“System Overhead” is an improvement over the last few episodes of Weeds’ seventh season, but I don’t think it’s necessarily better.
I’m aware this seems like a contradiction: “It has a higher grade,” you say, or “You don’t know what the word ‘improvement’ means,” you might suggest. However, I consider “System Overhead” an improvement by default, defined by the emergence of vital signs (in the form of real stakes and real plot development) that have been all but absent throughout the middle section of the season but remain uneven in both concept and execution. As much as the show gets credit for finally putting the pieces together and as much as that has me more invested than at any point this season, this is not a stunning display of narrative prowess: It’s just the show finally putting two and two together and ending up with about three-and-a-half.
The central conflict that we end up with at the end of the episode is an interesting one, as Nancy and Silas’ different approaches to dealing with the Pouncy House place Silas (and Nancy, for that matter) in considerable danger. While Nancy is working with Shane’s new father figure to push him into planning a raid on the Pouncy House and eliminating their competition, Silas is working with the Pouncy House in order to take advantage of their distribution network and secure peace while maintaining a degree of financial stability. While we could debate the merit of each plan, the important thing is that Nancy gets her raid just as Silas gets his deal, which means that Nancy has placed her son in a very compromising position.
While the show’s penchant for cliffhangers almost gives you the sense that Silas is in immediate danger, it’s not actually a cliffhanger so much as an exaggerated scenario that establishes the broader tension that will be the focus of the next episode. The police aren’t going to raid the Pouncy House that very second while Silas is brokering the deal, but he could be there when they do so, which is why he’s standing there to accept the phone call. However, there’s a tremendous energy to that final sequence, the caper-style music while Silas is explaining the Botwin family body count and Nancy talks her way into a police raid with Mitch really capturing the momentum that this provides the season as a whole.
The question, though, is who made the better deal, a question that I think is actually really interesting. Silas’ decision makes business sense, accepting that the Pouncy House has an established network that threatens his family's ability to operate and expand while also leveraging their one advantage (their exclusive strains, born out of Nancy’s connection with Dimitri and Heylia). It’s a sustainable long term deal that leverages their strength while limiting their overhead, and more importantly, it gives them experience and expertise in the part of the game where they have the least of those things.
It’s also a deal that Nancy would have never considered. Nancy isn’t one for cooperation, in part because she’s never been one for the day-to-day dealings of her business. In fact, despite her resourcefulness and her survival instincts, she really has no idea how to run a business of this nature: Conrad more or less carried her through the first two seasons, U-Turn and Guillermo ran the show over the next few seasons, and Esteban elevated her well beyond the day-to-day when they were married. Nancy’s mind works on survival, which is why a plan that eliminates the competition is her immediate instinct. It’s quick, it’s clean, and it protects her sons (and herself) from the same fate.*
*Well, it protects them in theory. I do wonder whether or not Emma wouldn’t try to sell Nancy out in the process of her arrest, at least revealing that Nancy isn’t quite who she says she is, but I’m guessing that if we get to that point, Emma will be so smitten with Silas that she’ll resist the urge to throw him under the bus.
I like this parallel because both mother and son are wrong on some level. Nancy is too quick to “burn down the house,” jumping at whatever solution allows her and her family to get on with their lives, but considering that The Pouncy House is under investigation, her solution is actually a smart way to justify Shane’s behavior and to throw the police off the trail. Sure, she could have also argued that Shane has a vigilante streak from watching too much Dexter and simply wanted to take justice into his own hands, but the potential to kill two birds with one stone was too much for Nancy to pass up. Similarly, while Silas is making a smart business decision, the fact that the Pouncy House is well known to police is a bit of a liability, and something that he doesn’t seem to be taking into account as he tries to make his stamp on the business and make up for his mistake with Emma.
The difference between Silas and Nancy’s mistakes this week and Silas and Shane’s mistakes last week is that I fully understand why the former mistakes are made. Nancy operates on instinct and takes the ball and runs with it when it’s presented to her. Silas, meanwhile, is still fighting to prove his value to the business, still struggling with the Oedipal complex that his paternity has only heightened over the past three years. They’re both asserting themselves in ways that are consistent with their characters, but also in ways that happen to place the larger business in danger by virtue of their combination. It’s convenient, sure, but its connection to the characters allows it to be simultaneously poetic.
I wish I could say the same for the remainder of the episode, which struggles to put together anything of value. When the episode began, I was so excited to see Andy asserting himself, and thought they were finally going to piece together Andy’s storyline this season: That brief scene in the van as they wait for Emma, Andy pointing out the aptness of Andy investing in self-propulsion technology, does a lot to make it seem like the character is on a journey. Instead of letting that play out in a low-key fashion, he takes Emma hostage with a nail gun, leading to a kidnapping that never found an ounce of energy. Trachtenberg seemed more bored than scared, while Justin Kirk did his best with a turn that felt inconsistent with Andy as a character. While the character has had dark moments, the manic depression evident here seemed unearned, and amounted to nothing once Silas and Nancy took over the storyline for themselves by the episode’s end. Instead of making Andy into an agent in the storyline, the writers turned him into a wacky barrier to plot development, something to be overcome and then (literally) ushered out the door so that the narrative can continue on.
Unfortunately, as if to punish us, the dull and contrived SEC storyline wasn’t ushered out the door in a similar fashion last week after all. After finishing my review of “Cats! Cats! Cats!” I screened “System Overhead” and discovered to my horror that our time with Doug and Vehement isn’t over, and now there’s an SEC overseer with owl figurines and super-sensitive hearing to deal with along with a cash flow problem. It’s trite, it’s silly, and more importantly I have absolutely no investment in it. I don’t care about Vehement, I don’t care about Doug so long as he is connected to Vehement, and I don’t care about the SEC given how buffoon-like they have been drawn to this point. As much as I still thought the story was a waste after last week, I was at least encouraged by the signs that it would be eliminated quickly (as though the writers realized it wasn’t working), but now they’ve shown a desire to continue on with what I maintain is a fundamental waste of time.
Other parts of “System Overhead” did a decent job of justifying certain storytelling decisions. Sure, I think the stuff with Shane and Mitch was a bit meandering at points, but in retrospect, the value of establishing a real rapport between the two gave him a bit more incentive to play his part in the larger scheme afoot. It’s still pretty transparent storytelling, a necessary development in order to get the police involved, but the end result was a nice bit of convergence that is not without resonance. However, the same can’t be said for the SEC, nor can it be said for any of the other recent storylines that have been almost entirely washed away (including Zoya, “Chuck,” and Andy’s relationship with Lindsay Sloane’s artist character). Those still seem like temporary roadblocks, brief infatuations that are forgotten as quickly as they are introduced.
“System Overhead” improves over previous episodes because the pieces start to come together, and there’s always something satisfying about that. Some of you in the comments felt that this happened last week, but that was still built on the potential for development and problematized by the idiocy drafted onto Silas in particular. Here, the characters act in a more rational fashion, making mistakes for reasons we can read as part of their past behavior, and the momentum the show gains from this is going to serve it well as we enter the home stretch of the season.
And yet, while the broad strokes are improving, the smaller details are not. Andy’s characterization was tremendously uneven, the SEC storyline was brought back from the dead to my horror, and that satisfaction of one storyline coming together wasn’t matched with the rest of the show falling into place in the same fashion.
It’s enough to convince me that Weeds is a better show the closer it gets to its finale, but it wasn’t enough to convince me that the seventh season of Weeds is redeeming itself other than by default. Hopefully, that can come next week.
- I know that some people in the comments last week noted that it would be best to embrace the show as a silly one, but I refuse to accept that. I know it’s not going to be wholly dramatic, but I still get frustrated every time a storyline with dramatic elements (like Andy’s) gets undercut by a desire to shift into a broad comic direction. I know that’s how the show will always be, but I also know it will never not scream missed opportunity for me.
- Mary-Louise Parker’s posture in this episode was enormously expressive. Sure, it’s partly that outfit, but just the way she holds herself early on shows her contempt for dealing with her kids’ bullshit.
- As if to make them as non-threatening as possible, Pouncy House is now defined as practical joke-loving graduate students. At least the show hasn’t actually positioned them as a threat, instead letting Silas and Nancy create their own threat through their poor communication.
- Silas has the office phone number in his iPhone as “My Bizness.” He is the lamest human being alive.
- Dimitri threatening to take care of Nancy’s problem on his own positions him as one of those figures whose involvement could become more of a problem than Nancy expected. We only get bits and pieces of it here, but I hope he plays a role in the conclusion.
- Given that brief mention of Doug still mooning after his wife, I presume his new SEC watchdog will end up in his bed soon enough.
- “Crafty bitch must have a scissor lift.”
- “Zoya’s tough on plates. And bowls.”
- “Vengeance. Peace. Success. Babies. Hate.”
- “We’ve been talking all morning, you suck at it.”
- “At the risk of being predictable, Shane, what the fuck?”
- “Yeah, Gina’s a bitch.”
- “Fuck it. Shoot her in the face.”
- This week’s closing music selection: Bushwalla’s “In the Future.”