Sunday, January 12, 2014

An Unremarkable End Comes To Weeds With Season Eight!

The Good: Moments of character, Sense of resolution to the story
The Bad: Repetitive, No great performances, Lousy resolution for most characters
The Basics: Weeds ends its run with a thirteen-episode season that unremarkably repositions the characters from the Botwin family.

Perhaps the irony of the final – eighth – season of Weeds is that long before the final (two-part) episode, “It’s Time” comes up, it is clear that it is well past time for the show to have ended. The final season of Weeds is packed with political messages and innuendo, but on the character front, it wanders in much the same way virtually every other season has; the protagonist of the show, Nancy Botwin, does what she can to pay her bills legitimately, but lacking any real life experience that is marketable, she ends up falling back into the crime-filled lifestyle of a pot dealer. Long before the season takes a turn back to having Nancy’s usual character reassert itself, the formulaic nature of the show is evident and executive producer and head writer Jenji Kohan does not disappoint (or surprise).

In fact, the final season of Weeds, which picks up with the moment that the seventh season (reviewed here!) unremarkably ended, starts with a lack of surprises and plods along in a repetitive and familiar way for most of the twelve episodes (the final episode is a double-long series finale, so there are technically thirteen episodes in the DVD boxed set). The plot device which concluded the seventh season and seemed to force Showtime to produce an eighth season was a shooting that was so unsurprising that it is laughable that the producers tried to create any doubt as to who the target of the shooting was. At the end of the season - and the series – the show leaps ahead seven years and the device works well only so long as one forgets how the prior seven seasons have gone; the entire series finale is predicated on the concept that the Botwin family, which has spent almost a decade on the run, moving constantly, and getting into more trouble than was ever truly worth it, remained uncharacteristically stable in the seven year gap in order to establish the business empire they have at the climax of the series. More than any other conceit in the series, this might well be the most preposterous.

When the inauguration of the new Botwin family compound in Connecticut is interrupted by Nancy getting shot in the head, the brief family peace is broken. While Shane starts hunting for the shooter, Andy has sex with Nancy’s sister and meets with the hospital chaplain for an intriguing conversation. After seventy-seven days in the hospital, Nancy is conscious and has racked up a bill of almost half a million dollars. After leaving the hospital, Silas sets up with a new pot grower and Shane hunts down the guy who shot Nancy. Nancy decides to have Kiku buy her out.

As Nancy begins swimming therapy in her neighbor’s, Rabbi Dave, pool at night, she begins to divest herself of the pot business and becomes committed to helping people. That takes the form of actively resisting people like Kiku – who pays her off in product – and busting a drug-dispensing clown at the hospital. When Nancy and Silas both start working legitimately for a pharmaceutical company, Nancy once again proves she’ll do anything to sell and Silas finds happiness growing weed legally. While Shane finds himself graduating the police academy and falling in with corrupt cops and Andy continues to search for real love while avoiding romantic entanglements with Nancy, Doug finds his true calling by creating a fake charity and then a cult. With Nancy rededicating her life to Stevie, Silas is given an offer that he might not refuse, which is bound to change the Botwin family forever.

The set-ups in Weeds Season Eight are designed to surprise viewers, but they seldom work. Nancy Botwin has, since pretty much the middle of the first season, made the premise of the show invalid. Botwin became a drug dealer to provide for her family and at various points in the series, she has had more than enough money to do that. In the eighth season, she has rededicated herself to getting custody of Stevie from her sister and she genuinely seems committed to that. But how she goes about getting Stevie and keeping him is much more predictable than audacious. While she gives up the pot selling, she is still ruthless in her pursuit of money, prostituting herself to a doctor in order to get the drug samples she needs to unload out and continuing to use people around her. It is, however, hardly surprising when she sends the drugs Kiku brings around through the wood chipper, just as it is unsurprising how she uses intimidation and threats to get her what she wants.

The heart of the show remains Andy or Silas. Andy actively works to push aside his feelings for Nancy, but in the eighth season of Weeds he finds his usual, formulaic sense of love and heartbreak. Andy pursues Nancy’s sister, Jill, and he becomes an integral member of her family . . . until her estranged husband returns and she (and her daughters) then rejects Andy. Andy manages to further distance himself from his feelings for Nancy by advising Rabbi Dave on how he can pursue Nancy most effectively. Silas essentially found his purpose in the prior season, but when the grower he teams up with in the beginning of season eight has a mental breakdown and destroys his crop, Silas is once again adrift. However, because Silas already has truly found himself (he’s a pot farmer!), his arc is largely just re-establishing his crop and then finding personal satisfaction. To that end, his deaf girlfriend Megan (from the earliest seasons of the show) pops back up and they rekindle their relationship. This is an entirely inorganic relationship and it is almost like actor Hunter Parrish was asked, “Who did you like working with the best?” and they designed the character arc around that.

As the series winds to a close, it is worth knowing who the essential characters are. In the final season of Weeds, the cast is comprised of:

Nancy Botwin – Having been shot in the head after just making peace with her family, she racks up incredible medical bills (in a plotline that is almost entirely dropped). Determined to keep Stevie, she stops a corrupt drug-pushing clown from profiting off the suffering of dying hospital patients and when she is released from the hospital, she begins to work on herself. Trying to stay on the straight and narrow, she befriends Rabbi Dave, divests herself of the bad influences in her life and gets a legitimate job. In order to keep the job and succeed at pushing legitimate prescription drugs, she sleeps around and backstabs. She also bribes the locals to get Stevie onto the soccer team. She sets up as an entrepreneur to profit from the legalization of marijuana,

Silas Botwin – After Kiku falls apart and his happiness as a pot grower is disrupted by getting involved with a mentally unstable grower, he finds joy in making new strains of weed for Big Pharma. After rekindling his past relationship with Megan and having a few scuffs with Shane, he gets an offer from Big Tobacco that might allow him to realize all his dreams and get him out from under his mother’s thumb,

Shane Botwin – Secretly attending the police academy, he graduates around the same time as Nancy gets out of the hospital. He successfully hunts down the shooter and tries to impress Nancy by busting him legally while Nancy tries the vigilante route. He develops a relationship with Angela Mullen, a fellow police academy graduate, who is offered a much better position than he is upon graduation. While he profits off an impound lot scam run by his father figure and another corrupt cop, he stagnates,

Doug – When the corporate scheme that he and his firm bankrolled goes bust, he abandons Whit and goes solo. Scamming the system with a “charity” he set up to skim corporate profits, he starts using the homeless as a write-off and then as a labor force for a cult he forms,

and Andy Botwin – After his relationship with Jill flounders, he leaps into a relationship with Shannon, a college student. Abruptly marrying her – despite pining for one of his ex’s – he finds a great deal of happiness teaching at a Jewish school and moving on from his feelings for Nancy, despite the pull she exerts on him.

The final season of Weeds is unremarkable on the acting front, though there are no truly bad performances either. The fundamental problem with the season is that the movement that happens occurs more in the form of an ever widening circle as opposed to characters tacking off in a new direction, truly challenging themselves and growing. Instead, the characters just keep going round and round and given how unlikable Nancy Botwin is as the primary focus of the season, it is very hard to get invested.

That said, the actual finale is a good one to the series and while it might not be the most exciting, it does leave one feeling like they never have to look in on the lives of the Botwins ever again. Only the die-hard fans will really need to tune in to the final season to watch the characters flounder around through menaces, relationships, emotionless sex, and crime peripheral to the drug trade; the rest can be content with the idea that Nancy Botwin was shot at the climax of the prior season and leave it at that.

For other works with Mary-Louise Parker, please visit my reviews of:
The West Wing


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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