“Smoking Penguins and Santa on Santa Action” asks what it means to be remembered, as Louise and Jackie attempt to bond.
This recap of The Conners Season 2, Episode 9, “Smoking Penguins and Santa on Santa Action”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
The holiday episode of The Conners coincides with Dan’s (John Goodman) upcoming birthday, which typically the entire family has more or less forgotten. Everyone, that is, except Becky (Alicia Goranson), who has written him a haiku about drinking beer, which Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) thinks might be worse than forgetting.
More bad news in “Smoking Penguins and Santa on Santa Action” — the title will become clear — is that Ben (Jay R. Ferguson) has been fired. The potential upside is that the bosses are planning to make Darlene (Sara Gilbert) an offer to run the place, but they’re confident she’ll take the position for only half the money that Ben was earning. “I knew I wasn’t going to break the glass ceiling,” she says, “but I’d at least like to be able to stand on a chair and touch it.”
At the Lunch Box, which is still being renovated, Louise (Katy Sagal) brings Dan his birthday present but is constantly accosted by Jackie, who won’t stop bringing up Roseanne in her presence. As a result, Louise doesn’t want to be around her, which poses a problem for Dan and the upcoming “Santa on Santa” celebrations.
Meanwhile in The Conners Season 2, Episode 9, the fake-feminist CEO of Darlene’s company, Carrie Langham (Vanessa Bell Calloway), arrives to confirm that her empowerment of women only extends to paying them half of what their male co-workers earned. Darlene tries to stand up for herself and is immediately fired, which she has to go home and explain to Mark (Ames McNamara), who assumed that a better job would mean better Christmas presents. No such luck.
To get around the “Jackie hates Louise” problem, Dan decides to divide important occasions up between them, which means that Jackie is going to miss the Santa on Santa action. But it’s probably just as well since everyone except Becky completely forgets Dan’s birthday, which continues to rankle him throughout the rest of the episode.
In positive news, Darlene goes to see a very drunk Ben in a bar, where they say their goodbyes and kiss, and eventually end up in bed together. It’s the start of a beautiful new romance: “I may not have a future,” he says, “but I’d like to share that with you.” Sweet! Not sweet is Jackie, or indeed Louise, who bond at Casa Bonita over their terrible dating experiences. This is in service of Louise explaining why she’s attracted to Dan, a good man, and why he’s worth waiting for. It’s a fruitful conversation. Jackie understands that Louise doesn’t really have anything to gain from Dan; she genuinely just cares for him. In exchange for Jackie’s support, Louise agrees to call Dan and let him know she’s okay with her being there for Santa on Santa action.
In probably the most human scene of The Conners Season 2, Episode 9, Dan sits down with Becky and explains why he’s upset that the kids forgot his birthday. He isn’t the kind of guy who’s going to be memorialized in any other way. His family is all he has, and when he’s gone, if they don’t remember him, he’ll disappear. It’s the kind of sneaky frankness that this show is really good at, snuck in right before a montage of all the Conners dressed as Santa taking turns to sit on Santa’s knee for a photograph. Santa even has a last-minute present for Dan.
But it isn’t all good news. “Smoking Penguins and Santa on Santa Action” ends with Jackie cutting Louise out of the family photo. It’ll obviously take more than that to win her over.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.