“Machetes Up Top”
June 15th, 2009
Weeds, perhaps more than any other half-hour “comedy”, follows a particularly serialized structure, where almost all of its characters are on separate and interconnected paths that always take a few episodes to get going. This is especially true early in the season, where everyone sets off on their own path until they slowly begin to return to their place of origin. When that origin was the community of Agrestic, you felt like there was a potential stabilizing force in the universe, the oppressive nature of the suburbs nonetheless offering something of a protection from the world of drugs, or gangs, or anything else you can imagine.
But when the Botwins moved to Ren Mar, the show and more importantly its characters lost that comforting sense of home, and in many ways the fifth season is about where they go to find safety and security in a situation that is quickly spiralling out of control. However, for various reasons, that security if proving difficult to attain, leaving nearly every character in a position to find themselves back in Ren Mar with Nancy waiting to see when the axe is going to fall.
For now, at least through “Machetes Up Top,” I think it works for the show, as the impending doom on one end is tempered by the comedy elsewhere, albeit all tinged with that sense that no one is going to escape the fallout – of course, at the same time, everyone probably is, considering that Nancy is unlikely to stop being alive anytime soon.
Most often, the people that Nancy has been actively protecting are her two children, but what is perhaps most tragic for her here is that she can’t: sure, she sends Shane to stay with her sister in Oakland, but he’s screwed up enough (dealing drugs, having threeways, etc.) that his battle for independence is unlikely to result in a more stable environment even if it is one without Mexican goons kicking around. Silas, meanwhile, has turned 18 and has chosen this time to strike off on his own to find his independence, only to discover that he is certainly not prepared for what he confronts; and, since there’s no more home to return to (effectively), Silas is trapped in his independence at the definitively wrong time.
Now, of course, both of their storylines are going to evolve in such a way as to stabilize (or destabilize in a stabilizing fashion, if that makes a lick of sense) their universes: Shane has blackmail to do, and surely those militant growers are going to track Silas down in order to understand how he grew his plants. But there’s no more safety net for these two, not as long as they are convinced of their independence and are going to treat their new situations accordingly. That could lead to some interesting material down the road, but for now it’s a simple human condition being played more for comedy than it is for substantial character development.
The situation in Oakland was the most substantial addition to the season thus far, as Jennifer Jason Leigh appears as Nancy’s sister Jill in taking Shane and Andy under her roof. The former isn’t a huge deal in the end, as Shane isn’t harbouring as much general resentment as he is resentment towards his mother, but it’s Andy and his resentment of Nancy’s spurning of his love and appreciation that results in the greater conflict. His romantic tryst with Jill is par for the course for Andy, but it’s actually problematic for his character considering how personal it is. Andy has often gotten into trouble for sleeping with the wrong women, sure, but in this case he’s sleeping with her as a substitute for Nancy, and only after their lengthy discussion of how both her husband and Nancy don’t appreciate everything they do.
That scene was very well played, and helped to both give the event deeper meaning (both of them made some valid points) and some humour (Jill drunkenly getting angry at Nancy for always having time to put on mascara was particularly funny to me for some reason), all edited as small little cuts as opposed to one long conversation. It kept up the pace, and helped get them from the couch to the laundry room, but there are going to be consequences to this – sure, Andy’s likely to run back to Ren Mar newly energized while leaving Shane (with blackmail photos) to take advantage of his new living situations, but it’s enough to complicate his own understanding of his feelings and to give us a window into Jill’s world of twins and bicycle helmets.
I sometimes wish that things weren’t quite so predictable on Weeds, where everything is being set up in advance in ways that anyone who’s ever seen the show can figure out pretty easily, but considering Nancy’s side of these storylines the show is able to subvert that inevitability in its more comic, outlying storylines with a truly unstable environment. Nancy is facing life with Cesar following her every move, showing up in her house looking for coffee with a gun on the table, and this week her efforts to escape him are initially successful but only serve to scare her further. Guillermo, in jail and desiring a conversation, thinks she’s smart but discovers very quickly that she is pregnant and deems her landfill fodder sooner rather than later, sending Nancy into a spiral of changing her will with Dean Hoades and losing all sense of a “plan.”
It’s a good place to put Mary-Louise Parker, and that final scene with Esteban continues to establish how she really has no control over this situation – bent over his desk and viciously raped, Nancy is forced into a situation where she really has no control, even though the baby was to some degree supposed to offer that. It means that she’s going to have to find a way out, and while I might just be blind I’m really not seeing one quite yet. This has happened before, with U-Turn, and he proceeded to die suddenly and leave Nancy in a far better position – I’m not quite sure this is going to prove that simple, and that uncertainty is sustaining the season dramatically right now.
As far as sustaining the season in a comic fashion, that’s a bit more tangential right now: other than Doug’s one-liners in his involvement with Silas (And the fact that he’s old enough to be Silas’ dad resulting in the growers letting the fatherless Silas go free), and the observational humour of watching Jill and Andy get drunk, the comedy is found in letting Elizabeth Perkins and Kevin Alejandro go nuts on a ridiculously small set that’s apparently a Mexican rebels camp or something ridiculous like that. They’re putting out some pretty good comedy from there: Celia turning into Quinn while getting angry over being compared with her was fun, and the scene that earned the episode’s title was quite a clever bit of work from Perkins, who really deserves more screentime than what she got here (and I would tend to believe that putting the smaller blades at a more accessible would actually be easier, in terms of grabbing and going quickly, but what do I know?).
In time that storyline will need to find itself a bit more, just as everything will need to come into its own in some capacity, but right now Ren Mar is such a volatile environment that I’m not sure it’s ready to handle anything but Nancy sorting out her own affairs. The season’s off to a solid start, but it’s still kind of touch and go as to when it will find its way back to some sort of equilibrium – this is, of course, not abnormal, but with less of a safety net than ever before we’ll see if things start to devolve faster than expected.
- I didn’t think of it while watching the episode, but Silas is very much returning to the series’ roots in terms of entering into the world of growing – it was a hobby last year, an excuse for him to hook up with a MILF and little else, but here he’s actively interacting with the drug culture, which hasn’t been the show’s M.O. ever since pretty well Season Two, since U-Turn was, well, a bit of a u-turn for the show and even Nancy and Conrad’s grow operation was kind of isolated from the world around it. I’m curious to see if they can get through the storyline without turning it into a romantic one (Silas falls for the grower’s girlfriend, for example), and if they do I think it’s a far more interesting use of Silas’ time.
- It was good to see Guillermo back, as I missed the days when Nancy’s sarcastic mouthing off in inappropriate situations would be responded to by something other than stunned silence or violent sexual assault – there used to be a more decent class of overlord for Nancy, and I miss those days. Cesar is funny in his stoic nature, but I think the show needs something a bit more.