Spoilers below for The Conners' Season 3 finale, so be warned if you haven't yet watched!
In closing out its third season - technically its fourth if you count the single Roseanne season - The Conners delivered two marriage proposals. One of them went quite well, with John Goodman's Dan and Katey Sagal's Louise officially getting engaged, and Sagal is set to be around more for Season 4. Conversely, Sara Gilbert's Darlene was quite a bit less successful with her attempt to fully commit to Jay R. Ferguson's Ben, as he not only turned down the proposal, but also cemented their temporary-or-otherwise break-up.
That scene was psychologically haunting in most respects, with Darlene going totally transparent with her crafty house-fun gift and the ring she bought, and Ben choosing that point to lay many of his grievances out. Even though I actively wanted the two characters to split up, it was still rough to watch, and The Conners executive producer Dave Caplan told CinemaBlend that the show's writing staff has debated Ben and Darlene's relationship woes as much as fans have. In his words:
That all sounds natural enough, since most relationships have those who champion their success, with others who seek for it to crumble. (Probably not quite as hectic a debate as the Bears and Packers rivalry that Laurie Metcalf's Jackie fed into after her Jeopardy! appearance, but still.) And within Darlene and Ben's courtship, there have been obvious pitfalls and quagmires that made things difficult, with many of them stemming from Darlene's mental capacity for handling her erratic and turmoil-filled life. Here's how showrunner Bruce Helford explained it to me:
With that being the case, I found it all the more heartbreaking that Darlene put the time and artistic passion into creating that little house, which should have meant a lot to Ben, only for him to merely see it as an "aw shucks" gesture. (I can't imagine why she would continue not living with this true Casanova, he said sarcastically.) Of course, while Ben obviously isn't able to get inside Darlene's head and truly appreciate all of her emotions and impulses, she's similarly unable to fully understand things on his level.
In Ben's mind, he will always take second place to whatever else Darlene has going on in her life with the rest of her family. And while I'm sure he does understand the value in that somewhere deep down, he's clearly not comfortable being put on the back burner. And EP Dave Caplan explained why that's a long-running theme for this show and its family.
I know I'm not the only viewer out there who watched such a heartbreaking scene and came out of it with the mindset that Ben was being a total vindictive douche by letting Darlene go through her entire proposal spiel just so he could say no and spark the break-up. However, showrunner Bruce Helford explained that's not exactly the case, and that Ben was processing everything in the moment just as audiences were, saying:
It's entirely possible that if Darlene had just given him the crafted house and the idea for saving money, Ben might have again handled things sarcastically, but he probably wouldn't have gone so far as to end the relationship for the time being. But seeing Darlene make such a giant (and, again, impulsive) decision with her wedding proposal just brought him over the edge, because it likely brought to mind all of the ways their engagement could backfire from Darlene's lack of 100% commitment. I mean, he brought up David (though without saying his name), so he's clearly got a strong pessimistic foundation to work from.
To that end, Dave Caplan explained another creative goal with Darlene and Ben's relationship was to explore how people react to emotional resentment, especially when it just keeps building without much relief. In Caplan's words:
Could Darlene and Ben eventually get back together during Season 4 and beyond? It's entirely possible, especially if Darlene takes their break-up period to reassess her life and her priorities. If Dan and Louise are getting married, that may mean good things for the house's mortgage being paid in a timely manner. And then if Becky does indeed have her alcoholic instincts under control, then it frees Darlene up to worry more about Ben. At least, barring Harris having any major problems, or DJ and the returning Geena going through some shit, or another old friend returning from her childhood just to die a few days later. Darlene is just kind of surrounded by problematic people, isn't she?
The Conners secured its Season 4 renewal ahead of the Season 3 finale, so there's nothing to worry about on that front. Now it's up to the writers to figure out if Darlene is going to find ways to make things work with Ben, or if she's going to buy another couple of tickets to Hawaii so she and Brian Austin Green's Jeff can work on some major stress relief. While waiting for all the great 2021 Summer TV shows to arrive, all Season 3 episodes of The Conners are available to stream on Hulu.
Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.
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