Weeds: “It’s Time”
C

Weeds: “It’s Time”

A series finale is designed to rewrite history. No matter how many messy seasons or uneven episodes come between the pilot and a series’ final episode, the circular storytelling of a series finale often suggests that the middle was simply an amorphous journey between a definitive beginning and a definitive end. It’s one of the reasons why shows built around central mysteries often have such divisive finales: When you reach the final destination, the journey becomes a means to an end, and you start to question whether it was all worth it, or whether you stuck with a show that was always inevitably going to disappoint you.

Weeds was never a show about mysteries (although it started the season with one), except for the mystery of why the show continued for eight seasons. Creatively, the show lost steam at its halfway point, and its constant reinvention—while impressive—failed to recapture the novelty of the early seasons. The television landscape changed around the show, with the single-camera premium cable dramedy becoming a cliché in and of itself. As Showtime built a new stable of shows like Weeds over the past eight seasons, Weeds became less and less original, its continued existence a reflection of Showtime’s complacency and the fact the network never successfully developed a new comedy to replace it. It became the premium cable equivalent of Law & Order or CSI, shows that were once television benchmarks but eventually become the kind of shows you drift away from, and only watch when you land on them while channel surfing.

It seems safe to say that any lapsed Weeds viewers who stumble across “It’s Time” while channel surfing will be mighty confused. While series finales may tend to rewrite history, “It’s Time” spends a lot of time writing it, jumping forward roughly eight years to a world where marijuana is legal, Nancy’s now four times a widow (having married Rabbi Dave, who subsequently drove off a cliff), and everyone is gathered for Stevie’s Bar Mitzvah. This is not the first time that Weeds has jumped forward in time, so it’s not exactly surprising that Jenji Kohan would go to this well for the series finale. However, it’s also not surprising that “It’s Time” is as messy as we’ve come to expect Weeds to be, tripping over itself so often that a rare moment of honest, emotional character work seems almost too good to be true.

Weeds spent its entire season tripping over itself to set up this future, and the conclusion wasn’t worth the journey. Doug’s entire storyline this season served no purpose other than to position him as a cult-like figure in last week’s episode so that he could become an actual cult leader in an alternate future. All of Shane’s time on the wrong side of the law served as a stepping stone from which he could join Ouellette as an alcoholic corrupt cop who shoots pastries. Were either of these futures worth meandering, pointless storylines all season? No. Doug’s cult isn’t funny or clever enough to warrant its level of wackiness, while Alexander Gould struggles to age up Shane, failing to capture the character’s battle with alcoholism outside of a single, silent moment in the series’ closing scene. “It’s Time” did nothing to convince me that Doug shouldn’t have been written off at the end of season five (or season six, or season seven), nor did it live up to the potential in Shane’s storyline at around the same point (which never matched its croquet mallet-swinging climax).

The parts of “It’s Time” that work center on two relationships, relationships that Kohan wants you to believe have followed clearly articulated arcs rather than a history of false stars and misdirection. Nancy’s relationship with Silas is more complicated than her relationship with Shane, simply because Silas has always been old enough to understand his mother as an adult, and was the first to be integrated into her business. His childhood wasn’t normal, nor was his relationship with Nancy always healthy, but he went through it all at an age where people come into their own identities. Silas’ scenes with Nancy in “It’s Time” reflect a father and husband who has come to terms with his life and his past. There’s a moment at the bar mitzvah where Silas tells Nancy that his life isn’t about her anymore, and you can see the disappointment in her face. On some level she wants her son to be broken so that she has to try to fix him, but instead she’s pushed away by his wife, kept away from his grandchild, and treated as a chapter of his life he’s moved on from. It’s not an estrangement, as Doug suffered from Josh (who completes the circle from the pilot, which was the last time Justin Chatwin appeared on the series), but rather independence. The one redeeming part of Shane’s storyline is the parallel it offers, with Nancy pleading with Shane out of hope that she’ll have someone else to mother. Hunter Parrish embraces the character’s maturity in the episode, the one actor who really sells the time shift and offers a picture of a character we know at a different point in their lives. The show still botched this relationship at various points in the show’s existence (specifically the end of last season), but it remains a highpoint as the series comes to a close.

The other relationship is between Nancy and Andy, which is really what the entirety of “It’s Time” is built around. After his angry sex with Nancy on the sidewalk where his brother died, Andy did as he said he would: He went away and found his own life somewhere else. Of the various time gaps created by the episode, Andy’s works because it’s a gap for Nancy as well. She doesn’t know his father died, or that he had a kid with a waitress who works at his restaurant, or that he named her Lenni. Her anxiety over whether he’ll come to the Bar Mitzvah is the most compelling manifestation of her inability to move on with her life, also reflected in her unwillingness to sell the business that has made her exceedingly wealthy and in her refusal to allow Stevie to go to boarding school. With Andy, though, it’s a relationship we understand, with two actors that have done their best work with each other over the series’ run. The writers trotted out the idea of Nancy and Andy as a “Will They, Won’t They” couple on occasion, but in truth it’s something different. It was never about whether they would be together, but rather about how they each responded to Judah’s death and searched for a new identity with one another. For Andy, that search only truly began when he abandoned Nancy; for Nancy, that search begins when she’s independent of her children and the business in which she raised them, and when she learns to face herself as opposed to the people around her. Nancy’s conversation with Andy is another fine moment for Mary-Louise Parker and Justin Kirk, and a fitting final moment for their relationship.

In these two story threads, Jenji Kohan’s thematic goals for the finale are clear, and to my mind an apt conclusion to the series as a whole. The problem is that, while these storylines may work, they’re surrounded by a messy and distracting future filled with references and character returns that aren’t nearly as clever as Kohan believes them to be. The idea of jumping forward to Stevie’s Bar Mitzvah makes sense as an event that would unite the entire family, but Nancy’s relationship with Stevie has to work completely from scratch as a result. I actually liked the young actor playing Stevie, who did a fine job with the temple speech about his criminal father and his real origins, but given how often he disappeared this season, it’s hard to be invested in Stevie as a character.

Meanwhile, the entire future was just too clever by half. Why would Marvin and Sanjay travel across the country to attend the Bar Mitzvah? Why would Tim Scottson become Nancy’s assistant? Does anyone care about Jenji Kohan’s concerns about automated dry cleaning services with no humans to speak to if the wrong laundry comes out? I understand why Kohan wanted to fast forward to this point in Nancy’s life, the stage where her final son is “becoming a man,” and where her legacy is being judged in her sons’ lives and in her own success. It’s just that this decision comes with consequences, consequences in the form of imagined futures that spend too much time reorienting the viewer to allow the focus to remain on the characters. If you’re going to manipulate the narrative to arrive at a particular point, you need to justify that decision in more than just a handful of scenes. Like the series’ recent seasons, a few bright spots demonstrate the logic of certain creative decisions, but the rest of the episode reflects the short-sightedness of that logic, and the failures of executing larger story arcs to their fullest potential. For as simple as the final shot of the series was, with our five remaining regulars sitting in the snow sharing a joint, the rest of it was a convoluted train wreck outside of a few moments of subtle clarity.

And that’s fitting, isn’t it? Weeds has been a bit of a train wreck this season, and arguably for the past two seasons. I’ve been writing about the show for two years now, and it’s been an interesting experience. When a show runs this long, there comes a point where it’s almost impossible to watch it as a “fan,” where your relationship with the show starts to change beyond your control. As a critic, I came to see the show as a part of my past, something that I wanted to see through to the end if only to close a chapter in my life. Accordingly, I can understand Kohan’s desire to see Nancy through to an “end” of sorts, a point where she’s embarking on a new journey. The problem is that this ending was so removed from the last few seasons that it had no redemptive qualities. “It’s Time” made me feel as though my journey with Weeds was over, but it did little to atone for a mess of an eighth season, or a disappointing seventh season, or an unfocused fifth season, or a muddled third season.

This is probably being unfair to the show, to be honest. We’re always unfair to series finales, as every one of us have had a distinct journey independent of other viewers or the show’s writers. Some viewers maybe wanted closure for Celia after her sudden disappearance at the end of season five, and perhaps expected more than a brief mention of Isabelle’s sex change. “It’s Time” is Jenji Kohan’s closure, the episode that concludes the story in her eyes, and it confirms that she and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye when it came to this show. We have different tolerances for Doug Wilson, for example, and never came to an agreement on the value of the wacky collection of supporting characters the show amassed over the years. Most importantly, though, our levels of nostalgia for the series can’t really be compared. While she says goodbye to beloved friends and a life-changing part of her life, I say goodbye to weekly frustration and characters I wish I could have connected with more often over the series’ run.

I’m sure there were some who were right there with Kohan, the devotees who have continued to make the show one of Showtime’s highest rated comedies, and I understand where they’ve coming from. Nancy Botwin remains a standout character of the past decade, a female lead who’s allowed to own her sexuality and negotiate her place within worlds normally dominated by men, and the collection of actors and actresses amassed around Mary-Louise Parker remains an impressive feat of casting. The problem is that Showtime wanted the show to stay on the air, which meant that Kohan and the writers kept having to find new adventures for Nancy, new ways to try against all odds to keep the show fresh. Nancy’s defining characteristics became clichés, the cast members either disappeared or overstayed their welcome, and every narrative reinvention meant the show was one step further away from the place where it began. While we may not have seen how the last eight years of the series’ narrative played out, we did see how the show weathered its eight-year run, and the results were evident in this finale: Weeds was never built to run this long, and no imagined future could change the fact that its legacy will—for better or worse—be its decline rather than its ascent.

Episode Grade: C

Season Grade: C

Stray observations:

  • The final “Little Boxes” was indeed left to Malvina Reynolds, while the series closes with Rilo Kiley’s “With Arms Outstretched.”
  • There’s apparently talk of a spinoff, which is ridiculous but not exactly surprising. I have to presume it involves either Stevie at boarding school or Shane in rehab, but is anyone honestly jumping up and down for any of these future setups to play out in a series of its own?
  • I’m sad the show didn’t go with a full goatee for Shane so as to fuel alternate universe theories, but even that wouldn’t have made Alexander Gould look a day over 16.
  • I really liked the scene with Josh and Nancy just checking in on one another as he waits for his taxi. It doesn’t really serve any purpose other than reflecting again on how children grow up in light of their parentage, but I like the idea of these people who haven’t seen each other for years catching up. I would have liked more scenes like this in the finale as a whole.
  • Thanks to everyone who has been along for the ride as Weeds has played itself out over the past two seasons. There were moments where I wondered why I had agreed to it, but most weeks, it was an interesting exercise made all the better by your comments and discussion, both as fans and critics of the show’s final seasons. I’m proud of the fact that there exists a record of the show’s final seasons in the form of episodic criticism. Regardless of our opinions of the series’ legacy, I think it deserved that. Thanks for being part of it. 

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