Weeds and the Absent Father

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We finally got around to watching the last two episodes of Weeds the other night, and they made for interesting viewing – especially Shane’s spasm of violence.  “Spasm” seems the right word to me, because there is something in this character that seems out of control.  His smashing of Pilar with the croquet mallet is foreshadowed by his act of threatening with a knife the two young men who are taking advantage of the drug-addled Adelita.  While the framing of Nancy’s conversation with Pilar does not include enough distance to see Shane nearby with the croquet mallet, and therefore it is a shock when he first strikes her, it doesn’t ultimately surprise that the boy that Silas has dubbed a “badass” is the one who has ultimately turned violent.

Much of this past season, and the last two episodes in particular, has focused on Nancy’s parenting choices in taking the boys into the world of drug-dealing. Silas took naturally to this world, but developed a specialty not as a dealer but as a grower.  In the past season he went legitimate, earning a license to sell marijuana to people who were legally qualified to buy it for medical purposes.  While the store went under, it was not due to his skill as a grower nor as a businessman.  Silas has grown into a mature and honorable young man – well, at least sort of.  He tends to do the right thing.

Shane, of course, is a holy mess.  It’s not a shock really – it’s been coming for a long time.  Speaking to his dead father, wanting to go to Pittsburgh for reasons that no one else really understood, forming an alliance with the groovy and gothy dark-haired girls who liked to get high, get drunk, and have sex: these were overt signs for his mother, who was obviously busy with her own problems.  He has no father figure to speak of.  Peter Scottson – the first man that his mother married following the death of his biological father, Judah – had real potential to bring some discipline to Shane but died pretty quickly (and in a rather ugly way).  Shane’s Uncle Andy, played by Justin Kirk, is a lot of fun to hang around with, but is almost just as much of a mess as Shane is, and pretty much the same age emotionally.

With his decision to sell drugs this season, his willingness to sell to a teacher and the subsequent beating of the teacher who made the mistake of stealing his pot, Shane entered new territory of the damaged.   He even formed a close relationship with Ignacio, one of the truly bonifide psychopaths on the show.  It was as if he had located the worst father figures possible, and embraced him.

Ultimately Shane turned away from Ignacio, after watching him beat up a man hitting golf balls at a driving range, but by then he had been introduced to violence as a way of life.  It wasn’t a surprise narratively, therefore, when he was shot with a bullet aimed for his mother.  The symbolism was a bit thick at that point.  He consistently rejected Esteban as a viable father figure, even though his mother Nancy marries him to protect Shane from further violence.  (This isn’t a bad choice, for Esteban is pretty useless as a father figure, as evidenced by his lack of knowledge of Adelita’s drug addiction and his inability to handle the news of that addiction.)

Soon after getting shot, Shane told his brother that he was embracing the pain of the wound, that he liked it on a visceral level.  The slippage into the violence in the last two episodes was inevitable.

Just after the episode ended, my wife told me that the actor who plays Shane, Alexander Gould, did the voice of Nemo in the film Finding Nemo.  How perfect.  It’s a bit of forced crosstextual reading, but the boy who played Nemo and who lost his Dad (albeit in the short-term) eventually grows into Shane, a boy who loses his Dad, Judah (this one for good).  And how perfect is the name “Shane” for this character?  The film of that name is yet another text with some significantly crossed signals when it comes to father figures.

Shane has an absent father, and the choices that Nancy has made since Judah’s death have been one long series of poor one after poor one, always driving her family onward but always ultimately circumscribing the options that her children will ultimately have.  The look on Shane’s face after he whacks Pilar is frightening in its blandness and lack of affect.  But it shouldn’t surpise, not really.  Just how long has it been coming for Shane to really lose it?  In the realm of Weeds, it may have been inevitable once Judah died.

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Weeds and the Subservient Woman

Over the past few years, Weeds has impressed me with its ability to recreate itself.  The show has, for the most part, retained its core set of characters, even as it has left Agrestic for Ren Mar and Mexico.  It has lost a number of excellent actors in these moves – Romany Malco and Tonye Patano come immediately to mind.  It also has endured a number of listless characters – those played by Mary-Kate Olson and Matthew Modine, for instance – as well as subplots that didn’t really lead anywhere valuable or even particularly interesting – the whole Majestic thread of Season three was one long dead end, it seems to me.

But Weeds is resilient.  Jenji Kohan, creator of the show, hasn’t been afraid to blow everything up and start again – as she did at the start of Season four with the move to the San Diego/Tijuana border.  The same holds true with some of the characters. Celia Hodes, the character played by the wonderful Elizabeth Perkins, has suffered a long-running series of setbacks since reigning over the town of Agrestic in the first season or two.  But Celia always finds a way to get back up off of the floor.  Andy Botwin likewise seems to have little sense of shame – he has been willing to abase himself repeatedly over the past few years for drugs, money, and/or sex.  But he’s also seemingly grown a set of principles and is no longer as pathetic as he once was.  (Though let’s face it – the way he was masturbating in bed while lying next to Nancy was pretty foul.)

All of which leads me to wonder something.  Just why does Nancy Botwin, the character played by Mary-Louise Parker, continue to debase herself?  I understand that at the beginning of the show that she had to find a way to provide for her family and that is what led her to sell drugs.  This was one of the most interesting elements of the show – how might one propose drug-dealing as a viable and credible way of putting food on the table, that is for a white suburban mom?  I can even see how logically this led to the elements of seasons two and three, as she tried to make a go of it, operate independently, and perhaps even grow her business.  And I can see why she took off for Ren Mar, with its chance of a new life.  But I guess it was a few weeks ago, as I watched her character have sex with Esteban that seemed as much rape as it did some type of rough sex, that I began to wonder when she would say enough is enough?

Having sex with men with power isn’t a new turn-on for her; it was certainly there when she had sex with Sullivan Groff, developer of Majestic.  Is she unable to change, to grow, to gain self-esteem and a sense of self that isn’t defined by or through a subservience to men?  Or is it that she might be able to, but just isn’t willing to.  Because it seems to me that she continues to operate in that position, five seasons along into the show.

Then I wonder why the female Kohan has created a show centered around a woman who ultimately is strikingly subservient to men sexually, economically, and emotionally.  Forget Andy Botwin, who is clearly a mess and often a much maligned and humiliated character in the show – the truly pathetic one is Nancy Botwin, the lead character.

As a sidenote, sadly, this situation complements the series of photos that Esquire recently published of Parker in which she is portrayed working in a kitchen wearing only an apron and baring her breasts and ass.

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Why would Parker – an established, award-winning actress – acquiesce to posing in this way?  Is this about anxiety about her ability to look sexy at age 45?

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Did she feel this was a wise career move?  Or does she somehow imagine this gives her control over her own sexuality, or at least the representation of it?