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Weeds: “Saplings”

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Weeds

“Saplings”

Season 8, Episode 9

While the strongest material in Weeds’ eighth season has focused on Nancy, “Saplings” is a reminder that the show is actually dominated by male characters late in its run, particularly after Jill and the twins shuttled back to Oakland between episodes. It leaves Nancy as the lone female character, and shifts the focus of the season from the woman at the center of the show’s universe to those who orbit around her.

For Silas, this remains a point of tension. I’ve said on numerous occasions this season that Silas has become a frustrating character in recent seasons, his big arc in the seventh season coming undone when the writers swept his conflict with Nancy under the rug to unite the family under one roof. “Saplings” turns up a corner of that rug to draw some of the tension, but Silas and Nancy’s trip to North Carolina lacks the kind of development necessary to create a memorable storyline. The idea of Nancy struggling to accept Silas’ decision to branch out on his own reflects the basic themes abandoned last season, but it has trouble finding anything to latch onto, leaving Mary-Louise Parker and Hunter Parrish to conjure something out of minimal development.

This isn’t to say that their conversations in the episode don’t refer to larger themes or tie into existing storylines: Last week’s episode set up Silas’ displeasure with growing marijuana that won’t be enjoyed by regular people, and there have been a few circumstances this season where Nancy has reflected on her role in her children’s lives (like her concern about leaving Stevie behind in “Five Miles To Yetzer Hara”). However, building on a concern I outlined last week, the episode doesn’t do much to tie in this story with Nancy’s journey—and therefore the season’s journey—thus far: It makes sense for Silas to be talking to Big Tobacco—although I have questions about how exactly they found out about his prowess—but there’s no clear tie between Nancy’s storyline in the previous episode and this one. We last left Nancy faking a robbery, selling an entire batch of ADHD drugs at a college party with Jill, and then quizzing Stevie on his state capitals. When we pick things up in “Saplings,” Jill’s suddenly gone and we have no sense of Nancy’s future plans (and whether she has any plans to keep selling drugs illegally to make extra money). It’s like Nancy’s arc stopped entirely, allowing her to shift into a completely different role in Silas’ story.

As a continuation of Silas and Nancy’s ongoing relationship, there’s some good reflection here, and Parker and Parrish do their best with what they’re given. But the continuity with past seasons lacks impact when there haven’t been any recent interactions to build on and when Silas’ character has been such a nonentity to this point. This felt like a short story set in the Weeds universe as opposed to a piece of the larger season, with the tobacco company offer organized to provide the right level of risk, uncertainty, and conveniently talkative patriarchs willing to chat about the challenge of maintaining relationships with your children over time. Those are all ideas that make sense within this world, but they would have been far more effective if they connected to more of what we’ve seen so far.

By comparison, the absence of Jill allowed “Saplings” to focus more on how Andy has changed this season, and his trip for pancakes with the good Rabbi and Matthew—one of his afternoon discussion pupils—proves productive. The episode plays with seriality nicely as Andy ponders the kind of person he wants to be with, raising the specter of Andy’s relationship with Nancy before steering toward the friendly waitress and her seasonal blueberries. The fact that she and Andy share the experience of having appendages removed from their body was perhaps too cute for even a whirlwind meet-cute, but Andy’s rash decision to marry her on the spot offers a nice outlet for both his growing maturity and his essential impulsiveness. As much as one might think Andy’s decision is rash, and it’s very likely this marriage—if they even go through with it—will prove to be a terrible mistake, I find it quite fitting that Andy would jump at the first sign of something genuine and earnest after a long line of complicated relationships. Joanna isn’t a character yet, but Aubrey Dollar is cute and charming, which helps me buy this as a ray of hopefulness as opposed to self-destructive behavior.

While Andy rushing into a new marriage feels like something his character would do, the effort to pitch Rabbi Dave and Nancy as an actual relationship is a case of the writers rushing into something before they’ve justified it. After giving Dave almost no characterization to this point, using him as a mouthpiece for the season’s religious themes, they retconned a dead wife into the proceedings and pushed him into a big romantic gesture at episode’s end. Last week, Dave and Nancy’s sex felt transgressive, part of the theme of Nancy returning to her old ways; here, that transgression is reframed as the Rabbi’s guilt over his dead wife, a decision that seeks to forget Nancy’s deviance in favor of a more traditional romantic pairing. It’s good that we’re getting to know Dave better if the character is sticking around, but I had trouble reconciling the storyline so far with the seemingly serious relationship created by the kiddie pool.

I’m having trouble reconciling the season as a whole, if we’re being honest. Even ignoring the character I’m officially refusing to discuss at this point, the show seems to be constantly switching gears between scenes. The Nancy in North Carolina feels entirely disconnected from the Nancy who walks into the backyard to meet with David, and not in a way that was purposeful—while the dichotomy between Nancy teaching Stevie state capitals and selling drugs to college kids speaks to the character’s duality, this simply feels like two storylines on two different frequencies with no sign of convergence. There might be continuity between these storylines and the series’ general history and themes, but the lack of continuity between plots happening simultaneously or in consecutive episodes makes an episode like “Saplings” lack the type of meaning we would normally like to associate with a show just four episodes from its series finale.

Stray observations:

  • This week’s “Little Boxes” comes from country artist Dierks Bentley.
  • I am not kidding above: I refuse to even mention that character’s name at this point. Until the point that storyline starts demonstrating a sliver of value, I’m just going to pretend it doesn’t exist.
  • Unfortunately, Shane’s storyline here wasn’t much better: We could see his attempt to demonstrate his masculinity to Angela as a counterpart to Silas’ assertion of his independence, and David and Andy’s choice to move on in their romantic lives, but that doesn’t make it funny or interesting. It just kills time, a description I wish I wasn’t using this late in the show’s run.
  • So was Nancy and Jill’s night out just a one-night-only gig to cheer Jill up? I was confused when the episode started, and the episode never offers a satisfying explanation for what happened between these two events, meaning I am open to any suggestions regarding what we saw, exactly.
  • I know I don’t focus on the comedy often, but I will say that “Rabbi Dave totally diddled a goy” made me laugh.

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