FinaleWatch '08: 'Weeds'

Marylouiseparker_weeds4_240The time has come to bury the fourth season of Showtime's Weeds, though if anybody has words of praise after Monday (Sept. 15) night's finale, I'd be glad to hear them.

[Spoilers coming. You probably should have expected that.]

Since Jenji Kohan and the show's creative team decided -- not without reason, I think -- that they needed to completely raze the show's core premise in last year's finale, it was always clear that this was going to be a season of transition. Thirteen episodes and another potential series-altering cliffhanger later, does anybody have a sense of where, exactly, things are heading? I'm not sure that I do.

Titled "If You Work for a Living, Why Do You Kill Yourself Working?," Monday's finale capped another season of reducing Nancy Botwin's world to rubble, of pushing Mary-Louise Parker's character to the edge, of putting her personal and professional lives in dual jeopardy.

There are several things that, at this point, we have to acknowledge:

1)Nancy Botwin is incredibly lucky, but her sense of self-preservation stinks. Nancy has been nearly killed, nearly incarcerated or otherwise nearly put out of commission pretty much every season and has survived due to frequent luck, occasional ingenuity or just the general ineptitude of the people who want to bring her down. In Monday's finale, either Nancy or the show's producers had to delve into that ever-resilient soap opera favorite, the unplanned pregnancy, to apparently save her life.

Nancy's last-second moral outrage at Esteban and Guillermo's tunnel wasn't just out-of-character, it was poorly thought out. Because Nancy's tolerance for pushers, pimps and thieves has been long established, the writers really had to push her buttons in some obvious ways. Hard drugs! Guns! Underage girls! It wasn't enough that Nancy was dealing with bad people. She had to be dealing with unfeeling, foreign devils. Under the circumstances, Nancy took precious few precautions to make sure that the links to the DEA wouldn't come back to her, which is why she was implicated on multiple fronts. Even if Esteban decides to let the mother of his unborn child survive, what has the show set itself up for next season?

2)Nancy Botwin is a horrible mother. Some of the complaints that I've read surrounding this season have to do with Nancy suddenly losing her status as Mother-of-the-Year. What show had those people been watching previously? Over four seasons, Nancy has never understood parenting beyond a core financial level. She wanted to provide for her boys, so she's done whatever was necessary, but there's never been any question of Nancy raising or nurturing her sons. In general, Nancy's relationships with men -- the ones she has sex with, the ones she does business with, the ones she tries to parent -- have been so screwy that I can't help but feel that there are some dark things about Jeffrey Dean Morgan's mostly idealized Judah.

That the finale took place on Silas' birthday, a day Nancy entirely forgot about, was telling and Nancy's gift basket note to her 18-year-old pot-dealing son -- "Dear Silas, thanks for raising yourself these past 18 years. You've done a great job." -- was doubly self-rationalizing. Silas obviously hasn't done such a great job raising himself, but Nancy would like to convince herself that whatever her sons have become, they've done it on their own, as if both Silas and Shane's similarly confused moral compasses had nothing to do with her.

So the last scenes of the episode were remarkably poignant for me. On one hand, you had Silas, Shane and Andy, the family Nancy essentially failed, dealing with their ambivalence toward their mater familias. And then you had Nancy's strange new family, her sociopathic baby-daddy (assuming, I guess, that some sort of weird timeframe trick isn't being pulled on us, allowing for Conrad [or even Sullivan Groff, I suppose] to somehow be the father) and the team of henchmen ready to kill her. Indeed, we're not in Agrestic anymore.

Of course, Nancy's failures as a mother have been nicely paired with Celia, whose Tour of Forgiveness led her down to the Most Generic Central American Location Available (featuring more of this season's cavalcade of Latino stereotypes) for a reunion with Quinn, The Daughter We Forgot She Had. Be honest now: Did anybody who hasn't watched the first season since it originally aired remember that Isabelle had a sister? I know she appeared in the first two episodes and was sent away, but has Quinn been mentioned since? Now that's some bad parenting. It was good, I guess, to see Haley Hudson return for a little vengeance, though the writers made such a mess of Celia's character this season that I really can't decide whether or not she deserves to be held hostage for $200,000.

3)Mary-Louise Parker is still phenomenal. As rough as this season has gotten, Parker kept me watching. And that's not just referring to her new-found willingness to get naked in recent episodes. One of this season's theme's has been Nancy becoming increasingly lost and doubting her sense of purpose and I can think of no actress who plays "lost" better than MLP. Justin Kirk's pretty great too, but he was often set adrift this season, though his "S***'s blowin' up" conversation with Doug was one of the finale's better moments.

As interesting as it sometimes was watching this season and trying to figure out what the heck the writers were trying to do, I have to lament the fact that Weeds was rarely funny. Certainly by the last couple episodes we were left as a miserable melodrama in which Kevin Nealon would occasionally show up and do something gross that may or may not have actually made anybody laugh.

Albert Brooks' early season arc as father-in-law Lenny was sometimes funny, but that character failed to have much to do with the rest of the rest of the episodes. He left the younger Botwins the house and demanded that rent be paid, but he was hardly mentioned in his absence. Even though there hadn't been any rumors about his return, I desperately hoped that Brooks would show up at the last second as Nancy's salvation, that he'd somehow tie the season together and propel things forward.

I think the writers just determined that there would be no laughs down the stretch. They stripped Guillermo of his rascal charm, taking him from roguish and clowny, to doughy and malignant. They pushed Celia past the point at which she was funny-pathetic, until she was just pathetic. Nealon's Doug became an unshaven mass of rude body functions and sexual desire, rarely in that amiable and innocuous way that he had in the beginning. Somehow Kohan and company decided this stuff just wasn't funny anymore. A show that used to find darkly comic glee in violence -- think Andy's exploding training partner or U-Turn's death -- closed its penultimate episode last week with an act of violence -- the de-facing of Agent Till's partner -- that was meant only to disgust.

[To my mind, the finale was also a smidge cheapened by the use of Free Design's "Love You" over the credits, trying to milk emotions out of a song that already got similar treatment with the feature Stranger Than Fiction. I much preferred the use of State Radio's "Keepsake" in last year's finale.]

I guess I'd leave it for individual viewers to determine if Weeds has earned the dramatic direction taken in recent episodes.

And I'd leave it for individual viewers to determine if the Season Four detour to Ren Mar has been dramatically fruitful.

In fact... I'm done here. Sound off, Weeds fans... What'd you think of the finale? And what'd you think of the season in general? And, perhaps more importantly, where would you like to see the show go next season?