“If You Work For a Living, Why Do You Kill Yourself Working?”
September 15th, 2008
During Weeds’ first season, I would have never expected that it would fall into a pattern.
It was a show about a mother who deals drugs to support her family, with two children completely unaware of their mother’s ways to pay the bills, living in a gated community that harbours an assortment of characters so unhinged that Nancy often looked like the most normal of them all.
Since that point, though, the pattern is simple: at the end of one season, things get bad to the point where we as an audience question how much time Nancy Botwin has left before she is arrested or killed. Then, at the start of the next season, the show spends four or five episodes dealing with the fallout from that event before settling into a rising action, a new location or force in Nancy’s life that will result in yet another near-death experience.
Because of this, we go into last night’s Weeds finale with qualified expectations: yes, we expect it to be quite good, but we know that it won’t immediately solve the nagging issues from this season. It isn’t about providing closure, justifying the show’s move closer to the border, but rather creating enough tension that the road into season five is opened up when the show returns next year.
By these standards, “If You Work for a Living…” is a near triumph: an episode that manages to both clearly outline the next season’s action while actually creating a twist that might actually maintain the status quo as opposed to immediately saying goodbye to it. It’s not a perfect episode, and there’s a couple of nagging issues that still make this season a growing experience, but this feels like the type of finale that Weeds needed: not a rebirth, but…well, a birth.
First off, let’s raise the big question: is Nancy actually pregnant? The show doesn’t tell us for sure, but there is definitely some sense that this could all be part of a plan to keep her from getting killed (perhaps with Till assisting her?). At the same time, the show made a really big deal out of their initial sex scene, and Nancy’s headaches/illness after seeing the young girls ushered through the tunnel, so the signs are definitely there.
More than that, though, it plays nicely into the idea that this season can be viewed as a return to Nancy the parent, as opposed to Nancy the dealer. It’s a tough transition, and one that has been bumpy at points as the show has struggled with its new (read: old) identity. By the end, though, I do buy Nancy’s tragic phone conversation with Carol from Terrifically Gift Baskets about what to put on the basket she is sending Silas. In the face of her mortality, Nancy ultimately cared more about her son than she did about anything else. Now, I will say that it was convenient that it was his birthday, and that the show so nicely brought together so many narratives about parenthood as a way to drive home this point, but ever since Silas’ May/December affair the show has spent enough time with Nancy as parent (or non-parent) that it feels like an earned conclusion.
Not enough positive things can be said about Mary-Louise Parker: whether soaking in the tub, taking the news of Schlatter’s death, or her absolutely tragic phone call in the car, there is just something about this character that keeps these situations from getting old. I will never quite forget the look on Nancy’s face at the end of Season Three, as she Segway’d away from her soon to burn house, and there are similar moments here: the image of her leaning out of the tub and explaining the entire situation to Andy was played mostly without any of the words, just the admittedly erotic, and also very vulnerable, position that she finds herself in. When she stared death in the face and pulled out the ultrasound image, it felt like it needed to: like a defining moment in the increasingly complex history of Nancy Botwin.
It’s an increasingly complex history that, next season, is going to have to deal with the fact that Andy is now convinced he is in love with her. Now, as far as contrivances go, this one is pretty huge: while there has obviously been a relationship of sorts between these two characters that isn’t just friendly, the only sign we’ve seen of anything approaching a romantic relationship was their little charade they played at the border way back before Andy went on his Coyote journey. They made out a bit, and it’s clear that Andy thinks Nancy is attractive (who doesn’t?), but the show’s complete ignorance to Andy’s role in the family until this episode makes it seem like a definitely cheat in order to advance a storyline for next season.
I like the storyline, though: yes, it’s one of those annoying situations where the show pairs up two characters out of their regulars simply because it seems perfunctory, but Andy’s role as “male role model” has taken a back seat for the past few seasons and anything that brings this to the forefront is a good thing. Justin Kirk got saddled into this very gag-riddled rut by the writers, whether it’s a dog biting off his foot, running off into the Army, doing fetish porn, or just about anything else ridiculous that you can imagine. If this goes through, my hope is that Kirk can get a chance to stretch his dramatic muscles more often (If you’ve seen Angels in America, you know he has them).
And while it was also a bit clunky, I do think that Silas has grown as a character this season – seeing the cold hard reality of his relationship with Lisa, primarily through having to get dressed while her ex-husband takes cell phone photos and talks about family court (With Rad standing there watching for the first little bit), seems to have at least made Silas realize that he needs to take more responsibility (Hunter Parrish was great in the little beat outside the room with Rad). There is something about this character that, last season, fell into a bit of a holding pattern, and while it took a while it does seem like he has finally realized that adulthood is upon him.
This fact is even more clear as Shane takes over from Silas, although I can’t help but think that Silas is going to put a stop to it considering that he would have to notice that his sandwiches are missing from the freezer. Shane’s trajectory this season has been perhaps the most neglected, even while offering two of the season’s memorable moments (the lunch tray attack and the Oedipal bedtime fun). Maybe I’m just reacting to what is Shane’s descension into this dangerous game, dealing drugs without any real idea of the consequences. Sure, Shane is old for his age, but he doesn’t have Silas’ street smarts and whatever relationships he has with his sex buddies is built on a false identity. The character has no idea who he is, and is completely closed off to his mother (and even Andy, who both boys more or less ignore due to his care-free, slacker nature), so the show could run into some repetition with Silas’ arc from last season. Nonetheless, I am interested in seeing what the master plan is for Shane: clearly, drug dealing is not going to be a wise career path for someone like Shane (lunch tray be damned).
Where that leaves us is Celia, who provides maybe the funniest part of the episode as her long-lost daughter Quinn drugs her, plans to hold her ransom for $200,000, and will then leave her former teacher in order to move to Belize. It was great to see Haley Hudson return to her role, and for it to serve such smart comedy: it isn’t immediately clear whether or not she’ll stick around, but in general Celia’s storylines this season have been pretty pointless. Whereas Elizabeth Perkins got some great material in previous years, here her drug addiction was played for laughs and nothing else – whether the show can bring the character back to the forefront considering Nancy’s drama has yet to be seen, and is one of the show’s season-long struggles. But, for this episode, I got a real kick out of her predicament.
If I have one question, though, it’s what happens now. Considering Nancy’s pregnancy, and that we got clear pictures of Silas and Shane’s plans, I would really love if we could buck tradition and not pick up immediately where we left off. Only Celia’s storyline really feels like it needs a direct continuation to work, while the rest actually might benefit from letting everything get setup off screen so we can focus on how it’s all going to work and how the various parts will interact with one another. The usual pattern might have made for a good finale, but I do worry that repetition will eventually be the death of my patience with the show – any shakeup to the formula beyond location, which isn’t even changing next season by the looks of it, would be appreciated.
- Misdirection is one thing, but Doug’s transition from hanging himself to auto-erotic asfixiation (Which I just saw go horribly wrong on Six Feet Under earlier this summer) was just cheesy: this is yet another character they have absolutely zero direction right now, and here’s hoping his newfound anger at Dana might actually let him become a character and not a punch line. He also needs to spend less time with Andy, for the sake of both characters.
- Jenji Kohan deserves a lot of credit for the writing in this episode – trying to bring together both the season’s developments and next season’s plans could have been much more clunky, and the episode delivered on that level.