by Meredith O'Brien
What started out as a dark comedy dramatizing a desperate, widowed soccer mom’s attempts to provide for her children and keep them in their cushy, California home by selling pot to fellow suburbanites, has, over the course of five seasons, devolved so far into the dangerous world of drugs and human trafficking that dealing a bag of weed at a 10-year-old’s soccer game now seems like innocent child’s play.
I’m very much a late-comer to Showtime’s critically acclaimed show Weeds , starring the Golden Globe winning Mary-Louise Parker as the drug-dealing Nancy Botwin who, in a recent episode, gave birth to a Mexican drug lord’s baby. (The father also happens to be Tijuana’s mayor, the same dude who previously raped Nancy, threatened to kill her after she talked to the feds and proposed marriage to her soon before she gave birth to his son). With all the buzz I’d seen about the smart, sassy and sexy suburban mom pot dealer having a baby, I decided I should have my own, personal Weeds-a-thon.
Here’s what I discerned after spending several days soaking up four-and-a-half seasons of Weeds: When the series began, Nancy’s husband Judah had recently dropped dead of a heart attack while out jogging with their 10-year-old son Shane. (They also had a 15-year-old son Silas.) Nancy had been an at-home mom living in a beautiful home -- cherry cabinets, granite countertops in the kitchen, a pool in the backyard – and busying herself by serving as the chairwoman of the PTA’s Healthy Children Committee, ironically, trying to rid the schools of the scourge that is soft drinks. Instead of doing what most folks would do after unexpectedly losing one’s spouse in mid-life, like finding a regular job to make ends meet or consider selling the house for something more affordable, Nancy turned to a life of crime for a reason that was never fully explained to my satisfaction.
Early on, Nancy would protest that she wasn’t really a drug peddler, saying things like, “I’m not a dealer, I’m a mother who happens to distribute illegal products through a sham- bakery.” (A bakery was a short-lived front for her drug operation during the time when she was making marijuana-infused baked goods. She also had another front job in season four when she ran a maternity-wear shop which had a tunnel that went to Mexico in the back through which drugs and people were illegally trafficked.)
However, as the seasons progressed, Nancy made peace with a fact that once terrified her: “The downside of this business is death.” She had sex in an alley with a rival drug dealer who was trying to bully her out of her territory. She survived several scrapes with the Drug Enforcement Agency. After her entire suburban enclave was burned down in a wildfire started by some of the drug dealers with whom Nancy had worked, she took her kids and fled to a California border town where she continued working for a guy with connections to the drug lord/politician who would eventually father her third child. At one point, she was ordered to work as the manager of the maternity shop while others took care of the drug dealing. “I don’t want to work retail. I want to traffick,” Nancy complained. “I got a family to support. I put them through hell. I owe them. I’ve got to make a killing.”
For a while, Nancy deluded herself into thinking that she could hide her career from her kids, but that didn’t last long. Her oldest son Silas was the first to signal that he knew what she was doing and declared that she no longer had any moral authority over him, couldn’t tell him what to do. In the current season, Silas opened a legal medical marijuana storefront telling his mother, “Like it or not, you made this the family business.” By the time her younger son was 13 and thought it was okay to have a ménage-a-trois with two other 13-year-olds, he aggressively rejected his mother’s attempts to reprimand him, telling her to stop “pretending” to be a mom. In a recent episode, Shane started dealing pot, including to his English teacher.
What I noticed as I observed the show evolve over several seasons, was that my feelings for Nancy evolved as well. In the beginning, it was hard not to feel badly for a thirtysomething widow who was pitied by her peers, whose sons felt the poignant, aching loss of their father about whom Nancy still had dreams that he was in bed with her. Then Nancy would wake up to find herself in their bed, alone. But as time went on and the dangers inherent in her vocation became clear, it was harder for me to justify or comprehend her actions, particularly when they put her children in danger. While Nancy said she didn’t want to be the “oldest employee at The Gap,” that seemed like a lame excuse for the escalating risks she took. When there were opportunities for her to get out of the business, she forged ahead and now finds herself having to sneak out of the house and elude the drug lord’s “goons” in order to give birth in a hospital with her own doctor just so there’d be an official record that she’d given birth. Just in case.
“These are very dark waters you’re swimming in, even for you,” Nancy’s brother-in-law Andy Botwin said. And as I neared the end of my Weeds-a-thon, I found myself unable to identify with Parker’s Nancy because she’d gone so far astray from where her character once started. Nonetheless, I remain riveted by Weeds and am anxious to find out what happens next in the Botwins’ moral morass.