Perfect Moments: Endings that Should have Been [part 3]
Hoo boy. Strap yourself in, 'cause this is going to take a while. I don't think there has been another show that had so many opportunities to close with a feeling of complete natural cohesiveness allowed to slipped by. What we ended up with was anti-climatic. It disregarded basic principles of cause and effect. Worst of all, it just chickened out. Given the volume of events to examine, I'm going to work in chronological order.
The First Opportunity: Season 3
If you don't already know (so spoilers ahead, as much as a show that ended in 2012 can be spoiled) Weeds centers on Nancy Botwin a widowed mother who turns to selling marijuana in order to support the family, and the varying issues surrounding operating this venture creates. A particularly thorny problem leads to Nancy enlisting the help of previously hostile Mexican gangster Guillermo to protect her family from rival low-end drug suppliers. They are effective, but not precise, and the result is the entire town burns to the ground. Nancy sees this as an opportunity to eliminate the evidence of her activities and helps the fire along by pouring her gasoline through her house, and right before she leaves she says a last goodbye to her dead husband, and assures him that she tried.
Wow, that's a hell of a payoff. Not only is this visually arresting, it covers a lot of thematic ground. Ultimately Nancy's actions precipitated this event. She gets away with everything in a legal sense, but all her material possessions are destroyed in a literal cleansing by fire, and the lives of her children are disrupted. There are consequences. A chapter of her life definitively closes, after all she can't stay here logistically, psychologically, or under the Faulknerian principle that you can't go home again. She is forced to let her grief go, and say goodbye to her husband. She acknowledges her culpability, and humanizes herself by admitting her struggle to keep her head above water. Damn that's powerful. That's definitive, but nope, the show goes on for 5 more seasons.
Second Opportunity: Season 5
It makes some sense. Three seasons is not a very long series unless the intent from the start is to have a limited run. Proceeding after such a dramatic turning of this page requires some hard shifts in character, or the audience's understanding of the character. You can't just give the audience the same characters performing the same action. You need to give them something new. Showrunner Jenji Kohan obliged. Nancy is revealed to be much more irresponsible than simply desperate. Her brother-in-law Andy is shown to be falling in love with Nancy in a cheap plot turn. Her son Silas asserts himself and makes a play to enter the family business. Nancy’s younger son Shane starts showing signs that he is not just odd, but sort of disturbed. These characters are progressing, and the show moves from the background of banal suburban intrigue to a more traditional crime story. A few classic sit-com ploys are used to drive the plot. A pregnancy! A marriage! This arc finally comes to a head when Nancy’s politician/drug lord husband faces an external threat to his power. Nancy confronts this threat, and Shane casually murders this threat midsentence.
We again see these characters face with consequences. Sure Shane was acting in self-defense and that of family at large, but his coolness doesn’t suggest a heat of the moment reaction. The Botwins need to confront the possibility that Shane is a psychopath. They all have to confront the fact that this isn’t some minor drug ring anymore. They are criminals with a capital "C". While it is not the first time in the series that Nancy’s acts served as prelude to a violent death, but this time there is no way to avoid the knowledge that she is involved rather than it being beyond her control. Some may argue that this doesn’t work because it is a cliffhanger ending. There is a general hostility towards cliffhangers, but this is a view I reject out of hand. As with Breaking Bad, continuing a series after a character altering event, or a big reveal, risks winding a show down in a sloppy manner. Again a chapter in these characters lives has definitively closed. After Shane kills someone, they are in an entirely new reality that neither the characters nor the audience recognize.
Third Opportunity: Season 6
Moving right along. In Season 6 Weeds doubles down on Nancy’s irresponsibility by examining her past. She is revealed to have been a promiscuous wild child, and this complicates her family’s understanding of the world. Her children begin to see how disruptive a force she is in their lives. This culminates with the family attempting to leave the country to escape Nancy’s druglord husband Esteban, but they don’t quite make it. Nancy is caught by Esteban, but she gets word to her family to go on without her. She avoids being murdered by rousing the attention of the FBI, and confessing the murder Shane committed when apprehended by law enforcement.
This is perhaps the best of all the scenarios for Weeds to end on. It would be quality enough to make the three uneven seasons worth it. We have seen full arcs of character development or revelation. We have seen both the light and dark sides of each of them. Again we see these characters moving into a new phase. Nancy is forced to face consequences, but protects her family while doing it. She rehabs her character or performs penance for her misdeeds depending on how you want to view it. Finally, this ending is definitive. There is no wondering what happens from this point. Esteban, his people, and Nancy all go to prison. Her family gets away and start new lives. That’s what happens, no cliffhangers. Happy? Where could the story possibly go from here?
Fourth Opportunity and so on: Seasons 7 and 8
Christ on a stick. Really?
From here we will run through the possible endings more quickly. Season 7 begins with Nancy in prison, and her family living in Denmark. Due to a series of lucky turns Nancy is released, and the family reunites in the US, revives old drug connections, and ultimately settles in the New York area. Hijinks ensue. Made to feel guilty about an act of manipulation, the now adult Shane enters the police academy as act of contrition. The series could have ended here.
The extended family moves to a large Connecticut house, but Nancy is shot by a sniper. As lame and O. Henry twisty as it would be, the series could end here.
Nancy survives (groan), more hijinks ensue, and Nancy finally has an extremely awkward sexual encounter with Andy who becomes freaked out and runs away out of her life. If it had to, the series could end here, but a better moment comes in the next episode. The action jumps several years into the future, marijuana is now legal, Nancy’s business is outlandishly profitable, and a family gathering is planned. Andy is invited, and Nancy desperately wants him to come. Through talking with her son, Nancy realizes that her rift with Andy is permanent, he will not show up to the family party, and she will not see him again. This is a deflating moment, but stark, and quietly powerful. Again character arcs, revelations, transitions to and from periods of lives, consequences, and so forth. This is the penultimate episode and the last best chance for the series to end in a cohesive manner; to achieve the feeling of being complete.
Instead we get this:
And what the hell. This is women-laughing-while-eating-salad bonkers. What a cop out, Andy finally does show up and they all have a kumbaya moment. Please.