By C. Molly Smith
March 14, 2017 at 10:00 PM EDT
John Fleenor/ABC

WARNING: Spoilers from the season 2 finale of The Real O’Neals, “The Real Secrets,” lie ahead!

Big things happened in the season 2 finale of The Real O’Neals: VP Murray proposed to Eileen (Martha Plimpton), and she said no, though it looks like they’ll remain together; Jodi revealed that she’s pregnant, the father being her ex-husband/Pat’s brother Dwayne; Jimmy got into college, but had his hesitations about whether to go or not; and, perhaps most notably, Eileen and Kenny teamed up to help Allison confront her parents, only to have them kick her out upon discovering that she’s a lesbian.

During the confrontation, Kenny explains to Allison’s parents that being gay isn’t a choice, with Eileen sitting nearby and keeping quiet as she felt it wasn’t her place to say anything. When Allison’s parents say that she must see their church’s counselor once a week to “fix her problem” and ask why they would trust Kenny, when he’s the one who lured Allison into his “deviant” LGBT club, among other comments, Eileen can’t help but interject.

“Your plan isn’t going to work, because there’s nothing to fix. Believe me, I’ve tried. You can quote the Bible, and you can throw away their Playbill from A Chorus Line, but nothing you do is going to make them not gay,” she says. Allison’s mother responds that they won’t disregard their beliefs, and that it’s time for tough love. Eileen seriously disagrees, adding, “Kicking your kid out of the house isn’t love, and the only one it’s going to be tough on is you because you won’t have a relationship with your daughter; so maybe just take a second look at those beliefs. Allison will stay with us until you fix your problem.”

Eileen certainly threw down the gauntlet, and here to unpack that—as well as the other big developments in the episode—is Plimpton herself.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This is a big episode for Eileen as we see how much she’s grown over two seasons, how she’s come to not only accept Kenny’s sexuality, but also to defend him and Allison. How would you describe her evolution, particularly in regard to her relationship with her son?
MARTHA PLIMPTON: I think Eileen’s love for her kids always tends to trump her deeply held, historic belief system. She remains morally and spiritually confused, but when it comes to protecting her children from harm, she tends to make the right choice. It may take her a bit, but when she sees someone behaving in a way that’s harmful to her children, the claws come out. She becomes very protective.

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That’s at the heart of the story of Eileen. She illustrates that maternal tug, that responsibility, that love, that desire to protect your children above all else. That’s her driving force more than any moralistic judgment. She has snap judgments, but when she sees the effects of her decisions, she tends to come around. I think, on her level, that’s the kind of overarching message of the show, that love conquers all.

Eileen acts very maternal toward Allison when she confronts her parents about rejecting their daughter. She was hesitant to intervene, so what motivated her in that moment to step in?
I think she sees what it could be like for her and her son if she behaves the way these other parents are behaving. She doesn’t want to get involved because she doesn’t feel like it’s her place. Also, sticking your neck out in that way means that you have to take ownership of the way you are choosing to live. In other words, judge not lest ye be judged.

It’s something that comes to her through the course of the episode, and when she sees what rejecting their child has done — the harm that it causes Allison, the sadness and loneliness that Allison feels — she can’t stand it, and she can’t imagine doing that to her own kids. In a way, this thing with Allison presents Eileen with almost a proxy for Kenny. By protecting Allison, she’s showing her son that she would protect him too.

It’s nice to see Eileen and Kenny team up together here, too, considering everything they’ve gone through.
Yes, absolutely. Like she always says, if there’s a favorite, Kenny’s it. She and Kenny, despite all their differences, are incredibly similar, and they share the same desire to do the right thing.

Since Eileen changed her outlook and perspective, do you think Allison’s parents have the capacity to do so as well? What happens with Allison from here?
I would hope in upcoming episodes that we will see a change in them, or if not, an opportunity to examine more of that struggle that some people have, that some parents have. Allison is going to come and stay with us as long as she needs to, I imagine, but we’ll see. Allison’s a great character, and this is the beginning of a new storyline for her and for her involvement with our family. The writers have not filled me in and, of course, it’s all dependent on us getting a third season, which we all sincerely hope we will.

Turning to another big moment, VP Murray gets down on one knee. What do you think of his proposal, and where would you say he and Eileen are at now, since she turned him down?
He doesn’t seem particularly put off by her saying no. I think the lovely thing about it is that Eileen’s beginning to recognize her own responsibility to herself. Maybe she’s lived on auto-pilot for so long, and this kind of jars her back awake. Maybe, also, the feeling of protecting Allison has emboldened her, made her feel empowered in some way to be on her own more. Maybe she trusts her own judgment more now, whereas in the past she didn’t think; she relied upon set rules and the way things are “supposed to be.” In that sense, I think it’s exciting. It opens the door for a lot more possibilities as far as their relationship.

It’s nice to see her have that surprising moment, since the old, traditional Eileen might have accepted. That said, do you think there’s the possibility of marriage down the line, or is that not on her radar right now?
At the moment, I think it’s not on her radar, and that, I’m glad for. It’s such an odd situation, with Pat living in the tiny house in the backyard and [Jimmy] about to go off to college. I don’t see things becoming terribly predictable from here on out. I see them getting much less predictable, actually.

Speaking of Jimmy going to college, he writes an admissions essay about how he wants to stay at home because of his family. How do you think that reflects on the family and the strong dynamic that’s been built? Do you have any ideas about whether Jimmy will make it to school?
It’s a little bit of Jimmy’s own nervousness about being on his own and also that he’s really attached, that the family is very close and interdependent on one another … through a divorce, mom dating a new person, and Kenny coming out. They manage to remain honest communicators with one another, so I guess it reflects well on us.

Jimmy’s like the soft-hearted, warm, gooey center of the family. He’s an innocent in so many ways. There are wonderful things to be seen, to be explored with him going off to college and figuring out his own independence and everything like that, but if he doesn’t make it, who knows. Not every kid needs to go to college. Not every kid wants to go to college, and that’s a story we could certainly explore although, once again, as far as predictions or where things are going to go, I can’t possibly know.

In other big news, Jodi is pregnant. How do you think that could mix things up, and what was your reaction?
It’s great. I love it. It’s hilarious. I love that it’s with her ex-husband, who’s this crazy person. I don’t know what path Jodi is going to take. At the end of the episode, she’s obviously happy, and we all are for her. I think that this is a family that’s not unexcited about bringing a new person into the fold.

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