Maybe it’s because of my newfound yacht-rock obsession, but also because it really fits, the Dave Mason hit “We Just Disagree” has been stuck in my head since watching this episode about Darlene and David’s bittersweet romance.
Mason’s lovely 1977 ballad is the story of a couple who has broken up because, “We can’t see eye to eye; there ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy, there’s only you and me, and we just disagree.” Sad as it is for those of us whose favorite Roseanne couple, aside from Dan and Roseanne, has always been sarcastic Darlene and sweet, sensitive, easily influenced David, the two just can’t get along. Despite a hopeful, well-intentioned but doomed shot at reconciliation, Darlene and David ultimately agree they’re not meant to be a couple.
One hiccup in the Dave Mason narrative: David has some “bad guy” culpability. He reappears in Darlene and their kids’ lives to help celebrate Harris’s birthday. It’s the first one he witnesses in person in several years, after failed promises that he would show up. We still don’t get any specifics about how Mark died, but David mentions his brother’s death and fear of his family obligations as the reasons he ran away years earlier and joined a charity group that builds houses for poor people in third-world countries. (“Deadbeats Without Borders,” Darlene calls it during one of her more bitter moments.) Darlene was left behind with the solo responsibility of keeping a roof over the head of Harris and Mark’s namesake nephew.
It’s with shame and a sincere desire to make up for lost parenting time that David returns, telling Darlene he’s signed a lease on an apartment in Lanford. He’s realized he wants to be a better man, and for that he gives credit to his new girlfriend, named Blue — because, of course she is — but Darlene makes it clear by kissing him and tossing him onto her bed that she doesn’t care that he’s “dating a crayon.”
The morning after, Darlene and David discuss their reunion as if it’s a done deal. He’ll talk to Blue, and Darlene will talk to her dad; Dan is also (violently) displeased about David’s responsibility-shirking world travels. Darlene tries to usher him back out the bedroom window from whence he stealthily entered the Conner abode the day before, until she can pave the path to his official reappearance in the house. David protests, saying he’s unafraid of Dan. Darlene tells him that’s “cute,” but insists he leave through the window.
“Cute?” he objects. “Why do you always have to belittle me like that? I’m a grown man.”
“God, don’t be so sensitive,” Darlene says.
David: “Don’t tell me what not to be.”
“Fine, then do be less sensitive,” Darlene says, getting the last word, but also telegraphing that the duo has very unresolved issues. He asks her to be less controlling, telling her he’s a different person now. “Other than your father, I’m not so easily intimidated,” David says. Darlene wants them to forget about this tiff and move forward with their plans.
But Becky and Roseanne, who has secretly kept in touch with David, greet Darlene’s reunion news with skepticism. “You guys are a disaster as a couple,” Roseanne says. “It’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde … and David.” Darlene insists David is different, more self-aware now, which seems true. She also says the reason David left originally was because he couldn’t handle the pressure of being a dad. Roseanne tells her that’s not true. “He left because you guys were fighting all the time and that’s what he couldn’t handle,” Roseanne says. “He told me.” Adds Becky, echoing what Darlene told her previously about moving on with her life after Mark’s death, “You guys have been going at this for 20 years … you told me I never moved on after Mark died. End the misery. Grieve and get on with your life. Your words.”
“David didn’t die,” Darlene says. “But your marriage did,” her sister tells her.
And then Darlene has to acknowledge her own doubts to David, when he arrives for Harris’s party. “We’re delusional if we think we can make each other happy,” Darlene tells him. “We’re gonna fight, you’re gonna run, and we’re gonna break the kids’ hearts.”
“We talked,” he counters. “We know what went wrong. We belong together. You’re the first person I loved, and I still love you.”
Darlene: “I love you, too. And if was just us, I swear I would keep doing this over and over again, even if it never worked. But it’s not just us.”
Overall, another deeply satisfying episode, even if it’s also another installment that reinforces how much the Conner family continues to struggle after all these years. In some ways, “Darlene v. David” feels like a concentrated amount of sorrow because of the decision to use this season as a fan-pleasing catch-up with the Conners.
It also feels authentic, though, because even back in the day there were hints that what attracted teenage David to Darlene — being in awe of her boldness and intelligence and creativity — adult David might feel emasculated by. Darlene is very much her mother’s daughter; she has a cutting quip at the ready for everyone in her orbit, and she’s exceedingly confident in her opinions.
But David is not Dan. Roseanne and Dan are equals, with mutual respect for each other and for themselves. David spent a lot of his teenage days living in the Conner household, deferring to Darlene. Even with the occasional outside friend or date who would embolden David during their relationship breaks, Darlene was always the one with the hand, to get all Seinfeld-ian about it.
That didn’t change, as this reunion reveals, but David’s reaction to it did. Hence Blue. And, to paraphrase Mr. Mason, the end of Darlene and David’s love song.
• “Darlene v. David” is so rich it doesn’t need a B story line, but we get one anyway, courtesy of Bev, Roseanne and Jackie’s mom, who’s now also dwelling at 714 Delaware Street since being kicked out of her retirement home. “The retirement home asked me to leave,” she explains after showing up at Roseanne’s door. “Apparently, at my age, I’m not supposed to enjoy a healthy sex life … with multiple partners in multiple parts of the facility.” That she also gave gonorrhea to her fellow residents sealed her exit. It’s good to have Oscar winner Estelle Parsons back, with her Bev as wacky (and annoying to Jackie) as ever.
• Dan, explaining why he can’t forgive David’s decision to leave his family (and proving why he remains one of the all-time greatest TV dads and husbands): “You may think about it, you may dream about it, you may gas up your bike and make sandwiches, but you don’t ever do it.”
• Johnny Galecki and Sara Gilbert should most definitely be on Emmy ballots this year. He doesn’t get to deliver performances with this emotional heft on that other sitcom he’s on, and she is stealing this entire season so far. That they so easily slip back into their roles together with such fantastic chemistry is a highlight of the revival.
• David and Darlene split before Harris’s party began, but he does get a nice moment with his daughter on the Conner front porch. And a much more tension-filled, but deserved, one inside the house with Dan. Here’s how that goes after David tells his father-in-law that he’ll be back permanently in Lanford in two weeks:
Dan: “Great. Then that’s when you’ll see the kids. Questions, comments?”
David: “No, sir.”
Dan: “You always were a smart boy.”
• The episode ends with the Conners having a cake-eating contest — with contestants’ faces fully immersed in his or her own cake. I don’t know if it was an intentional callback, but it reminds me of my favorite Roseanne episode: season four’s “Aliens,” another emotional wallop of an installment that ended with a cathartic Conner family ice-cream fight.