After eight seasons, Weeds is over. The show began well, with its premise of a young widow in a California subdivision who turns to selling marijuana to make ends meet. Nancy Botwin fit the growing corpus of cable anti-heroes—sympathetic and striking characters whose behavior blurs ethical and moral boundaries and whose situations allow for subversive cultural critique. For Weeds, that meant an update on Updike’s and Cheever’s soulless suburbs, hotbeds of hidden hedonism and hypocrisies, as well as forays into the ways in which post-Boomers are spectacular failures at parenting and nearly everything else. It was funny and thoughtful, and Nancy, in her flowy dresses and high heels, Cheshire Cat smile on her face and plastic cup and straw in her hand, was a perfect portrait for audience ambivalence, often as repellant as she was attractive.
And then, over the next seven years, with the initial premise mostly run into the ground after the first few seasons, things happened. A LOT OF THINGS. A brief overview, with the likelihood that I’ve messed up chronologies and details, with props to Wikipedia as my cheat sheet: the family is forced to relocate to San Diego, then Seattle, then Dearborn, then Connecticut, than New York City, than I think Connecticut again, before the very last episode, set in both the future and Pittsburg, if that’s not a contradiction. In the meantime, Nancy marries a DEA agent who dies, a Mexican drug lord who dies, and a Russian woman while they—Nancy and Zoya, the woman—are in prison. Did I forget prison? Or that she was shot in the head and in a coma at the opening of Season 8? That she gets deeply involved with the California drug trade and Mexican cartels, former US military drug runners, the tobacco industry, and a Rabbi? This is to say nothing of the many other characters’ own forays into crime, sex, drugs, and high comedy.
In other words, like many shows—and soap operas—before it, the show became bloated with both narrative and trauma. Any one situation from any one season for any one character would have been potentially life-ruining, requiring years of therapy to even begin coping with the suffering . Who gets over the multiple and escalating threats to her own life and family numbers, let alone the accumulating unnatural deaths and murders, that Nancy nonchalantly, breezily sashays around. Even Tony Soprano suffered from panic attacks. Yet Nancy, like a cartoon baby in a construction site, kept moving along, literally leaving a wake of devastation, including deliberately setting fire to Season 1’s original suburb, Agrestic. The introduction to Season 8 self-mockingly underscores her dangerous shenanigans.
But it’s not the deaths and relocations throughout the years that have unnerved me. It’s the disappearance of seemingly crucial main character after main character, who is then replaced by another seemingly irreplaceable character, so that only the core family—Nancy, hapless lovelorn brother-in-law Andy, and Nancy’s sons, vapid, handsome Silas and sociopathic Shane—has remained stable. Frenemy Celia Hodes spent a few seasons as a main character only to disappear from the show as she disappeared from Nancy’s life, just as earlier, Celia’s own older daughter disappeared from the show out of narrative necessity or convenience. Sanjay was crucial to Weeds and Nancy, until he wasn’t and was gone. Conrad? Heylia? The guy played by Matthew Modine? Caesar? Guillermo? Lupita? Jill? Here and gone, invisible casualties in Nancy’s escalating, if metaphorical, narrative body count.
And yet, the same bursting at the seams plot-and-character accretion strikes me as a pre-Facebook, pre-Internet nostalgia for the days when we were indeed able to move, geographically, socially, and symbolically, and begin again. The ruthless truth is that at every point in our lives, the people with whom we consider ourselves the closest—our best friends, family members, significant others, lovers, and co-workers, to say nothing of the dozens of casual acquaintances everyone constantly juggles—soon disappear, to be replaced by a new set, a new cast, and updated conflicts.
So much of Weeds was over the top, made for cable high concept and histrionics. But in Nancy’s narrative amnesia and seemingly emotional invulnerability, we see an inadvertent truth: no matter how close we think we are to those who surround us, the only consistency in life is our immediate family.
And even then, for only eight years.
Time: 40 minutes.