About halfway through the fourth season of Weeds, it occurred to me I’m not even sure what Weeds is even about anymore. Sure, it’s still ostensibly about marijuana and a woman (Nancy Botwin, played by Mary Louise Parker) who sells it for a living, but somewhere around having Nancy marry a DEA agent, Nancy escaping the hands of too many drug dealers who should have killed her for messing up, and Nancy essentially abandoning her kids for drug profits when she claimed she was dealing pot for her kids in the first place, this show lost any semblance of a meaningful plot.
It used to kind of be about suburban dread, about the hypocrisy of the drug war, and about how people deal with grief, but now it’s not even about anything at all. It’s just about a woman who deals drugs and how zany that is.
The fourth season of Weeds, which just got released on DVD to coincide with the season five premiere, opens with Nancy avoiding being tied to a major marijuana grow house and drug dealing conspiracy after wildfires destroy her town. Nancy brings her clan — sons Shane (Alexander Gould) and Silas (Hunter Parrish) and brother-in-law Andy (Justin Kirk) — to a city (Ren Mar) near the border between California and Mexico to live with her dead husband’s father, played by an underutilized and quickly vanishing Albert Brooks (he all but disappears near the halfway point of the season). And lo and behold, because of the locale change, Nancy has suddenly landed another job in the drug business, this time as the errand girl for the Mexican cartel.
The set comes with a bunch of extras, including effusive commentaries on a few episodes, unnecessary featurettes for people who are confused as to what a drug front is. tours of the sets and a gag reel. But loads of semi-important extras does not an important show make.
A few episodes into season four (after a quick plot involving whether or not the Botwins should kill their terminally ill grandma), Nancy finds out she’s going to be used as the front for a tunnel between Mexico and America, caught up in the movement of guns, people, heroin, and marijuana. When inspecting the tunnel, she meets and starts dating the head of the Mexican cartel, who also turns out to be the mayor of Tijuana. Then they have a serious relationship, and Nancy probably loves him. Then she announces she’s pregnant and the season ends.
If all that seems kind of simple and quick developing, that’s because Weeds is one of the worst plotted TV shows on any network right now. Plot developments are introduced with little explanation (like an episode where Nancy is used as a smuggler between Mexico and the US which lasted all of an episode and a half), create almost immediate conflict, and then disappear with a wildfire or Nancy moving on. Nothing ever seems consequential, and the scenes that actually do matter to the show’s overall narrative arc are buried in so many useless plotlines that even they don’t seem important.
The poor plotting really has to do with the fact that not much about Weeds even works any more. Nancy long ago became less a tragic figure of a mom trying to provide for her kids after he husband’s death, and more of a deadbeat who ignores her kids in order to moonlight as a criminal. Her lack of moral position regarding her two sons Silas and Shane prevents her from getting them to listen to her, and their lives are taken to extremes.
In season four as Silas starts growing his own marijuana and having sex with a woman the same age as Nancy. Meanwhile, Shane gets caught masturbating to old pictures of his mom (which was mainly for a two-episode uncomfortable arc that added nothing to the story) and having sex with two 13-year-old peers (ditto).
Sex on Weeds always seems like an afterthought meant to titillate and keep viewers interested when there’s not much substance (like the Silas and Shane storylines). It’s not as bad as the sex in Showtime’s other really terrible show, The Tudors (which had a scene where the King of England masturbates into a servant-held blanket apropos of nothing), but it’s not far off.
Weeds also seems hell bent on keeping around the original cast, solely because … well, they’re the original cast. Nancy’s accountant Doug (played by Kevin Nealon) ends up in Ren Mar because of barely explained embezzlement and starts a coyote business with Andy. The coyote plot never gains any ground, because it balks at seriously looking at the human toll of immigration, and instead centers on Doug trying to find one illegal in particular so he can marry her.
Nancy’s old suburban mom nemesis Celia (Elizabeth Perkins), who got out of jail after taking the fall for Nancy at the beginning of the season, quickly becomes a drug addict and goes to treatment in two episodes. But she, too, is around for no real reason.
Since essentially every other plot has no bearing on the show, the only thing left is Nancy’s drug dealing, which has, since season two, been the worst part of Weeds. I was willing to buy Nancy getting away with being a less-than-stellar dealer when she was just a mom moving weight to colleges and her suburb, but Nancy’s transformation from naïve suburban dealer to weed harvester, to gangster to illegal business front plays mostly like … fiction.
Look, I don’t have a PhD in drug dealing (it’s just a minor), but what’s the incentive for anyone to keep her around? Because she’s pretty? Drug dealers on The Wire are killed for minor infractions like talking to police, yet Nancy escapes murder for discovering an underground tunnel between the US and Mexico she’s not supposed to know about, ratting out her immediate superiors, and screwing up everything basically all the time.
And as a reward she actually gets an end game that most dealers work towards when she is offered more money than she ever made as a dealer to run a maternity clothes store for the drug cartel, yet she opts to get back into moving weight instead. Just when the show reaches an end point that would seem realistic and provide the character an out, they pull her back in.
So here she is again, continuing to blow her hair out of her eyes and looking overwhelmed, still trying to make it as drug dealer. There are no consequences for Nancy on this show, which has gotten really tired, really fast.
To add insult to injury, AMC’s Breaking Bad has a similar formula (its main character is a chemistry teacher with terminal cancer who is trying to deal enough meth to set up his wife and kids for life before he dies), and it beats Weeds on every front. The only thing it doesn’t have is Mary Louise Parker who, as the ads for season five proves, is the principle reason for tuning in. And while she probably deserves a better show, as long as Weeds has her on board, there’s no reason to think this thing won’t continue without a plot for years to come.