Weeds: “Red In Tooth And Claw”
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Weeds: “Red In Tooth And Claw”

It is a function of Weeds’ premise that it is a show about marijuana. However, I feel as though people sometimes erroneously suggest that the show depends on marijuana and storylines related to it. Rather, I would argue it is about Nancy’s dependence on marijuana, rather than the series’, as best exemplified by the sixth season. Nancy spends that entire season desperately trying to reestablish her marijuana empire, unable to imagine any other future for herself, despite the fact that simply settling down and working in a hotel would be a perfectly viable—and much safer—way to earn a living.

The Breaking Bad comparisons are unavoidable as I write this, knowing that we could make a similar argument about Walter White’s dependence on cooking meth. However, would anyone ever argue that Breaking Bad depends on meth, that it’s only exciting when it specifically involves the drug? Something about Weeds’ history seems to have convinced people that its appeal lies in the drug at its center rather than the people and stories around it, an indignity that the AMC series hasn’t suffered to the same degree.

“Red In Tooth And Claw” seeks to confront this expectation, and confront it it does. In a ballsy maneuver, Weeds effectively becomes a drug-free zone: Silas’ plants are stolen by his new friend, while Nancy takes all of her remaining stash and shreds it as opposed to trying to unload it. Stephen Falk’s script tears down almost everything the season had laid out to this point, leaving Shane’s courtship of Angela the only storyline that remains on the same path as when the episode began, and the episode creates plenty of questions about where exactly the season goes from here.

I have a lot of respect for the writers’ willingness to take marijuana out of the equation so swiftly, although I do think the absence of any clear structure is disconcerting. R.J.’s transformation into an off-his-meds creeper who wants Silas to suck his dick is too quick to register as actual character development, only casting more aspersions on Silas’ willingness to invite a total stranger to visit his grow house last week. The end result, allowing Silas to be forced to start over at the same time as his mother, offers a valuable narrative parallel but I don’t have any connection with Silas’ storyline. After being so neutered at the end of last season, Silas has similarly sleepwalked through much of this year, with only bits and pieces of character in his interactions with Kiku. His relationship with R.J. never felt grounded in anything particular, which means its resolution registers as the grand plan asserting itself as opposed to story threads coming together.

Nancy’s part of the episode is more successful, if only because she’s been building toward this for the entire series. The storyline with Stevie is a nice callback to Shane’s soccer game in the show’s pilot, but it’s also a moment of temptation. While at first Nancy again uses her intimidation tactics to get her way, eventually she finds herself in a situation where she needs money to provide for her son (a direct return to the premise of the first season), and when Kiku isn’t willing to buy her out, you wonder if she’ll go back in against her desires to start a new life. That she eventually shreds the weed is the first time in a long time that Nancy has chosen the path of least criminality when presented with a problem, but it’s at a time when the family is broke and when we’d expect her survival instincts to set in. Whereas the uncertainty serves as a black hole for Silas, his lack of direction rendering the character inert, the uncertainty surrounding Nancy is thrilling, and it continues to position the character as the season’s highlight.

The other existential crisis of sorts in the episode belongs to Andy, who is blatantly propositioned by the twins’ derby coach and reflects on why it is that some voyeuristic puppetmaster keeps handing him such carnal pleasures. While I felt Jessica Kiper was fairly flagrantly used as a form of—not entirely unwelcome—sexposition, I always enjoy when the show just lets Justin Kirk talk for a while, and I like the questions he’s asking about his relationship with the women in his life. A show at the end of its run isn’t always able to elegantly transition into the big picture, but Andy’s enough of a philosopher that this seems to fit his current state of mind. I’m less intrigued by Jill sleeping with a catatonic Doug—whose sleep-pooping adventure seems to have been a complete throwaway designed to emphasize his catatonic state so Jill’s sleep-rape would be possible—given that I still don’t see Jill and Andy as something meaningful, but as Andy and Nancy are the two characters whose arcs I’m most invested in, I felt this was a good step forward for both.

As for Shane’s date with Angela, we’re reaching the point in his storyline where I’m waiting for some semblance of plot. His secret about being in the police academy only lasted three episodes, his utility as part of the investigation was similarly short-lived, and now we’re following Shane like we’d follow any of the show’s other characters. I didn’t find the scenes at Ouellette’s apartment terrible, but I did find them aimless, and I just don’t think I’m going to suddenly become invested in Shane’s character arc here. Shane was only really interesting when the show was exploring his deep mental health issues, and so a more or less stable Shane doesn’t have much depth as a romantic figure or even as an individual. We could argue that no character but Nancy or Andy could really carry an entire storyline on their own at this point, with Silas damaged by the conclusion to the seventh season, but Shane feels particularly ill suited to such a spotlight.

While acknowledging there’s a certain thrill in narrative uncertainty, it’s also somewhat disconcerting to be nearly halfway through the final season with no clear sense of where the show goes from here. Perhaps we could compare it to the sixth season, when the show continually reset itself, but the show had become streamlined at that point to help facilitate the transition. Here, Weeds has simultaneously put down roots and chopped off all its branches, creating a lot of questions that I’m not wholly convinced will receive satisfying answers. I do think it’s brave to take the marijuana out of the equation, backing out of the stable business that ended last season, but I wish there was more of a support system in the supporting cast for me to feel that the season is still headed toward a compelling conclusion.

Stray observations:

  • This week’s “Little Boxes” comes courtesy of The Mountain Goats—who just released a new single—featuring Midtown Dickens.
  • There was an allure to Nancy’s attempted seduction of the Rabbi—who it’s revealed is the owner of the pool she’s been exercising in—but I find it a bit cute that she happens to be swimming in his pool. I get that it allows them to have him give similar advice to Nancy and Andy, foregrounding the function of Judaism as a pillar of the show’s moral framework (here focusing on the Jewish tradition of tevilah), but the contrivance bugged me.
  • Although next week’s episode was available to screen when I sat down to write this review, I chose not to watch it given that you’ll all watch this episode without the same benefit and I wanted to explore the sudden emptiness of the narrative in this moment. I’ll be curious to know if the preview for next week, which I don’t have access to, sheds any light on the subject for y’all.
  • It seems fitting that Doug’s literally been reduced to a half-awake penis as far as the plot is concerned, an object to be used as opposed to any semblance of a character. It doesn’t seem funny, at least to me, but it’s fitting nonetheless.
  • Nice to see the show confronting Stevie’s mixed-race status a bit—Stevie’s parentage largely got erased last season, so I was glad the suburban racism brought it to the surface.
  • I tend to prefer Jill when she’s a bit subtler, so “Extreme Couponing Jill” was not my favorite variant. Would make a fun action figure, though.
  • Why Women Sleep With Andy, Volume 47: “Also my girlfriend’s visiting her folks, and my TiVo’s out of Law & Order.”
  • “Want to smell my fingers?” No, Shane, I do not.

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