“What’s my job here?” asks Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker). She’s talking to her new semi-partner in crime, the charismatic Mexican-in-L.A. Guillermo (Guillermo Díaz). “Your job,” he answers as they stand side by side, looking out over the border between nations, “is to be a pretty American lady.” She nods. It’s a job she can manage. Still, Nancy insists, she has limits, she won’t bring heroin over. Guillermo turns his eyes on Nancy. “You got some arbitrary rules you live by, but you’re standing here, aren’t you?”

Indeed she is. Now that the fourth season of Weeds is underway, with Agrestic burned down and Nancy on the run in her Prius with her sons and brother-in-law Andy (Justin Kirk), she’s landed at the border, aptly liminal. As Nancy has from her inception straddled borders — between young and old, responsible and reckless, naïve and savvy — here she stands on a literal edge, a change-up from her three seasons with Conrad (Romany Malco) and Heylia (Tonye Patano). Though Nancy believes herself experienced, now she’s figuring another angle, playing the same part (a “pretty American lady”) in a new context.

For the time being, she and Andy and the boys, Silas (Hunter Parrish) and Shane (Alexander Gould), are staying with her father-in-law, Lenny (Albert Brooks, a snarky shot in the arm to the series), currently caring for his bedridden Bubbie (Jo Farkas, mostly reduced to farting and moaning). Nancy demonstrates her usual cluelessness on her arrival at Botwins South during the season’s premiere, “Mother Thinks the Birds Are After Her.” Seating herself alongside Bubbie with a plate of food she calls “German,” Nancy attracts Lenny’s attention because she still stinks of the gasoline she used to ensure her house would burn in the fire. “My mother was at Auschwitz, for Christ’s sake,” he snips. “What kind of a monster are you?” Nancy’s ready for any abuse he can think up, however. You’re right, she assures him, “I’m a terrible shiksa monster here to terrorize your clan.”

She’s all that and more. Nancy’s charm has long been a function of her capacity to comprehend her targets, thoroughly. But if she was surrounded by them in Agrestic, here she’s going to have to discover them. That’s not to say Lenny doesn’t make a big easy one right off, but he’s got his own issues and addictions (gambling at a local track, for instance), which complicate his hypocrisies, make his assessments of Nancy both more aggressive and messy than, say, Celia’s (Elizabeth Perkins).

In fact, Celia is facing some judgment of her own this season. Her not-entirely separate saga makes up the other half of Weeds‘ new start, such that the show is cleaved down its center, cutting awkwardly back and forth between Celia now imprisoned and Nancy fancy-free. Initially questioned by terse DEA Agent Roy Till (Jack Stehlin), Celia, whose house Nancy used to cultivate product, now faces serious time (“You’re fucked like a stray dog in Chinatown,” announced her defender, whom Celia had just verbally abused, of course). Whenever she appears for visiting hours, Celia shows increasingly surreal disarray, such that when Wilson (Kevin Nealon) and her daughter Isabelle (Allie Grant) offer encouragement, she wasn’t having it. Her hair braided and her face made up in scary-clowny cellie’s-bitch makeup, Celia is less funny than pathetic. Her fellow Agresticans (especially Isabelle) seem happy enough to let Celia pay for holding the lease on the grower house, while allowing Nancy’s escape (“This should be Nancy’s nightmare, not mine,” she pleaded with Wilson and Isabelle as they depart from one visit. “Help mommy!”). That Celia deserves her absurdist fate is probably true, according to the series’ upside-down-inside-out framework: Nancy’s cuter and less venal, her blithe moral relativism pointedly charming compared to Celia’s embodiment of all things arch-rightish.

This contrast was amplified as Nancy took up her new role — smuggler. While Silas restarted the supply at Bubbie’s place, she headed across the border and back in the season’s second episode, “Lady’s a Charm.” After long hours in the inspection line, some impulse buying (an iced latte, red guitar, and piñata), and smart-talking the border guards, she returned to Guillermo’s garage to learn that he was been testing her, recording her shenanigans with a camera hidden inside a bobblehead Jesus on her dash. “Go home and think about what you did wrong,” he tells Nancy. “Tomorrow we review the tape.” Her new mentor (and head of the Tres Seis gang) calls her “Blanca” and means to train her, to make use of her chronic flittiness but also shape it to his own ends.

It’s hardly assured Nancy will be able to play herself convincingly, repeatedly, and shrewdly, but Guillermo has a plan. He understands what it means to live on the border, to negotiate obscurities and stay steps ahead of the narcissistic white people. Nancy’s done that by default since Judah died, but hasn’t thought it through. While it’s not clear by any means that Blanca will be any more thoughtful this season, as a smuggler she will face more critical decisions and less comfortable contexts than back in the burbs.

RATING 6 / 10