Which relationship is more likely to end badly: Darlene dating her boss, Ben, a likable guy who also happens to be just as stubborn a control freak as Darlene is? Or Jackie and Peter (guest star Matthew Broderick), an unemployed intellectual who’s been accepting some pricey gifts from Jackie, and who reveals himself to be a jackass to Dan?
No, wait, though the answer may seem clear already, there’s yet more evidence that should make it totally obvious that Jackie’s headed for a broken heart with Petey boy. Dan agrees to restore the Vespa the not-exactly-flush-with-cash Jackie buys for Peter. But when Peter delivers a check so Dan can buy the necessary parts to get started, he notices Peter’s name on Jackie’s account. They’ve comingled their finances, Peter confirms, which prompts Dan to wonder if Peter has anything to mingle. He does not. His Master’s degree in medieval culture has left him underemployed, which is why he’s now pursuing further academic credentials … in the areas of Nordic history, music, and dance. Oh, and in addition to paying for Peter’s living expenses, gifting him expensive Italian scooters, and allowing him access to her bank account, Jackie is paying his tuition for those new classes.
Dan was already suspicious of Peter’s motives. But this new info dump makes him certain Jackie is being taken advantage of. He tells Peter as much, while tearing up the check Peter had written him (again, from Jackie’s money).
It’s here that Peter shows just what a creep he is. After telling Dan his situation with Jackie is none of Dan’s business, Peter tells Dan exactly what he thinks of him.
“Just fix the bike,” Peter demands. “That’s supposedly what you’re good at.”
“Excuse me?” Dan says.
“Don’t start a war of wits with me, Dan. You’re unarmed,” Peter responds, unaware of the decades Dan has spent verbally boxing with the sharp tongues of Roseanne and Darlene, and holding his own. Peter is not only a snobby, disrespectful jerk who is absolutely taking advantage of Jackie, but he’s also so arrogant that he underestimates how bright, and protective of his loved ones, Dan is. Just as importantly, he overestimates how impressed anyone, save Jackie, is by his need to be the smartest guy in the room and use all those 50 cent words he’s learned.
Dan sends Peter on his way with a threat to “loofah his face with a brick wall,” as Jackie will later describe it, and then has to deal with an angry Jackie. She had asked Dan for his opinion about Peter. And, Dan adds, with Rosie gone, he feels it’s his responsibility to look out for his sister-in-law. This, as is a recurring event on The Conners, calls back to another classic Roseanne story line, the season five gem in which Dan goes to jail for beating up Fisher, Jackie’s abusive boyfriend. Not to suggest that Peter is physically abusing Jackie, but her new relationship has prompted Dan — a guy normally given to minding his own beeswax — to again take it upon himself to warn someone against mistreating her.
Jackie, following the shocking death of her sister, is vulnerable. Before Peter, she’d been single for a long time. And she has the added stress of living with her mother. As she was following Dan’s handling of Fisher back in season five, Jackie is angry, but also touched and grateful for Dan’s concern. Still, she promises him that if he interferes with her relationship again, she’ll move into the Conner homestead and bring her mom with her.
Darlene’s new romance with Ben is much more promising. After recent flirtations, the two make it official by having sex, twice, on Ben’s desk. Despite Becky’s warnings that there could be trouble ahead for Darlene and a dude who’s just as uncompromising as she is, Darlene goes to Ben’s apartment for a homemade dinner, and finds out Becky, surprisingly, was right.
Ben demands she take off her shoes inside the front door. She argues. He asks her to select a bottle of wine, from among a lineup of reds. She wants white wine. He says red goes best with the meal he’s cooking. She says she won’t like it. He suggests she try it. An equally contentious discussion develops from him asking her to stir the paella and her insisting on adding salt to the dish against his wishes (hence the episode title). Their headbutting spins out of control quickly, and before dinner can be served, Darlene grabs her sneakers and bolts.
Fortunately, a saner — in this one instance, anyway — point of view prevails when Darlene runs into Blue, David’s live-in girlfriend, at the coffee shop. After asking Darlene for advice on how to get David to be more decisive (“I can’t help you. I found the fact that he was born without a backbone one of his best features,” Darlene says), Blue senses Darlene’s got some relationship woes of her own. In a conversation that also includes details of Blue’s past as a dominatrix, she tells Darlene that sometimes people who have a lot of pressure on them find happiness in letting go and allowing other people to take care of things.
And here we all thought Blue wasn’t the sharpest crayon in the box.
Darlene wants to avoid addressing her fight with Ben when she goes into the office the next day, but he insists they do. They wonder if a relationship between two alphas can survive, but decide to try.
“I’m gonna trust you, you’re gonna trust me, and we may end up ripping each other’s hearts out,” Ben says. “I’m in.”
Darlene: “Me too.”
Now, in a callback to some of those great tension-filled, but ultimately air-clearing holiday dinner episodes of Roseanne, let’s hope for an episode of The Conners that will bring this whole group — Dan, Jackie, Peter, Darlene, Ben, Becky, Beverly, Crystal, David, Blue, DJ, Gina, and the kids — together.
-Despite Peter’s love for the Vespa, which reminds him of his love of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, Dan is unimpressed with the vehicle. “This isn’t a bike,” he says. “This is what you feed to other bikes.”
-Peter says watching Roman Holiday, and seeing the Vespa in the movie made him want to move to Italy. “You know, it’s still there,” Dan points out.
-Though Jackie defends Peter to Dan, her real feelings may be poking through when Harris asks her for relationship advice. “Die alone … it’s easier,” Jackie says.