“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.
“Till We Meet Again”
September 8th, 2008
Weeds is at its worst when it escalates to the point of life or death.
I don’t mean to say that it isn’t well plotted: the final scene of this week’s penultimate episode of the fourth season is gruesome but powerful, and it feels like a logical step for the storyline to take. However, in the wake of such storylines, the rest of Weeds feels severely trivial. If I’m seriously worried about Nancy living or dying, what do I care about Doug’s mistress getting shipped back to Mexico or Celia searching out Quinn (Who we haven’t seen since the pilot) in order to make amends?
Say what you will about the reasons for half hours shows like Weeds or Entourage to make the jump to an hour long program, but these later episodes make a fine case for it: with an hour, perhaps the more dire situations could be better balanced, striking a more subtle tone through a slightly slower pace. Instead, we’re going from the violation of Nancy’s moral code (the women and the guns going through the tunnel) to the violation of a person in a very vile fashion. Mary-Louise Parker plays this kind of role extremely well, so I’m not really complaining on that front, but when it stops the rest of the show dead in its tracks I do have to wonder whether this end of season escalation is really in Weeds’ best interest.
“The Love Circle Overflap”
August 17th, 2008
Silas and Shane, as brothers, are an interesting pair. In the beginning, Silas was growing up too fast while Shane’s innocence was slowly being eroded. As time went on, Silas never truly matured, remaining mature in his actions but not quite in his mind. Shane, meanwhile, has emerged into his mother’s world and now into the world of a sexually charge middle school open to new experiences, ready to make the choices Silas had to make in the beginning.
Their relationship is emerging to the forefront of Weeds as we head further into the fourth season, as issues of family center this week on their brotherly bond and their shared experiences of sorts. Silas is at a turning point, feeling mildly aware of the consequences of his actions while actually wanting them to be more serious, wanting Lisa to be able to be with him in a way he knows she can’t – like he says to Lisa, he actually does for once want the truth, not some idealistic notion. Shane, meanwhile, feels pressure to live up to the reputation he created for himself, one that he doesn’t really understand and one that sends him into a situation that he can’t handle.
So while Nancy is off on a spiritual quest with hallucinogenic medicine of some sort, and Andy and Doug are finally finding his Flip Flop Cinderella, the Boys Botwin are left to find their own path. And, while neither solve their problems, they at least go to the edge of understanding in a way that proves they are advancing yet.
August 11th, 2008
There have been many episodes of Weeds more eventful than Monday night’s ninth episode of the show’s fourth season; in a show that in later seasons has really delved into the more sensational elements of Nancy Botwin’s career choice, episodes have featured action and comedy that tends to feel like something out of a movie versus something out of, well, “reality,” as trite as that may seem.
So it is with pleasure that I say that “Little Boats” may be my favourite episode of the season so far primarily because it owes all of its drama to character, to a very human reaction from the show’s central character as it pertains to her family as opposed to her employers. This is the side of Weeds that we have, perhaps, lost in recent years: this was a show about a family first and foremost in the beginning, and this is one of the strongest examples of that in the past few seasons.
Faced with the behaviour of the people of both her own children and her extended family, and disconnected from Esteban, Nancy turns into someone who isn’t defined by drug trafficking or anything else – she’s just another Mother struggling to care for those she loves. And the result is definitely one of the season’s strongest episodes.
“I Am The Table”
August 4th, 2008
One of my most common issues with Weeds is not necessarily the content we receive, but rather the abrupt and often miniscule portions in which we receive it. Right now, the show is juggling five storylines: you’ve got Silas and his Cheese MILF, Shane adjusting to a new environment, Andy and Doug working on their Coyote business, Celia trying to keep herself conscious, and Nancy cavorting with Esteban south of the border.
So, “I Am The Table” can’t possibly satisfy all of these stories, and as a result one can’t expect it to. I’ve often wondered how this show would play as an hour-long, and I really think that it would do many parts of it a lot of favours. At the same time, however, the short format did lead to some great comedy here: the Shane and Celia stories, in particular, are well served with just some small moments of really great comedy, and with Elizabeth Perkins and Alexander Gould up to the task it’s hard to argue that there isn’t entertainment.
I just sometimes wish that the glacial pace of everything else had either Nancy and Esteban’s passion or the aforementioned humour.
“Yes I Can”
July 28th, 2008
The title of “Yes I Can” refers to both Sammy Davis Jr. famous autobiography and the drive of Nancy Botwin to remain independent within the existing operation. This storyline drives most of the episode, and while it suffers from some stretches of logic (including the entire purpose of a “front,” but never mind that) it does give Mary-Louise Parker plenty to do and has some potential.
But, really, this episode is about the moments when Silas and Shane Botwin, officially speaking, stopped being the characters they once were. In the beginning, Silas was a teenager of innocence, certainly sexually promiscuous but certainly still finding his footing so to speak. Shane, literally, was a child, someone whose naive world view was tempered with an intense knowledge of its inner workings – he was always smart, but he was still removed from the reality of it all.
This week, though, it’s officially over: these two are not kids anymore, not in the way they once were anyways. Silas’ conquest of Mrs. Rad, Lisa, is forceful and mature: his newfound confidence is almost beyond belief, but the show seems intent on turning him into a sexual animal even weeks before the character’s eighteenth birthday (nudity and all). And Shane, who has had his bouts with insanity in the past, has officially transcended to a whole new realm with his choice of jerk-off material.
Both transitions aren’t beyond the stretch of the imagination, but I’m not quite sure I’m on board enough to trot out Sammy’s answer to the question of “Can you tolerate this?”
July 21st, 2008
Well, Weeds, you might have run out of goodwill. Thus far this season, as some have been critical of the show’s new direction, I’ve been a herald of prosperous futures. I embraced the change of scenery, cared not for the departure of Conrad and Heylia, praised the introduction of Albert Brooks, and didn’t even blink as the show transitioned Doug and Celia back into the mix without even a wiff of plausibility. This resulted in last week’s episode getting at least a moderately solid review, as Andy’s Mexican oddysey was balanced out by the return of the great dynamic between Celia and Nancy.
But the jig is up, Jenji Kohan. While I felt the change in scenery was breathing life into the shaky framework the show operated on (with some success) in the third season, now it has fully reverted back to retreads of previous storylines in a way that feels neither fresh or organic. What was once a show about people doing things has become a show about things happening to people, and whatever agency the characters have is largely either hideously misguided or just inexplicable. I’m fine with some of this, as it certainly can still be funny, but when I leave the episode thinking mostly of how good the show used to be versus where it sits now I have to be concerned that these “Treasures” just aren’t worth searching out.
“No Man is Pudding”
July 14th, 2008
When Weeds started its fourth season with a rather stunning departure from its original setting, there was a question of how long it would take to get back into a groove, so to speak. Albert Brooks did a fine job of integrating into the cast, propping them up for a while, but eventually things would have to return to normal (Or whatever whacked out concept of normalcy applies to these people).
And this is the episode where that happens, albeit not exactly in a welcome fashion across the board. Shane, Silas and Doug are given a paper thing “Bees” storyline (“BEADS?!”), and the show continues to believe that the only characters arcs Andy is capable of are “Crazy Hijinx Leading to Criminal Investigations.” So on those two fronts, normalcy (Sidelining the supporting players to silly storylines that aren’t nearly as interesting as our central conflict) isn’t so much welcome as familiar.
But sometimes familiar can be a good thing, and the episode is the triumphant reunion of probably the show’s best two characters. If you wanted this to feel like the Weeds of old, with high stakes combining with high emotions and dark comedy intersecting with personal drama, look no further than the teaming of Nancy Botwin and Celia Hoades. Elizabeth Perkins and Mary-Louise Parker are at their top of the game here, and the end result is television magic.
And, Andy’s episode title quote is pretty funny too.
“The Three Coolers”
July 7th, 2008
A cooler can be many things, but the eponymous ones referred to by this week’s episode title are of two varieties: two literal coolers, the refrigeration equivalent of The Matrix’s red/blue pills, and one cooler that follows another definition.
From Urban Dictionary:
A hand in poker in which a person with a very strong hand (often the 2nd best possible hand) is beaten by the best possible hand (usually a very rare full house, four of a kind, or straight flush). The 2nd best hand is so strong that it is impossible to fold, usually resulting in the loss of a lot of money and sometimes, an existential crisis.
For Len Botwin, his Cooler was his mother, and while her departure leaves him with a house he can’t sell it also leaves him without that other hand there to beat him at every turn. Albert Brooks’ short stint on the show, spanning only this first set of episodes, has been a strong one largely because he hasn’t been a dominant hand. What made the character so strong is that he was a disruptive but not destructive element for all of these characters: he didn’t destroy anyone, but laid the seeds in all of them for a season’s worth of development.
And it looks like a good season: with everything now mostly settled, including how to bring Celia and Doug back into the fold and how to normalize Nancy’s drug work for Guillermo (All ruined by the previews, although maybe not in a bad way), it’s time to move on from Len and focus on how these characters will truly embrace their new habitat.
“The Whole Blah Damn Thing”
June 30th, 2008
There are certain points in time when I question whether or not Nancy Botwin really understands what she does for a living. It’s one thing that she isn’t a seasoned professional when it comes to the drug trade, such as last week’s embarassing excursion to Mexico, but when she remains so shocked at the voltatility of it all I have to wonder if she even understands her own life. When she programs her new “secret” home into her GPS that Guillermo has access to, why should she be survived that he knows where she lives?
In what was technically an episode about assisted suicide, this is the only real pressing issue: the episode featured some strong performances from Justin Kirk and Albert Brooks, and ushered in a somewhat questionable if also potential-filled scenario that reintroduces Celia into the mix more quickly than anticipated. It’s a quickening of the pace that, following Bubbie’s passing, allows the show to stop dealing with the past and moving forward to the future.
And that’s a good stage for a series putting itself through an identity crisis on purpose.