“All About My Mom”
August 31st, 2009
“Something happens today, something else will happen tomorrow.”
That’s really the motto of this show, isn’t it? Shane, in his numbed and disconnected state, is the poster child for the series, accepting of the idea that if something goes bad today, you might as well just shrug it off and move onto tomorrow, when something similarly terrible is going to happen. Shane got shot, a shot meant for Nancy, but rather than send him into some sort of depressive state it seems like he sees this world (if not reality, which we know has little to no connection to this sensationalist fable of sorts) clearer than he’s ever seen it before.
Whereas Nancy Botwin, she has never seen this world clearly. She is impulsive and in over her head at every turn, making decisions that she knows she will eventually regret but struggling to stop herself, to really right herself on this particular journey. At the end of this, the show’s fifth season, Nancy finds herself surrounded by people who are suddenly seeing the world in a different light. Andy has grown up, purchased a minivan and proposed to Audra. Celia has decided she’s set on doing what Nancy did, and looks to regain power of her drug dealing future. And Shane, young and formerly naive Shane, decides to take matters into his own hands when it matters most.
What separates this finale from every other is that it seems as if the show has accepted its identity: it, like Shane, accepts that something happens today and something else happens tomorrow, and that this season’s cliffhanger will not be the last for the show. While this season has had its quirks, and has been perhaps the most different of any season, where it succeeds is in its clarity: the actions undertaken in the finale are cleaner, more precise, than they’ve ever been before, but with an opportunity for consequences as complicated as the show has ever dealt with.
Which, if not quite what drew me into the show into the first place, at least feels like a consistent and effective dramatic purpose for the aging series.
There’s been some criticism of this season in the fact that it’s been so disconnected from the original storyline of the series. And, it’s true: Nancy has been out of the direct insanity of the drug trade, or even criminal activity, for weeks now. Ever since Nancy moved into Esteban’s house, the show has been playing with a false domesticity, which was for me a welcome change. Nancy’s life has always been heavily uncertain, chaos begetting chaos and never allowing her to truly settle down. Here, she had that opportunity for a man who seems to actually love her, and thlife e show kind of stops with her to give us a glimpse of what that life might be like. It’s a chance for the life they never got to have, in other words, once Judah died. When Nancy chose Esteban over heading to Europe on the run with Andy, it was because even with all of the curtains one would have to erect to hide the various subterfuges (Nancy using the pregnancy to hide her ratting out Guillermo, Esteban killing people left and right, etc.) she could at least test whether she could actually have what she had lost all those years ago: a normal life.
Of course, her life was never normal: the domesticity that many complained about, and that the show fast-forwarded in order to get to, was always going to fall apart. What I liked, however, is how it fell apart in different ways than one might expect. In many ways, none of it was Nancy’s fault, up until the very end. She didn’t have anything to do with Shane getting shot, as that was entirely based on Esteban’s reckless marriage to her not fitting with Pilar’s election plans. Esteban’s political problems, similarly, were because of Nancy but because of decisions he made, not her own. It was really not until that final moment, when Nancy’s one decision (to have Guillermo kill Pilar) comes back to haunt her. Pilar confronts her with the fact that she knows all about it (Guillermo is on her payroll, apparently), and that more importantly she’s willing to go after Silas and Shane (who are extraneous to her plans for Esteban). But again, before Nancy can do anything about it, someone else intervenes, in particular Shane with a croquet mallet (since he couldn’t find a golf club).
On the one hand, this is certainly one of the most screwed up situations the show has presented to us, what with Shane now being a murderer. And unfortunately for Weeds, a show which relies far too heavily on the “Previously On” sections of each episode, it was pretty well choreographed by the strange focus on the Ignacio golf club beating incident that pre-gunshot wound terrified Shane. The show, in terms of its narrative, seemed to take on Nancy’s persona all season, which is why a lot of Shane’s development happened under the radar. Nancy hasn’t been paying complete attention to Shane, focused as she was elsewhere, which she views as neglect leading to him getting shot, but which actually just keeps his rather screwed up self behind the scenes long enough for us to see his arc (from conniving thief to bird-killing mugger to repentent teenager to numb gunshot victim to croquet killer. I think it’s the most complete arc the character has ever gotten, and I felt it fits in with the show’s usual cliffhanger structure.
There are a lot of unanswered questions, though. For instance, we don’t know if Shane was acting out of self-preservation (protecting his mother, himself and Silas from her having heard her conversation) or whether he was simply following through on the same impulse Nancy had, attempting to make their family normal again by eliminating an obstacle to that happiness. If it is the latter, then Shane’s madness has taken a particularly premeditative turn, proving that in some ways he’s Nancy without a conscience, willing to do as she wishes she could without waiting for luck or a group of angry Armenians to take care of it. If Nancy was like Shane, this would be an entirely different shot – instead, it’s the same show it’s always been, with Nancy dealing with cleaning up a mess that she wanted to have happen but not quite in a way that so directly involved her.
I have my issues with Pilar as a character, at the end of the day. I don’t quite understand why she wouldn’t just kill Nancy and be done with it, in some ways: she was willing to stage her murder before, so why not just do it again? She clearly owns Esteban, so why would she go after her children (obviously the messier job) when the grieving widow and newly single father angle would work just as well, and take Nancy out of the picture? I was really expecting her to reveal to Nancy that someone else had taken that shot, just to complicate matters further, but instead, we’re to believe Pilar was just that evil. It makes it all a bit too simple, which goes against part of Weeds’ charm in terms of the moral grey areas these characters tread in. It’s going to make for an interesting sixth season, but there were some shortcuts made to get there.
The other cliffhanger we get is interesting in that I’m not sure I really care all that much. I like Alanis Morissete in this role, and have found Andy’s more mature side to be quite clever (he still has some snarky lines, but they seem more pointed when he’s not playing an idiot seconds later). However, this was rushed to the finish line in a way that really gives it no credit whatsoever. The marriage proposal was out of left field, a convenient reason for the interesting structure of last week’s episode (which I saw late and therefore didn’t review) and to push these two together just long enough for them to walk into the house to find her creepy stalker with a crossbow. Andy leaps away in terror, leaving Audra to fend for herself, and you have your “cliffhanger.” It just didn’t connect with me at all: I like Audra, especially her excitement at the thought of more gunshot wounds, but I don’t envision her as a permanent part of the series and as a result don’t particularly feel worried about her potential grisly fate.
I care somewhat more about Celia’s quest to do as Nancy did, which I find more intriguing than the show does in some ways. For me, this is a really interesting way for the series to return to its roots with a speculative perspective, with Celia asking the question that we all ask to some degree: how did Nancy do it? We presume the answer to be luck, as certainly she faced many roadblocks and should have died by now (Silas says himself that he partially stayed to protect her, feeling like that luck has to run out at some point), but there was something about Nancy that made it all work at the same time – dancing on the table during her runs for U-Turn, for example. Pilar’s masseuse refers to her as a warrior, armored and ready for battle, and while that’s a bit too generous she certainly is particularly suited for this role in some ways. Celia doesn’t have those qualities: she’s savvy, no question about it, but she isn’t quite as smart when it comes to dealing with people and when things go wrong. They’d make a perfect team, really: Celia deals with the schemes (selling the weed with the makeup was genius), Nancy deals with the heat, and they make some serious money. Celia’s current team will still struggle witht his, but with the Feral Dog as the muscle and the return of Sanjay (which won’t last, with his commitment to 30 Rock taking precedence, but is still enjoyable), we get to see what it would have been like if Nancy had been in control from the very beginning.
What this season has done is really bring things around full circle, even if it’s a fundamentally different show than it was before. This isn’t a reboot, but rather a return to the familiar conflict between the criminal and the domestic. Nancy finds herself dealing with the ways in which the criminal (or in this case the criminal elements of the political) undermine her family unit, as complex and screwed up as it is. Silas and Shane, rather than off on storylines on their own (Silas’ weed store now a memory, his MILF a distant one), are Nancy’s dependents, living under her roof and playing sons and brothers before teenagers or adults. And through Celia, the show is returning to the basic premise of selling marijuana, but in a way that feels almost like a tribute to Nancy’s initial operation, a chance to see how things would have gone without her rabbit’s foot. It’s the kind of setup for a sixth season that makes it feel like it could be the last, with Nancy’s attempt to turn back the clock to a domestic life falling apart while the rest of the show goes back to the beginning to see, perhaps, where it all went wrong.
And I like it. No, the show’s not perfect or as good as it once was, but it has felt very sure of itself this year. Its moves were quick and sharp, skipping time and being deliberate with what we see and when we see it. There is something confident about that, perhaps bordering on strident, which gives the show a different purpose. Before, the uncertainty of the show was part of how it operated, seeming languid and slow-paced during the middle of each season as they transitioned from setup into climax. Now, everything feels carefully placed and purposeful, a welcome change that doesn’t return us to Season 1’s uncertainty, or Season 2’s sudden downfall, but rather a newly self-aware Weeds, just as there is a newly self-aware Shane.
- I’ve got money on the sixth season starting with Shane’s perspective on the events of the final few minutes – without know how much he heard, it’s hard to really place the event in terms of his psyche, and that’s going to be something the show has to deal with. A new POV seems like an effective way to do so.
- Esteban’s daughter turning out to be a heroin addict was awfully sudden (we really saw no signs of it before?), but it did offer that nice moment where Andy got to call Nancy out on gloating. Esteban did insult her own parenting skills, so it was a nice comeuppance if ultimately an empty one since Esteban has to go and be all sad about it.
- Not sure if Demian Bichir is sticking around next year, but I absolutely demand that Cesar remain. One of the problems with this season was taking these hardened criminals and integrating them into Weeds’ sensationalist world, and I felt that Cesar’s occasional bits of humour (his stuff with the Sliders here) delivered in his terrifying monotone were the way that comedy/danger gap was bridged effectively throughout the season.
- Matt Roush at TV Guide, in his review, reminds me of the Deodorant scene, which really does emphasize the power of women over men in this particular universe (although do kids then trump women, considering the final croquet shot?). It’s a theme that really does resonate, but yet at the same time feels undermined by the fact that we know Nancy is never full in control, nor can she handle Pilar’s man-dominating position with the same cold-hearted gaze.