Is Weeds Getting Too Sinister? We Recap Season 5’s “Machetes Up Top” and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Welcome Introduction
Posted on Thursday, June 18th, 2009 by Hunter Stephenson
Two episodes deep into the fifth season of Weeds, let’s take a look at where Nancy Botwin is headed—it’s disturbing and bleak, and involves being forcibly bent over a table. And what of her dysfunctional brood? Spoilers ahead. /Film will consider posting regular Weeds wrap-ups if there is enough reader interest. Let us know.
Over the last three days, I’ve read complaints online from a number of Weeds viewers who feel that the second episode, “Machetes Up Top,” is simply too dark. To be honest, I’m surprised I haven’t come across more of these sentiments; but we’re now in the fifth season, and the majority of viewers who have stuck around expect such testy slaps. For many, pleasurable guilt is part of the show’s appeal: Weeds is famously a love/hate series in and outside the tube. Since its debut in 2005, the series has embraced the modern, twisted anti-hero, one named Nancy Botwin molded in the fresh and hot shape of a drug-peddling MILF. Four years later, the television landscape is peppered with all kinds of charming killers, drug-pushers, gluttons, and sex fiends. And for better or worse, Weeds has confronted the trend and its anti-hero competitors by playing likability limbo hardcore. In 2009, the show’s writers appear dead-set on subjecting her to masochistic, highly self-destructive behavior and situations. How low can a mom get.
One of the side-effects of this creative direction is that a few of the “lighter” characters (like Elizabeth Perkins‘s Celia) appear more-than-ever to exist in a different world. Celia’s detached hostage subplot is literally miles and miles away. The afterthought forest trip with Silas (Hunter Parrish) and Doug (Kevin Nealon) in “Machetes” isn’t much closer to Nancy’s “dead mom walking” lock-down. It’s here that I’ve reached an early dilemma with season five: The further Nancy Botwin sinks and propels herself into a dead-end life of isolated danger and highly organized crime, the more aware I become that I really dislike her; the more I need to see her fail to justify watching. In a personal, curdling first for a TV show (well, besides ALF), I hope for the grisly demise of the main character. Sometimes I wonder if the show’s provocative creator Jinji Kohan does as well. We already know that there is one season to go after this one, so I find myself asking how much loathing is too much. What is the reward in the meantime?
In “Machetes,” I was ensnared in the weird predicament of watching Nancy get raped by her baby’s father; watching her ingest rape into perturbed indifference and then into an unsettling and hedonistic whimper. It’s like, “Shouldn’t you take your rape more seriously? Wait, are you now smiling?” What’s more, I feel like “the camera” enjoyed what it was seeing. Weeds is filled with similar, “envelope pushing” manipulations, but this one was taboo. The shot following Esteban‘s forced entry—from the POV of Cesar—of Nancy bent over, her thin panties typically pulled far down her stems, attempted to bounce comedy off the sad situation like a dime. Tasteless.
Unlike the drug dealers, Walt White and Jesse Pinkman, on Breaking Bad, I doubt I could list five positive traits for Nancy sans kink and her snow white complexion. Not tolerating sex traffic is not an admirable trait, it’s just a moral duty. Enjoying the afternoon surprise of a flash mob? Moot. Getting bombed on sake and primo sushi while preggo? Debatable. One could even argue that making her living hell comfortable and yet more complex has become Nancy’s primary objective. Her earlier, sloppily-executed goals regarding financial and family security have all but drifted away amidst the show’s quirk breeze. What “Machetes” made clear to me is that Nancy’s growing addiction and fatal attraction to punishment—physical, sexual, and being on both ends as “a rat”—mirror my need to see her punished. Sitting on the freedom-end of prison glass opposite a newly-bruised Guillermo—the threats in their conversation speeding from semi-funny gangster machismo to homicidal rage about “lady parts”—we see that Nancy is the one who’s really trapped. Guillermo (actor Guillermo Diaz) informs her that she’s ripe for a landfill and that, fyi, she’s a whore.
What’s darkly funny and ironic is that Guillermo’s feelings are an amped up, uncaring version of Andy’s (Justin Kirk) in the first episode this season: recall his “Slutty slut slut” and Anti-Midas Touch speeches. Like many male viewers, the male characters are turned off by Nancy’s recklessness and blinder-than-usual path. And the male dissonance is sprinkled with animalistic sexual attraction and power thresholds. Andy is so conflicted and depressed that he puts the move on Nancy’s far more innocent MILF sister. Smart man.
The introduction of Nancy’s estranged sister, Jill, with her adorable, la-la-land pronunciation of “Hot Pocket,” is like a welcome day at the beach. Just seeing Andy and Jill relax on a couch helps erase, if fleetingly, the mean and deadly serious looks of Cesar and Esteban this season. Andy doesn’t spill the truth to Jill about Nancy, but his lie is just as unbelievable and worthy of Telemundo. Also: Jill’s twin daughters are possibly the most annoying since The Great Outdoors.
Disclosure: Andy’s reliable randiness let me down. If you’re going to shag Jennifer Jason Leigh (awesome) when no one’s home, surely you can find a change room outside a swimming pool for old times’ sake. (I can’t be the only person who, at the sight of JJL, entertained an impossible California cameo by Sean Penn as Fast Times‘ Spicoli, right?)
Continuing his role as the creepy voyeur, Shane aims his camera phone at Andy and Jill getting biz. Whether Shane will use the image as blackmail—doubtful imo—or for personal recreation a la his mom’s photos (never not gross) is unclear. Personally, I think Shane is on his way towards a lucrative career in the Internet porn business. Maybe Andy still has a business card or two to get Shane’s *foot* in the door.
As we anticipate Nancy going away for a long time or permanently, she is a step ahead, planning out her family’s future with out her. Sadly, it’s not much different from their current domesticated set-up. But I thought it curious that, per Nancy’s will, Silas would be Shane’s legal guardian and not Andy. What say you, resilient Weed viewers?
Geek note: The director of this episode, Michael Pressman, directed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze and the Ackroyd-classic Doctor Detroit.
Weeds airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.
Hunter Stephenson can be reached at h.attila[@]gmail.com and on Twitter.