“Unfreeze” S8 / E7
- B- Community Grade
When it began, Weeds consisted of a constellation of households. While characters’ storylines filtered through their everyday lives, they returned back to the homes of Nancy, Celia, and Heylia as spaces of (relative) stability. It was a simpler time when Silas was still a teenager, Shane was barely a pre-teen, and where the domestic space remained the locus of most of the show’s stories.
When Majestic burned to the ground, however, this changed. While new domestic spaces were established—Bubbie’s house in Ren Mar, Esteban’s compound, the motor home, the loft—all felt comparatively temporary, and were all isolated from any sense of community (with the few attempts at community, like the RV park in season six, resulting in hasty exits). Simultaneously, as Silas and Shane grew into something resembling adulthood, the domestic space was no longer capable of containing their stories, meaning that the show continued to expand into non-domestic spaces (the workplace, the classroom, etc.).
As Weeds heads into the back half of its final season, it has returned to the domestic space on paper, in the form of the Botwin-Price-Gray compound introduced at the end of the seventh season. However, the show is no longer invested in the household as focal point, with nearly every character now having their own space, their own life, outside the home. While “Unfreeze” begins and ends with the show’s characters gathering in the family kitchen, reflecting its continued presence as a token stabilizing force, that we never return to the domestic space in between demonstrates how our characters have become fractured as their lives have evolved.
The scattered nature of the season’s storylines has been a recurring concern, but in “Unfreeze” it gains more thematic focus. When Nancy freezes the kids as they run through the kitchen, as the chaos of everyone’s various days converges in the same space they transitioned through that morning, it gives the character and the show a moment of reflection. The writers have been so quick to move characters into new settings that there hasn’t been that chance to bring everyone—minus Doug, who’s off on an oppressively dull island—together to allow the larger arc to fall into place. The dinner scene back in “Only Judy Can Judge” ostensibly served this function, but a whole lot has changed even in the past three episodes, and we were missing another chance to gain perspective on the “big picture” as it related to all characters, as opposed to only Nancy.
It was well-timed given that so many characters are transitioning into new jobs, a congruence that structures “Unfreeze.” Shane graduates from the police academy and, too young to become a full-fledged police officer, is shuffled off to the impound lot to—we presume—bask in corruption. Silas, who has become a legitimate lab technician helping grow marijuana somehow, meets a surly co-worker with a distractingly attractive girlfriend he definitely isn’t going to start a relationship with. Andy, turning to our recurring rabbi—every show needs one!—for a job, becomes the “afternoon discussion” leader for a group of young Jewish boys with attitude problems. Nancy, meanwhile, has her first day as a “Pharma Girl,” sent off to persuade a reluctant doctor to take her wares—and her wiles—for a test drive.
While Shane’s storyline is a non-starter at this point, continuing to feel undercooked, the others feel familiar in a way I appreciate. There’s not much to say about Silas’ storyline, but the introduction of a love interest gives the character something approaching forward momentum for the first time since the end of last season. It’s somewhat reductive that it’s another love interest, as I think finding the kid a friend would have been just as effective (at least if that friend is more substantive than R.J. was), but it helps transition Silas into a normal, legitimate 20something existence. The big question for the kids this season is how broken they are after these experiences, and whether they are capable of moving beyond the domestic space and, potentially, creating domestic spaces of their own. Their storylines still seem “minor” compared to Nancy and Andy, perhaps never capable of flipping the hierarchy established at the start of the series, but the work worlds established here at least give them a space to explore their budding independence.
That seems to be the function of Andy’s storyline, which I’m tentatively calling “School Of Rock: Rabbinical Edition.” The after-school program is hardly a central space for the series, but it’s a space where Andy can explore his pending fatherhood and his past responsibilities more closely. Life lessons have always been a key part of Andy’s role as surrogate father to Silas and—particularly—Shane, and putting his rabbinical training to good use allows Andy numerous opportunities to reflect on his journey thus far (and allows the show to make another callback to earlier seasons). Although the very idea of getting a job signals Andy’s maturity as he prepares to become a father—a storyline I still find specious, but one I’m accepting as the show/character’s future—we also see his growth as a mentor, his unorthodox but effective scare tactics displaying a confidence and competence that is far from the bumbling character we met in the first season. Andy has evolved, and Justin Kirk’s performance is as enjoyable—perhaps more enjoyable—here as it was during the more broadly comic portion of the character’s arc.
Of course, if Andy’s storyline reflects his evolution as a character, Nancy’s first day on the job reflects just how little she’s changed. The way the doctor lays out the unethical and law-breaking component of selling pharmaceuticals is writerly—taking the underlying themes and stating them outright—but it creates the perfect moment for Nancy as a character: As a person tries to reason with her to leave a profession because of its immorality, Nancy finds herself so turned on by the idea that she has sex with him then and there.
We’ve seen Nancy get sexually stimulated on the job before—I immediately thought of her tryst with Alejandro in the first season—but there’s a pride in Nancy’s behavior here I find unsettling and compelling. We could read Nancy’s success as the triumphant defeat of her rival—who set her up with the difficult client—or the hilarious escapades of everyone’s favorite Mother/drug dealer, but the speed at which she embraces the unethical side of the job is also damning to her efforts to return to the straight and narrow. Just as prison proved less than rehabilitative, with Nancy again using sex to both survive and strategize (with the balance between them unclear), her efforts to find legitimate employment have only turned into another outlet for Nancy to perform what might simply be a fundamental part of her character as opposed to a symptom of her profession.
Building on some comments from last week, though, there’s also the argument that Weeds is making a larger social statement, indicting the pharmaceutical industry for validating Nancy’s behavior more than Nancy for continuing that behavior. For now, I’m not sure the social commentary angle is working as well as the character angle (in part because of how plainly the script has the good Doctor lay it all out for Nancy), but it is something the writers could explore, and ties into a larger question: Is Nancy a victim if the pharmaceutical industry encourages and enables her to fall into the same kind of behaviors that she previously saw as self-destructive? While the show has often aimed for social commentary, I worry about a larger statement overshadowing the character’s sense of agency, so that balance will be something to watch as the season progresses.
“Unfreeze” suffers from feeling like the third time the season has taken stock of its characters in entirely different positions, and I don’t know if we’ve really seen enough progress in characters who aren’t Nancy to really allow that meaning to sink in. However, while the spaces characters inhabit may be outside of the domestic sphere, there is a structure to their new employment that offers the promise of a new kind of stability. Whether that structure is all about to crumble down depends on where the writers choose to take the story from here, but “Unfreeze” is the most solid the season has felt to date.
- This week’s “Little Boxes” comes from The Womenfolk. If you've never heard of them, it's because this is a historical cover from the mid-1960s, which is a bit of a shift from previous weeks.
- Pick your pop-culture reference point for Pharma Girls: How I Met Your Mother or Work It? I bet you all picked Work It.
- The one part of the episode that didn’t feel solid? Doug’s ridiculous charity scheme—which the show never bothered to explain in detail, creating some initial confusion when the issue of the homeless shelter came up—falling out from under him. I’m even past the point where Doug getting his comeuppance elicits a response, and there just isn’t an upside for me here.
- Shane not telling his family about his graduation is heartbreaking, but also undersold; I get that there’s tension over his job choice, but that tension hasn’t really surfaced in any meaningful way, and Nancy’s relationship with Shane has been downplayed—even outright ignored—since she found out about the career choice. It’s a consequence of the density of the season to date, and constrained the dramatic potential of that moment.
- I was working on this review as the comments were coming in last week, and was interested in a discussion about the sets given my focus on how the spatial dimensions of the show are changing. The lack of space between spaces on the show—which also came up in last week’s Bunheads comments, incidentally—seems to be the big change to me, and has made Old Sandwich a non-entity to this point. I expect this is due to budgetary restrictions, ultimately, but it does make a difference when you go back to the first season in particular.