You are an interesting person to know, Nancy Botwin.
—Guillermo García Gómez (Guillermo Diaz)
Nancy Botwin (Mary Louise Parker) is very pretty. In fact, she’s stunning. And while Weeds has promoted its fifth season by showcasing her airbrushed body in emerald-green lingerie, the series also wants you to understand that, despite her indisputable beauty, she’s not a good person. Not even close.
So how exactly has such a pretty lady gone so wrong? To summarize the past four seasons: bad choices. A suburban mom turned pot dealer, she embodies an ethos that is decidedly bourgeois. The first season’s exploration of her efforts to keep up payments on her McMansion looks almost contemplative next to the campy lunacy of the seasons that followed. Last year’s cliffhanger left Nancy accidentally pregnant by the ruthless gangster/mayor of Tijuana (Demian Bichir) and Celia (Elizabeth Perkins) held captive in a Mexican Revolutionary camp by her estranged daughter Quinn (Haley Hudson). At the same time, Shane (Alexander Gould) was selling the family crop to his fellow middle-schoolers, and Uncle Andy (Justin Kirk) was realizing that he’s in love with his brother’s widow.
Andy’s predicament was hardly a surprise, because really, who isn’t at least a little bit in love with Nancy? She’s negotiated her entire drug-dealing career batting her doe-eyes and leaning against counter tops whilst suggestively sipping iced lattes. This leads directly to trouble in the new season’s first five minutes: when Nancy tries to wager Esteban’s unborn child against her own life, dad makes it clear to her that she’s merely his son’s vessel, and she’s got a nine-month life expectancy at best—that is, if the baby is indeed a boy, or even his at all.
From here Nancy endures one violation after another. In a Mexican OB-Gyn’s office, as the nurses and doctors discuss her condition in Spanish, while she looks on, bewildered, afraid, and beautiful. The lack of subtitles encourages our delight in Nancy’s alienation, which she somehow deserves for getting herself knocked up in the first place. As one observer puts it, “Sure, she plays the victim, but she always has time to put mascara on.”
Weeds’ viewers already know this. All this tightly plotted baby nonsense doesn’t feel at all urgent, because, true to form, Nancy’s playing several angles at once, each with its own possibly lethal consequences. She’s never been able to stay away from violent, mean-spirited men (with exception of her deceased husband, whom we only ever see in softly lit flashbacks). This problem is only underscored by her two resentful sons, who help make the case for her repeated castigation for being a “slutty, irresponsible, slutty slut.”
Indeed, Weeds is looking like an exercise in acute misogyny, failing to portray a single strong, redemptive female character who isn’t some kind of slutty slut. Consider Celia. Censured regularly for being an evil, irresponsible and slutty mother, now she’s being held for a ransom that nobody will pay. The premiere’s running joke is that, as nearly everyone receives a phone call demanding payment for Celia or she’ll meet a grisly end, person after person declines: her family, friends, co-workers, even the cops. The joke takes a particularly unpleasant turn when her former lover Doug (Kevin Nealon) tells her captors, “That cunt can lick my balls. Tell her I said, ‘Hi!’”
This might just be funny if Weeds seemed the least bit conscious of its what it’s doing. But as the characters get flatter, the name-calling just gets nastier. Cue Jennifer Jason Leigh (the only actress who can steal scenes from MLP). As Nancy’s sister, Jill Price-Gray, she’s mother to creepy twin girls and also a nympho-maniacal adulteress—and widely known as “Bitch Face.”
That’s the thing about Weeds: I want to laugh at its jokes, but its constant oscillation between vilification and victimization of its female characters leaves me frustrated, and more than a little pissed off. The women of Weeds can be bitches, but the men are typically babies. Their behavior remains unchecked and unpunished, and their characterizations are mostly sympathetic, even as they can’t decide if they want Nancy to be Mommy or MILF.