This fall finds us in the middle of the sixth season of Showtime’s popular and award winning series Weeds. Since the Botwin family fled Agrestic, the fictional Los Angeles suburb where they lived during the first three seasons, the evolution of the show has been a hot topic among critics and audiences. What started as a biting social critique of the superficiality and banality of suburban life has evolved into a still entertaining dark-comedy farce. Nancy Botwin, mother and main character played by Mary-Louise Parker, has evolved too, from the clear counter-point to flawed suburbia in season one, to not much more than a crazed vagina today. A warning to readers: this article will contain spoilers for those who are not current in their viewing.
Weeds debuted with a bong (get it?) back in 2005 and offered something that hadn’t been seen on television before–a satire rather than a glorification of privileged suburban life in America. The series began in the aftermath of the sudden death of Nancy’s husband Judah (played in flashbacks by Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and finds her a burgeoning marijuana dealer trying to keep her quality of life in tact for she and her two sons–Silas, then fifteen, and Shane, then ten. At the outset Nancy’s no-bullshit attitude and concern for the psychological well being of her sons stands in stark opposition to the raving PTA and soccer moms who satirize all that is ridiculous, overblown, and hypocritical about suburbia and hyper-parenting today.
In the opening scene of the series, Nancy attends a PTA meeting at the elementary school. While she expresses concern for eliminating sugary and synthetic beverages from the vending machines, the women around her whisper about the authenticity of her face and the state of her remodeled kitchen. Nancy as the hero-mom is in high relief when compared with her nemesis and antagonist, Celia Hodes (Elizabeth Perkins). In the same episode, the two women sit together field-side while their kids play a soccer match. Celia bemoans the “unfortunate build” of her ten year old daughter Isabelle (Allie Grant), and responds that she’d “Like to see more running out there, Isa-belly,” when Isabelle excitedly asks her mother if she saw her kick. Nancy, in turn, says earnestly, “It was a great kick, Isabelle.”
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Throughout this first season Nancy is a driven woman, working to maintain a sense of normalcy for her sons in the wake of their father’s death. She is a fiercely protective mom, the beacon of reason in her community, and a grieving widow who is good at what she does (selling high priced weed). She is nothing if not sympathetic and admirable in this situation. As season one evolves her entrepreneurial goals take shape, first with the creation and distribution of THC-laden baked goods through a “fakery” storefront cover, and concludes with her assemblage of a team to start a grow-house that will vertically integrate her commodity chain. So far, so good.
Throughout season two Nancy and her team run the grow-house, and it is during this season that her admiral character traits begins to unravel. Her choices increasingly put her and her family in danger. She marries Peter (Martin Donovan), the DEA agent she began dating in season one strictly so that he will not bust her and will provide protection from rivals, then proceeds to double-time him both romantically and criminally with her business partner Conrad (Romany Malco). Her misguided choice to marry Peter invites an unnecessary level of chaos into her life, particularly as he is revealed to be a very bad guy who ultimately meets his demise at the hands of a rival Armenian crew during a deal gone wrong in the season finale.
As season three begins, Nancy has lost her crop to Silas who wants in on the family business (the reason that the deal went sour), her life is on the line due to two angry sets of dealers who both intended on buying the crop, and she is now implicated in the murder of a federal agent. Nice work, mom. Nancy’s life is bought from the Armenians by U-Turn, the other miffed party, and thus season three finds her a sort of indentured servant.
Click here to watch a scene in the aftermath:
This turn of events firmly established the pattern of Nancy being saved from her poor choices by a man. In season one, Conrad beat up a dirty campus security officer at the fictional Valley State who had taken Nancy’s weed and money for himself while she attempted to deal on campus. The officer subsequently returned both to Nancy, trembling with his proverbial tail tucked between his legs. Conrad to the rescue!
For a short time, before he meets his demise, Peter plays the role of savior (though a crooked one) for Nancy, and now U-Turn has ponied up the cash to keep her alive and in his service. As season three proceeds Nancy is in a constant state of covering her ass, and is once again threatened by rivals and saved by a man. New character Guillermo (Guillermo Díaz) steps in to save her from an angry biker gang after she refuses to sell their “ditch” weed. Guillermo sets fire to their fields which results in a massive blaze in Agrestic. Leaving nothing to chance, Nancy torches her own house and flees with her family to start anew.
But anew is not so new. The Botwins land in fictional beach town “Ren Mar” where the boys’ grandfather and “Bubby” live. Nancy once again charts a very dangerous trajectory by entering into border trafficking at Guillermo’s behest. When she does not perform to his liking, he installs her as the manager of a maternity store in a local mall that is revealed to top a tunnel used for running drugs (as well as guns and people) across the Mexican border. Throughout this season her freedom is in jeopardy because the Feds are on her tail, seeking information about Peter’s murder.
As Pilot Viruet recently wrote on Popeater.com, Nancy’s character has evolved to the point that “she’s only good at drinking iced coffee and endangering her children.” I think Pilot has missed another important skill that Nancy has honed throughout the series development: the sexual manipulation of men. She cleared the tension with a rival Mexican dealer in season one by having sex with him, she got Peter on her side of the law after sleeping with him, she kept Conrad in her corner by flirting with and then sleeping with him, she has kept Andy (Justin Kirk), her brother-in-law, close and in her service by emotionally stringing him along and occasionally giving him a taste. Most recently, she preserved her life at the end of season four after informing the Fed’s of Esteban’s (Demían Bichir) tunnel by revealing to him in the finale that she was pregnant with his child, and that it was likely a boy.
Quite sadly, her vagina (and what has come out of it) has become her only card to play. The Nancy, or “Nathalie,” currently on the run from Esteban is a far cry from the woman we first met in season one. She runs, she consistently endangers her sons and prevents them from leading healthy, fulfilling lives, and she emotionally manipulates those around her. This is a sad portrait of a woman, and a disappointment for those of us who were initially inspired by Nancy Botwin’s strength, perseverance, and heart.
Mid sixth season, Nancy’s choices are finally coming home to roost. Shane, now sixteen, has become a murderous sociopath. Silas is disenchanted, wrestling with leaving his family and charting his own course, and sadly wants simply go to college. Even Andy, who left his fiancé Audra (Alanis Moriesette) to flee Ren Mar with Nancy, has stuck around only after she promised to stop manipulating him and implying that they could have a romantic future. Her cards have been played, and the deck is spent.
Some suggest that the series has reached a point where it should end, but the recent announcement that the series has been renewed for a seventh season has left this fan with the dual sensations of happiness and dread. Hopefully the rest of this season will see some soul searching and reckoning for Nancy. Hopefully her alias, “Nathalie,” is symbolic of the fact that she is lost and in the process of retrieving herself. Otherwise there’s not much left for Nancy or the show to live for. Here’s to hoping and toking.