodding to a fear of being put in a home when he and Roseanne get older. But neither of them are swayed toward a more human consideration of her mom by realizing they may face a similar fate. They just go back to gloating over not having to take care of her, putting off the problem that was staring them square in the face.
It would have been somewhat encouraging for Roseanne to see herself in Beverly. With all her concerns about aging — the cost of medicine, the physical pain of simple tasks, the exhaustion of day-to-day life — she could’ve looked at her demanding mother and seen the future (or at least considered it). “Is this what’s coming? Is this what I’ll become?”
Instead, “Roseanne” fell back on its basic model: raise a problem, watch people struggle with it, settle on the most practical result. Beverly living with Jackie isn’t so much a solution as it’s the only feasible option. (Roseanne’s house is at full capacity anyway.) As for the state of older women as a whole, one has to wonder if Roseanne is content with the status quo, beaten down into accepting her fate, or simply happiest when she’s complaining. With quips about lesbians only fighting about the privilege to do household chores and treating her aging mother “like a fly in the potato salad” (to use Beverly’s words), it doesn’t seem like Roseanne wants a better life for her fellow women. She may not have money, but she still has the capacity for empathy.
Jackie comes closest to showing she has such breadth of emotion, but even if you contend she discovered a newfound perspective on her relationship with Beverly, the button at the end of the episode dampens that belief. She complains about her mom saying hello to her, calling it a “trigger,” and yes, it’s a joke, but if you heard that joke about you, does that sound like a place you’d want to live? No country for old women, indeed.
“Roseanne” airs new episodes every Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.