Weeds, “Felling and Swamping” (6.02)

“My days were numbered anyway, as were yours, because you have the bad fortune of being related to me.” – Nancy Botwin.

A review of the second episode of Weeds‘ sixth season, written by Victoria Morrow and directed by Scott Ellis, after the jump…

The Ren Mar years were critically lambasted not because the show took a severe hit in the writing department, nor because the characters became weaker. The weaknesses were largely because of seasonal arcs that either weren’t strong enough to engage the audience and hold the jokes, or because they didn’t offer opportunities for the entire cast (and let to, day, Elizabeth Perkins being on a different show for three seasons straight). The end of season five, however, kicked off a story that couldn’t help but involve the entire core cast, by putting them all in a car together and setting them off for survival.

This season, Nancy is forced to actually interact with her family, which allows the writers to finally pull the trigger on her facing the effects of her selfishness on them. Silas, rather than having an affair with a single mother on the sidelines, is front and centre as we get a front-row view to his realising exactly how fucked up his family is, making one of the show’s most disposable cast members into one of its most powerful. Shane’s erratic tendencies, once good for a comic subplot, have blossomed into a crime that consumes the entire family and forces Silas to become a man.  And Andy, having been made aware of his love for Nancy and his desire to be part of this bizarre family unit last season, becomes a kind of conscience for Nancy that is more palateable than Silas; Silas is always right, but Nancy can’t look at him too long or listen too hard to him, because he will tell her straight up that she’s irreparably damaged the family.

Once, Weeds was a feminist parable about the widow who sold her well-to-do neighbours pot, and that was a funny, enjoyable story. But to carry that, Nancy needed only be ‘a woman’, and the show eventually realised that having Nancy be a character in her own right – and a disastrous one at that – wouldn’t necessarily extend the metaphor to the idea that women who work after being widowed are awful and selfish. The moment Nancy was restless running the maternity store in season four and went through the back door to find the smuggling tunnel, it clearly stopped becoming a show about a woman doing what she needs to to survive. Instead, it became the portrait of a woman who would turn to drug dealing once her husband died because that’s just what she does; daredevil survives fall, and half the time she doesn’t even realise that she jumped. And that makes her fascinating. The moment at the end of this season’s premiere, where the radio discussed “the worst type of evil”, and the audience listening realised it applied to Nancy herself, was a powerful moment I believe many overlooked. Shane’s self-destruction, much like Silas’ lack of direction and Andy’s bizarre pseudo-father placement in their lives, is a direct reaction to Nancy’s specific character flaws.

And the show, finally able to focus on that by bringing this family back together after 5 years of splintering, is able to give its cast something great to work with. Mary-Louise Parker, as always, is a revelation, and never more than now that she can’t avoid looking at what she’s always avoided acknowledging. Alexander Gould, as Shane, has always had the chops to keep his ridiculous storylines afloat, and he’s never been more on his game than post-murder Shane, whose straightforward psychopathy is intriguing. And Justin Kirk, always the most comedically-viable character whose story finally became more dramatically relevant last year, continues to be one of Weeds best acts.

But the real stunning stuff is the work being done by Hunter Parrish, as Nancy’s longtime stoner son Silas. His arc has been subtle, because its been hidden under a cacophony of storylines nobody cared about, but over the course of the past years he’s become an adult. Now, he’s the closest thing to an adult this cast has. Over these past two episodes, his reactions to the crisis have grounded it. The moment in the car, where both he and Nancy realise he’d be a lot better off leaving them alone and he decides to stay, was a brilliant moment that the show earned after five years of pulling Silas in this direction. He says it all: “I’m not ruining my life because of him.” But that’s exactly the choice he makes. He’ll follow her to the ends of the earth not because he believes in her, because he knows better than that, but because he thinks he can help mitigate the damage.

Andy follows her because he is in love with her. Shane follows her because she is his parental guardian and constantly enables his behaviour. Silas follows her because she needs someone keeping an eye on her, because she fucks up everyone else in her life. Nancy Botwin, make no mistake, is an antihero; she tells herself, with every decision, that it was necessary, and this Olympics of self-justification is what has caused this chaos.

And the show is feeding off this idea of paying these things off. The moments outside the convenience store, for example, are emblematic of this: they aren’t hilarious, they’re awful, but this is exactly the type of situation in which Weeds’ brand of black comedy thrives. Andy rambling on about the awesome gypsy lifestyle while Silas tries to get a handle on who exactly will want them dead, played mostly straight and allowing the audience to sigh at Andy’s attempts to make the situation fun, is the black comedy the show is finally getting right. The way your jaw drops when Shane smiles a bit when discussing Pilar’s death isn’t hilarious, but it immediately puts you in Silas’ shoes. And that puts you in the mindframe where the jokes, made out of a need to break the tension rather than a need for attention, actually get a bleak chuckle from you. Because this feels as big to you as it does to them. And that’s a power the show hasn’t had for a long time.

And this is the first time where I’ve allowed myself to feel a shred of sympathy for Nancy in a long time, purely because of the fact that she offers Silas the choice to leave. Not only that, but she lays out a compelling case for him to do so because she realises that it might be best for him. As she lists off his future troubles should he leave, you hear it in her voice that she’s finally comprehending that her actions have grand, irreparable consequences for those she loves, and this is possibly her last chance to see Silas survive away from her. He still has a future left; it may be too late for Andy (who, though he’s shown some capacity for change, is still unwilling) and Shane (who has stepped over the line of, not murder, but unrepentant murder), but she sees that he’s got the fire in his belly and could give himself a life. He has ambition, if you recall his grand plans to build his own weed empire with Doug, and if he broke ties with Nancy he might have the drive to make something. But they both know that he can’t do that. He comes so close, but he ultimately can’t bring himself to leave.

Nancy’s speech to Shane is a long time coming, and it’s another moment that sticks with you. She’s yelling at him, but it’s directed entirely at herself, and even Shane knows this. It’s a powerful moment of self-realisation for Nancy that, just as Shane whack-a-moling Pilar into the pool was not okay, the fact that Shane did it is on her shoulders. In its entirety:

“Do you even hear yourself? You’re a kid. You’re supposed to be out playing baseball, not clubbing people to death. I’m the mother; I decide who gets clubbed. I do the clubbing, not you. When you’re 18, 21, feel free to take a stick, whatever sporting good you desire, club whoever you like, go to jail for the rest of your life. But meantime, your only job is to do kid things: video games, broken curfews, Peeps in the microwave. That was my mess to fix, not yours.”

This is a culmination of every time Nancy has forgiven herself under the excuse that she has a family to feed and protect, to the point where her messes have become so monstrous they have destroyed the lives she told herself she was building for them. She’s “done the clubbing” for six years now, under the guise of motherhood. But its led to her not noticing, or not working to fix, the very significant problems with Shane that have been building for six years, ones that she’d never paid significant attention to. And now, she has to face the fact that everything the family is dealing with now comes from her choices. And ultimately, the only thing she can do to punish Shane (for, depending on your perspective, murder, or saving his and Silas’ lives) is to take away his candy and give him a ridiculous smack.

And the crazy part is, in the midst of this speech, there’s also black humour. Andy’s occasional reactions in the car, Shane’s continual demands that people recognise his weapon as a croquet mallet (and Parker‘s wonderful delivery of “Whatever sporting good you desire!”), all worked. And the bleak humour of Nancy’s speech, the feeling of “how the fuck did it come to this”, has an element of very black humour. It’s a very, very effective scene.

The following scene has it all: it’s suitably dramatic, it’s continuity porn (mentions to Celia and Isabelle, references to Andy’s time in Alaska where he hung with Zooey Deschanel, Pittsburgh, and a line nicely recognising that every season has been filled with completely disposable characters that were gone inside of thirteen episodes), it’s funny (Justin Kirk does wonders this episode with his history of living “off the grid”). It’s also interesting how Silas, once a massive stoner, isn’t particularly interested in going to Cannabis-friendly Canada.

Though the episode has great dramatic strength, its got comedy. The family’s reaction to Nancy’s new hair, Shane ‘subtly’ mocking Silas’ desire to shave his head (and Andy’s “Girls like having something to hang on to!” He’d know.), the family settling on ‘Newman’ as their cover name, “I know mothers aren’t supposed to say that…”, even something so small as Nancy playing with her new hair during the Newman family’s naming.

And so, ultimately, the Botwin family becomes the Newman family: Nancy, Shane, Silas, Andy and Avi Botwin become Nathalie, Shaun, Mike, Randy and Avi Newman. Here’s hoping the ride is as good as the kickoff has been; this is the most I’ve enjoyed the show since its heyday in seasons one and two.

One Response to “Weeds, “Felling and Swamping” (6.02)”
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  1. […] more extensive thoughts on the episode in general, check out my full review of “Felling and Swamping”. In the grand scheme of things, this episode really was part two of the premiere, and it contained […]

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