[Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers for “Roseanne” Season 10, Episode 9, “Knee Deep.”]
Why is there a plot line about a German Kestner doll in the “Roseanne” finale?
In Episode 9, “Knee Deep,” Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) and Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) go looking for antiques in the basement in the hope of selling something to make some much-needed money. (Roseanne’s knee needs surgery.) Out of one box, Roseanne pulls a doll that their mom would never let them play with as kids. Turns out, she had a good reason: The Kestner doll is worth $5,000, but when they try to sell it, the antiquities dealer discovers the body isn’t original. It’s only worth a few hundred bucks.
But the entire thread lifts right out. If the doll had been valuable enough to help with the Conners’ money troubles, it would’ve been critical that Roseanne pulled it out of the basement before it flooded. Or, if she had only discovered its value after the doll was ruined from water damage, the story arc would’ve been aptly tragic.
Instead, it’s insignificant. At best, it reminds viewers that Roseanne’s home has a basement (which is pretty common, unless you live in California.) That’s hardly a reason for inclusion, especially when the best joke is that Magdalena — the doll — kept a diary…? The writers even ignore a rather obvious purpose for the $200 Roseanne (maybe) made from the doll: It could’ve paid for the feast her kids provided at the end of the episode. (It’s unclear if she actually sold it or not.)
Moreover, the show ignores one miracle solution in favor of another: Instead of a forgotten family keepsake proving valuable enough to save the house (and Roseanne’s knee), it’s a state of emergency ordered by President Trump.
One could argue that “Roseanne” is merely capturing the hopeless state of low-income American families; that there’s no viable solution (good jobs, proper health care, etc.) outside of a miraculous reprieve. It’s a similar idea to what goes down in the oft-maligned Season 9, when audiences were made to believe the long-struggling Conners won the lottery. Of course, that never happened. In the end, the lottery win was all in Roseanne’s imagination, as part of her memoir that she started after Dan died from a heart attack at the end of Season 8. She was devastated, and the series ends by deleting the stakes it set up throughout the final season.
Though that ending takes away a happy twist in favor of a darker one (while Season 10 does the opposite), they both suffer from erasure issues. Over the years, the honest aspects of “Roseanne” really hit home, and that holds true in 2018. Dan’s impossible choice between remaining loyal to his lifelong friend and providing for his family makes for gripping television. When Chuck (James Pickens Jr.) comes down into the basement to confront him — while Dan is wading through the wreckage of his family’s foundation — their pained dispute stings. It’s a difficult scene built on difficult circumstances, and when the shelves come crashing down, viewers feel the weight of it all coming down on Dan.
That scene, though, is undermined in the blink of an eye. Dan walks upstairs, Darlene says the governor is asking for a state of emergency, the family chants for President Trump to authorize it, and presto! DJ Magic DJ pulls FEMA funding out of his hat to save the day!
Like that, the drama driving this sitcom disappears. What was being built over the season, especially its later half, is erased in favor of the status quo. Things will start over next season as they pretended to start over this year. (The continuity issues between Seasons 9 and 10 remain glaring.) To be fair, “Roseanne” isn’t the type of show that can sustain itself as half-comedy, half-drama. It’s on broadcast TV and needs to make people laugh. (That it has so far is kind of amazing.)
But like it did at the start of Season 9, the series offered up a grand, out-of-nowhere solution for all of the Conners’ problems. It makes what came before feel like a lie, just like Season 9 turned out to be. Not all the pieces come together — like that frickin’ Kestner doll — and that’s in favor of providing enough closure to reassure viewers that they’ll be getting more of the same in Season 11.
Perhaps it’s all passive commentary, but this season still feels like a fantasy.
“Roseanne” has been renewed for Season 11 at ABC.