June 22nd, 2009
Weeds always sits at a perilous crossroads of plot and character development, as the two often aren’t synonymous terms as they relate to the early part of each season. By the end of the season, sure, they usually match up: there’s always a few events that bring everyone together and have the Botwin family and company in a dire situation. But early on, there’s always a sense that the plot takes over, carrying characters off to their future destinations without really stopping and letting it change or affect them in any way.
I’d argue that, based on these concerns, “Su-Su-Sucio” is a fairly effective turn, maintaining a strong comic sensibility and offering a welcome respite from the darkness of the early parts of the season without abandoning it entirely. While it may be too simple a formula to repeat ad nauseum, the introduction of Nancy’s sister Jill has kept that particular plot development from becoming too disconnected from notions of characters, and Andy’s return to the fold has had similar effects in terms of giving Nancy some more levity as it relates to her situation.
The result is an episode that, although smack dab in the middle of the show’s usual march towards a plot of some kind, felt like it was rushing through the storylines it should rush through, and pausing on the ones that deserved a bit more time. The early season pacing is the fastest its been in quite some time (at least in terms of bringing the cast together), and that’ll make for an interesting extension into the rest of the year.
“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.
June 8th, 2009
There are not many cool things in Nancy Botwin’s life.
This isn’t something sudden: as each subsequent season has gone forward, things have become more and more tense. The show’s fourth season was yet another shift in a direction where things are decidedly uncool for Nancy Botwin, a suburban mother who has been removed from suburbia and in many ways was no longer a mother as one son grew up and the other drifted into his own awkwardness. It resulted in a different sort of show, one where we are asked to laugh at situations removed from our own experience and, in all honesty, that are actually quite dangerous. The threat of the Mexican mafia was almost entirely without the humour of Marvin (during the U-Turn arc of Season Three), or the injection of Conrad and Heylia to keep the business from seeming quite that dangerous.
I don’t think this is inherently a bad thing: I thought the fourth season was a strong one for Nancy’s character, even if it took her away from the show’s original intention or purpose, and we can’t begrudge a show evolution moving into its fourth season. The problem is that the show is as schizophrenic as ever, with Nancy’s storyline proving so dire and dramatic that the absurdist comedy feels dichotomous, splitting the show into two separate parts. I like both of those parts, depending on who’s involved, but the show goes out of its way in “Wonderful Wonderful” to emphasize that, at least at first, there’s no room for the two to interact, a problem that will need to be rectified sooner rather than later if the season is to get off to a strong start.
For now, it remains poignant and capable of some strong humour, which makes it an ideal dark comedy on paper if not quite in practice – now it just needs to build on that.
“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.