"Vehement v. Vigorous" S7 / E7
- C+ Community Grade
On Thursday, Showtime held its portion of the Television Critics’ Association Summer Press Tour, and David Nevins (its President) was answering questions as part of the executive session. In the midst of that conversation, he revealed that Showtime is a network where “If [viewers] fall in love with something, they know it’s going to be back next season.”
Following along on Twitter as these comments were made, my mind turned to Weeds. Everyone thought the show’s sixth season would be its last, until it wasn’t, and all the renewal did was create more expectation that the seventh season must be the end. In fact, in last week’s comments there was some discussion of how this season didn’t seem to be setting up for the end, potentially problematizing this notion.
I was hopeful that someone at Press Tour would ask Nevins for specific information on Weeds’ future, and HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall was kind enough to indulge my wish. Nevins’ answer, in case you missed it on the Newswire, was this: Weeds still has “real life in it.”
I laughed. I rolled my eyes. I shook my head. Say what one might about the current creative state of Weeds, which I’d argue remains above the middle portion of the series’ run, but it is not a show that can just keep going. Nancy can only scrape her way out of so many situations, and the notion that the show’s constant reinvention hasn’t strained the show’s premise is ludicrous. I don't want to wish the show's cast and crew out of a job, but there is a shelf life to any television show, and I'd argue Weeds is far closer to the end than to the beginning.
While the show has not been officially renewed, it has become clear that looking at this season as a potential conclusion is only going to bring disappointment. Given that Weeds remains Showtime’s highest-rated comedy, and given that no other comedy has emerged to challenge for that title (with Nurse Jackie, The Big C and the now canceled United States of Tara falling precipitously), it appears the network has no desire to part ways with the show.
I watched “Vehement v. Vigorous” before hearing about all of this, but it’s hard not to see the episode in light of this news. If we forget the idea that this could be the final season, that they’re building to something transformative or life-changing (as we saw last season), it becomes more obvious that the show is building a collection of scenarios that may or may not continue into subsequent seasons. While this particular episode suggests that at least one of those scenarios has a limited shelf life, convenient more than meaningful, the rest of the episode — the parts involving Silas, Andy, Shane — seems more invested in laying down something approaching roots.
One of Nancy’s greatest skills, we could argue, is her ability to lay down roots quickly and abandon them when they are no longer of use to her. She’s a survivor, someone who has certain skills (like, for example, ‘brick dancing’) that allow her to weather the ups and downs of her chosen career. When the season began, let’s remember, we discovered that she seemed to have done pretty well in prison: Zoya proved a valuable ally, someone that Nancy could use to her advantage when she was released, but she was also immediately expendable. As soon as she was free from that environment, her survival instincts shifted gear, and she put down a new set of roots with Dimitri.
Obviously, the conclusion here demonstrates the problem with this approach: Just as Esteban resisted her efforts to take away his son last season, Zoya is less than pleased to discover that her ‘lover’ has abandoned her. It’s not clear how Zoya was released (given that the premiere established that she was far from parole), but the effect is immediate. That cold stare sells the danger Nancy finds herself in, having scorned a woman prone to vicious acts of revenge against those who play with her emotions. It’s an effective cliffhanger, and it certainly shifts Nancy’s storyline into a more complicated space.
However, what frustrates me about Nancy’s storyline this season is that the show hasn’t bothered to make putting down roots difficult in any way. The show was positioned to create a situation where Nancy couldn’t easily establish a new life: She was confined to a halfway house, she was jobless, her family wasn’t there to support her, and her reckless nature could easily place her back in prison. While she may have been given a reprieve by Esteban’s death, part of the tension of the season was that her freedom was a falsehood, an illusion that could create a considerable amount of conflict.
The show has occasionally touched on this, but Nancy has barely been affected by her incarceration. The halfway house has high-speed internet and an iMac to allow her to communicate with Jill, she gets a cushy job with Doug, and with Silas’ help she has re-established an enterprise that will keep her financially stable. I see what the show is going for here: As Heylia pointed out last week, Nancy has these people who will do anything for her, and yet she continually uses their support and will only hurt them in the end. We’ve seen it with her relationship with Andy, among others, and it’s certainly coming to pass with Zoya as well.
However, I think it’s all been a bit too easy. As much as I take the thematic point, the actual narrative has been damaged by just how smoothly Nancy has transitioned back into a normal life. The show has gestured towards the halfway house being a dangerous environment, but they’ve done nothing to flesh out the setting, more or less abandoning it beyond webcam chats and the administrators (who, based on what happens to Counselor Ed in this episode, are being treated as a source of comedy rather than drama). There just hasn’t been any real trials facing Nancy, which has made the show’s reconstruction of the criminal enterprise both incredibly transparent and problematically rote.
Obviously, Zoya’s return adds tension, but it’s the kind of forced cliffhanger tension that feels predictable. While last season gave us a Nancy that was making it up as she went along, spontaneous and caught somewhere between action and reaction at any given moment, this season Nancy’s just sort of going through the motions and having things happen to her. The reveal this week that the financial scandal at Vehement was just an excuse to usher in SEC agents who offer Nancy a “Get out of the halfway house free” card in exchange for information almost makes it seem like the writers are coddling Nancy, designing a season that gives her everything she ever wanted. Similarly, Zoya's appearance complicates her "perfect day" without making the contrived circumstances any less contrived.
In the comments last week, someone suggested this is all a ruse: The writers are building Nancy up only to have her fall further than ever before, a fall perhaps beginning with the return of Zoya. This remains possible, and in fact it might be the only option that would make the transparent structure logical; the more we see how the stars are aligning for Nancy (a fitting metaphor given last week’s conclusion), the more we understand how they might fall out of alignment. However, if this is truly not the last season, can this fall be large enough to make this theme land? If the end of this season sets the show up to have “real life in it” in Showtime's eyes, can Nancy be brought down to the kind of peg necessary to sell this story? Reviewing the show week-to-week, it’s always tough when you know that the big picture isn’t entirely clear, so I reserve final judgment on the season as a whole until we start to see the pieces come together more clearly — however, for better or for worse, consider me skeptical.
Until then, though, I can only review what I have in front of me, and I’m not enjoying watching this scenario unfold. Nancy’s time at Vehement might be building towards something, but to this point it’s been some half decent interactions with Aidan Quinn and Doug’s roid rage. Even if I put aside my concern that the storyline was all a carefully constructed house of cards that brings the SEC deal into the picture and gives Doug something to do, and that the show will be abandoning it without exploring it with any more depth, the results to this point just haven’t been engaging. If there was a comic spark here, or a dramatic weight, I’d be able to look past how transparent it all seems; instead, with nothing else to focus on, the mind wanders to the contrivance, especially given that the SEC arrival confirms the impressions that Vehement will be in the rear view mirror soon enough (and comes through two oddly inept SEC agents of little value).
One of the things the sixth season did extremely well was create the sense that they could have truly settled in Seattle — when the show abandoned that setting after only a few episodes, it made a real statement about the season’s themes. The show is going for something similar here, with Andy making connections with local business owners (to try to lay down roots independent of the cover business angle), Shane working his way into an internship with a sleazy detective (who is being played way too broadly, in my view), and Silas starting to use his modeling background as a way to build a network of runners. It’s possible that Andy’s front could persist into next season, that Shane could make the transition into the Police academy, and that Silas and Nancy’s enterprise could evolve to the point where they could avoid direct contact with customers and focus exclusively on the macro-level side of things.
However, I’m reaching the point where I just want these characters to move on. We’re at the point in this story where, as someone who has been watching since the beginning, I have no desire to see these characters continue to define their lives around Nancy. They need to make a clean break, all of them, and so long as the show continues they will be unable to do so. I want them to be free from Nancy’s grasp, able to define their lives outside of the confines of the show’s formula. I remain connected to these characters, but the drawn out nature of that connection and their ongoing victimization at the hands of Nancy means that I want them to walk away…which, effectively, means that I want the show to end.
“Vehement v. Victorious” is not a terrible half-hour of television. I do think it is a bit strange that we skip over Silas’ time with Heylia, fastforwarding through potential character development in favor of motoring on with the storyline, but I’m guessing that’s a logistical issue more than anything else. And yes, the whole boxing interlude seemed a bit random (outside of the show’s intent to get Parrish sweaty and half-naked while working out his Mommy issues). That being said, I appreciated the circular nature of Nancy’s journey (calling back to the pilot with the sporting event, as Andy helpfully — and a bit obnoxiously — points out for us), and there was some value to the stark honesty in the conversation between Mary-Louise Parker and Aidan Quinn. I have no interest in their relationship, mind you, but there’s a bit of chemistry there. Similarly, it’s nice to see Andy making a move to separate himself from Nancy, the one character who seems committed to charting his own course (although a lock on the door hardly constitutes a clean break).
However, we’ve reached the point in the season where lingering doubts begin to weigh more heavily. While last season was similarly uneven, there was a sense of possibility to the show’s storylines, a sense of tension and purpose that drove the show’s storytelling. This year, with tension and purpose replaced with transparent contrivance, the unevenness is more problematic, and episodes like “Vehement V. Vigorous” raise questions that the show doesn’t seem willing to answer (even as they answer more basic questions like “What was the point of the financial scandal angle?”). This might all be leading to something complex and interesting, and I’ll be here to commend them for it should that come to pass, but the process of getting to that point needs to be better than what we saw here.
- For those who continue to enjoy the show, consider this my one midseason “How long can this show really continue?” lament. Considering that it’s the halfway point, I think they’re questions many people are asking, but I won’t bog down subsequent coverage with weekly reprisals of the same argument.
- Just out of curiosity, I remain sort of perplexed by what Shane’s student loan scheme actually involves. Is this something that happens a lot, or is it just something that could TECHNICALLY happen (with some creative license) that the writers are using as a cheap way to get Nancy and Andy startup cash for their businesses?
- I hated it last season, and I hated it here: Doug is many things, but too stupid to tell overweight African American people apart and too stupid to remember that U-Turn is dead pushes things too far. I guess we can blame the roid rage here, but that joke really bugged me last season, so to see it referenced as though it was a beloved callback irked me.
- I remain somewhat confused why Silas’ agent didn’t tell him to throw the fight before he actually started fighting — why they didn’t write the scene so she was reminding him that she wants him to throw the fight, instead of telling him for the first time, is unclear.
- “Aren’t you the wheel guy?”
- “Are you wearing a sports bra?”
- “Three, all dead.”
- “Fuck hookin’ — I’m going to college.”