Despite its return to smart social satire, Weeds: Season Eight mellows out the formerly tempestuous Botwin family.
Weeds has officially wrapped up its eighth and final season looking quite different from the intense, dark comedy it was in 2005. While returning to the suburbs and the satire that so characterized the early years of the show, the series’ conclusion feels haphazard. Much like Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) herself, the desultory final season of Weeds doesn’t quite seem to have a plan, hurriedly throwing one together at the last minute.
The season eight box set itself even reflects this sort of meandering quality. It contains a handful of episode commentaries, a gag reel, and deleted scenes, but they are scattered across the three discs in a way that feels out of order. Some of the bloopers, for example, give away scenes and plot points that don’t occur until the next disc.
While the Botwins’ come full circle and return to the suburbs, the setting is no longer the primary source of satire. Instead, season eight's focus is on the failings of the health care system. Recovering from her injuries after nearly falling victim to an assassin, Nancy racks up some hefty medical bills, and a hospital representative eagerly explains, “We’re America; we take all credit cards.” Later, having joined a pharmaceutical company experimenting in legal pot pills, a horrified Silas (Hunter Parish) watches as his plant is mutilated and processed with copious amounts of additives, opening up the debate surrounding the “naturalness” of marijuana in contrast to the relative “unnaturalness” of conventional medicine.
But while season eight does manage to return to satire, there is one major and unfortunate change. Weeds has always been driven by Nancy Botwin’s proclivity for making the worst, most selfish decisions out of a belief that she is doing the right thing for her family. She is always reacting, never anticipating or preventing the predicaments she inevitably ends up in, and it's our frustration and fascination with the flustered yet sultry Nancy, so impeccably played by Parker, that makes the show so popular. But in this season, reeling after her brush with death, she sets out to clean up her act. Eventually stating that “time and loss have mellowed me,” Nancy’s loses that mischievous glimmer in her eye, which frankly results in a boring season.
Instead, Nancy’s sister Jill (Jennifer Jason Leigh) takes over the role of the train wreck. Up until this point she has been made out to be a cruel and jealous sister, constantly antagonizing Nancy even to the point of trying to steal her son. But season eight gives her character depth, showing that she is just as broken and confused as her sister, and they even begin to bond over how mutually messed up they are. Andy (Justin Kirk) enters a relationship with Jill, at first apparently because it’s the closest thing to being with Nancy, but it also seems to be what allows him to finally grow up. A pregnancy scare leads him to discover his great desire to be a father, but most importantly his time with Jill helps him gain the strength to finally break free from Nancy’s hold over him.
For the most part, the other characters are somewhat extraneous, none more so than Doug Wilson (Kevin Nealon). Rarely sharing a scene with the other characters, his absurd escapades do nothing to further the story and only function as lowbrow comedic relief. Finally, toward the end, his decision to make his own religion at least provides some satire, however limited. But even the Botwin boys have little impact in season eight; Shane (Alexander Gould) joins the police force and Silas seeks legal ways of pursuing his passion for growing marijuana, reflecting Nancy’s call to turn legit. None of the Botwins get themselves into the same kind of outrageous trouble we have seen them navigate for the past seven seasons, which is exactly was so enjoyable about the show.
All of this would be permissible if it had led to a clever conclusion, but the taming of the Botwins ends in an awkwardly thrown together finalé. The last few episodes of Weeds are self-indulgently nostalgic, pulling the cheap move of bringing back characters from the earlier seasons for brief appearances. Even worse, the finalé makes a clumsy jump into the future, complete with high-tech gadgets and legal marijuana. It all feels very forced, and a very sloppy way to wrap up what used to be such a smart and exciting show. The one redeeming factor is the moving final scene, depicting the reunited Botwin crew slowly gathering on the front porch, looking at each other knowingly as they silently pass around a joint. Paired with the exquisite sounds of Rilo Kiley’s “With Arms Outstretched,” their expressions seem to say “so, what next?”
This may be the only fitting way to end the rollercoaster ride that is Weeds: to not end it. At the heart of the series is the idea that, no matter how screwed up a family is, they still stick together through thick and thin. This is exactly why it feels like season eight tries to wrap things up too much. The Botwins have all more or less gotten their act together, leading this poignant story of withstanding hardships through familial love and dedication to fizzle out into a bland and even clichéd conclusion.