After putting their lead character into a coma for the entirety of last week’s “Messy,” Weeds’ writers effectively turned the start of the show’s last season into a two-part première. While “Messy” served as a direct epilogue to the shooting at the end of the seventh season, informing us that Nancy was the victim and Tim Scottson was the shooter, “A Beam Of Sunshine” flashes forward in time—77 days to be exact—to give us a better sense of who Nancy Botwin is as the eighth season really begins. It’s a strategy that works better than last week’s première, focused on a more complex—if also more divisive character—but it’s also a strategy that once again fails to give us a clear sense of where the season is heading.
This is perhaps best captured in the brief drop-in at Vehement Capital, the waste of time and space introduced last season. While I had been hoping the return to the suburbs might allow Vehement to remain silent partners in the series’ conclusion, bankrolling Nancy’s operation—and operations, I suppose—without actively dragging down the rest of the series, here we get a brief scene of Doug and Whit enjoying models trying to sell them on a new business idea. Other than ogling at the women in question, the scene only serves to remind the viewer that Vehement was never successfully elevated to the point of satire, instead remaining a dumb and pointless detour in what proved to be a (mostly) pointless seventh season.
It’s also merely a token drop-in to remind us that Vehement still exists, rather than the foundation for an actual storyline. The same goes for Silas, who’s seen enjoying some S&M play with his former modeling agent only to remind us she exists, while Shane’s new pal at police academy is a thinly drawn exposition device designed to drop some anvils to eventually lead Shane to Tim Scottson’s Facebook profile. Those scenes seem designed to suggest the status quo remains intact from the end of last season, but the storylines all felt remarkably insignificant, with zero momentum outside of forced cliffhangers.
It doesn’t help that, unlike last week, the supporting characters are no longer reacting to Nancy’s near-death experience, and the episode also has Mary-Louise Parker back to explore Nancy’s recovery. While I will acknowledge that Nancy is not the most likeable character on the show, she’s far and away the most interesting, and the best parts of “A Beam Of Sunshine” have to do with her complicated rehabilitation. As some speculated last week, Nancy’s shooting has given her a new lease on life, with the eponymous radiance a new personality trait for the character. As one of the healthier patients in the ICU, she becomes the beneficent caretaker who roams the halls giving out the mail and greeting everyone with a smile. It’s a definite departure for the character, and Parker nails the earnest yet also unnerving turn in Nancy’s attitude.
However, what I like most about the storyline is that Nancy really hasn’t changed at all. While she may have a more positive outlook on life, and she may have new goals about how she wants to go about living that life, she’s still using drugs in her campaign to make people happy, and she’s still using fear and intimidation in her efforts to correct the market on illicit yet medically helpful marijuana being dispensed by the cannabis-carrying clown. While her motives may be different, her tactics remain the same, which makes it all too easy to imagine Nancy’s newfound altruism breaking down in the weeks ahead. There’s a vulnerability to her transformation nicely captured in her effort to climb a set of stairs, as we witness a version of Nancy who has new perspective on—if not an entirely new approach to—life and must struggle to rebuild her identity one step at a time.
Despite my appreciation for this storyline, it only calls attention to how the show lacks a single other character who is going through comparable character development. Don’t get me wrong: Nancy’s struggle should be the center of the show, and I think any final season that doesn’t focus on her character misses the point of the series. However, at the same time, the show has been at its best in recent years when it has tied Nancy’s development to characters like Shane, Silas, and Andy, when the various narrative pieces were part of a larger whole. While Silas gets drafted to bring in some marijuana-laced treats, and Shane is investigating Nancy’s shooting, both characters feel marginalized from any meaningful character development, a problem the season needs to solve sooner rather than later. The increased role for Nancy made “A Beam Of Sunshine” a better glimpse at the season ahead than the première, and I really liked her scenes with both Shane and Silas as they related to her storyline, but the episode also made clear the deficiencies within the supporting cast heading into that same season.
While I would argue that there is objectively little substance for Shane, Silas, and Doug in these first two episodes, Andy and Jill’s romance is undeniably a major storyline for the show. Unfortunately, as noted last week, I have zero interest in it. Jennifer Jason Leigh is growing on me in the role, and I continue to enjoy Justin Kirk, but I simply have no investment in their relationship. Given that it was only really introduced as a real storyline in last week’s episode, rushing into Andy fighting for their love and keeping her from reuniting with her husband was simply unearned; I’m not entirely opposed to the idea of these two together, but the groundwork isn’t there for the storyline to work. If the writers find a way to make this meaningful beyond telling us it’s meaningful through bathroom sex, it might be able to gel in the future; however, to this point, it’s failing both in terms of dramatic resonance and in terms of comic value (given that it continues to rely on the “crazy sex antics” version of Andy that I feel has little shelf life at this stage in the series’ run).
“A Beam Of Sunshine,” when combined with “Messy,” still feels like an introductory chapter to the season. We end the episode with the promise of a new beginning for Nancy, and the promise of a real beginning to the final season. It’s unclear what world Nancy intends to make for herself when she returns to the suburbs, and I am—honestly—mildly optimistic about where the character is heading as Weeds comes to an end. I just wish that there were something more around Nancy—something that wasn’t an underdeveloped relationship or an overcooked serialized mystery—to give me a sense that the rest of the series can build around Nancy instead of remaining in her shadow.
- Our first “Little Boxes” cover of the season: Ben Folds, who I was surprised hadn’t covered the theme song back in the earlier seasons.
- Also, since there was some interest in documenting this last year: the end credits song was Winterpills’ “We’ll Bring You Down.”
- At least the one-dimensional exposition machine Shane bonds with at the police academy—and potentially a future love interest, I suppose—offers some racial diversity.
- As far as heavy-handed comments on the failings of the American health care system go, I preferred the running tally of Nancy’s medical bills to the administrator’s monologue last week.
- I liked the detail about Nancy’s infamy growing to epic proportions in the rumor mill of the suburbs. We don’t really meet anyone in the suburbs yet to get a sense for Old Sandwich as compared to Agrestic, but a sense of community would do the series well at this point.
- I appreciated Scott’s fairly level-headed approach compared to Jill last season, so I was a bit dismayed to find him turned into such a one-dimensional figure after his trip to India. He seemed simultaneously overwritten and underwritten to facilitate Andy’s self-discovery.
- Since I’ll take any excuse I can get to reference this: Nancy’s doctor was played by Stoney Westmoreland, who I know best from his guest stint on ABC Family’s short-lived Huge, which I cannot recommend highly enough.
- I almost forgot the most important revelation of all: Silas’ blonde hair is back. I expect the debate between brunette/blonde Silas to tear America—nay, the world—apart.