Wednesday’s episode of The Conners, “Walden Pond, a Staycation and the Axis Powers,” proved to be a big moment for Dan (John Goodman) and Louise (Katey Sagal), just as the show’s executive producers promised. In a conversation with ET, Bruce Helford and Dave Caplan opened up about how the pandemic has affected the family, how this episode will set things up for the remainder of season 3 and if there are going to be wedding bells for one of the show's major relationships.
In the official synopsis released by ABC, “Dan feels helpless when Louise refuses to let him put himself at risk for her.” Spoiler warning: as it turned out, Louise tested positive for COVID-19, forcing her to isolate from Dan and the rest of the Conners.
As they’ve alluded to from the beginning, “we knew that when we embraced it this season that we were going to stay honest to what was going on,” Helford says of having the pandemic exist in the Conners universe and affect the characters in various ways.
So when it came to Louise testing positive, it felt like another realistic moment for the show. “We didn't want people to be watching who had been affected and feel like, ‘Well, somehow these people are in some magic bubble,’ because everybody knows somebody that has to deal with COVID,” Helford explains.
But the moment also became a way to show how far Dan and Louise’s relationship has come. “When she gets sick, the effect on Dan is devastating,” Caplan says. “Here’s a guy who wasn’t sure he’d be able to find love again at his age or after having such a long first marriage. And now we see the depth of the relationship is so profound that Dan’s willing to go to Louise’s to take care of her -- even if it means endangering himself.”
That said, there are lots of big developments coming up in the rest of the season that involve Dan and Louise. “It’s definitely a part of a much bigger arc, where we’re tracking how Dan falls for Louise and wants a commitment from her that she can’t provide at this point in the relationship and she still wants her independence,” Caplan teases, adding, that “Dan is still dogged in his pursuit.”
Of course, this isn’t the only major relationship on the series, with Darlene (Sara Gilbert) and Ben (Jay R. Ferguson) now living together and Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) and Neville (Nat Faxon) continuing to grow closer. “There’s a lot going on and I can tell you this: there will be lots of interesting things happening and surprises as we get into the last three episodes of the season,” Helford says.
When asked if there’s going to be any wedding bells for one of those relationships, especially now that it seems Dan and Louise are in it for the long haul, both EPs take a pause before Helford says, “Well, the best thing I can say is I think it's the Conners. There’s definitely going to be some happiness, there’s definitely going to be some woes but we can’t say who’s going to get what.”
And looking further ahead, if the series is renewed for season 4, the EPs are already anticipating a post-pandemic world, especially as the vaccine continues to roll out in real life. “We’ll definitely deal with that, if they've had vaccinations or whatever,” Helford says, adding: “I really hope the pandemic is, at that point, a historical memory and not ongoing in the way that it is now.”
Considering how the series went back into production during the pandemic and wrote that into the show in a thoughtful and honest way, Caplan says “we're pretty proud of the season. When we started, there was an awful lot of discussion between the producers and the writers over how we were gonna handle all of this… but we made the decision that’s always been our guidepost and that is to be honest with our audience.”
Helford adds, “We’re real, real proud of what we accomplished... We’re proud our audience has stuck with us. We’re proud that we've been able to do shows that are relevant.”
The conversation with both EPs, it should be noted, took place a day before audio crew member Terrel Richmond passed away on the set last week. Since then, it’s been revealed that the season 3 finale was shot “in loving memory of a lovely man.”