Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Conners season 3, episode 6, "Protest, Drug Test and One Leaves the Nest."
Look who's the change agent! On Wednesday's episode of The Conners, Becky (Lecy Goranson) staged a protest at Wellman Plastics to fight supervised drug testing after her boss Robin (Transparent's Alexandra Billings) opted to quit rather than reveal she is a trans woman. EW talked to showrunner Bruce Helford about the episode, Billings' future on the show, and the Easter egg he included in the episode for longtime fans.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you decide to create the character of Robin?
BRUCE HELFORD: We decided to give Becky and Darlene jobs at the old Wellman Plastics factory where Roseanne and Jackie used to work in the very, very beginning of Roseanne. We thought it'd be interesting to come full circle there. Back in the day, George Clooney played overlord Booker Brooks at the plastic plant. That's how the character of Robin was born. Then we read an article about supervised drug testing, which seems phenomenally invasive because some stranger watches everyone do the urine test. I thought, well, that's gotta be a nightmare for anybody who is trying to be private about their lives, especially people who are trans because it's really nobody's business. Then we thought, wow, that'd be great if Robin was trans. Alexandra was so wonderful in Transparent, so we got her to do this. We never wanted this to be primarily about that. We wanted that she was trans to be secondary to the fact that she was a really tough boss. There's a wonderful moment between her and Becky [in Wednesday's episode] that addresses it in such a way that hasn't really been addressed on broadcast TV very much.
Did Alexandra help with any of the storytelling?
We talked to Alexandra because obviously, I don't presume to know that experience. We were looking for some guidelines as to what is real. Alexandra was very open and very helpful about it. There's a moment when Becky says, "Don't you want to come, help us fight?" And Robin goes, "No, I fought those battles. I have PTSD about that. I do not want to go back to those fights." Those were Alexandra's words. It took her a long time to get freaking happy. It was a great moment to add to the character.
Is Robin sticking around for a while?
We're going to keep her! We like her, she does a bunch. She's already shot a few episodes beyond this one.
So we can expect more action at Wellman Plastics?
We love tapping into the history. We even brought back an actor who was one of the recurring workers back in the day. Her name is Juanita [played by Evelina Fernandez]. Jackie came to visit the factory, saw her, and said, "Oh my God, why do you still work here?"
The Conners airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.