Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Weeds Recap: Old Dog, Same Tricks

"I thought being released would give me some sense of . . . release." --Nancy

Let's get to it, shall we? Season 7 picks up three years after Nancy turned herself in to the FBI for Pilar's murder. She's been serving a manslaughter sentence in a Connecticut prison. She has horn-rimmed glasses and a new prison tat. No, no, I said tat, although, that too. She is getting released into a Manhattan halfway house (a show set in NYC -- that's new!), but not before saying a passionate goodbye to her sweet morsel of Russian crazycake, whom she seems to genuinely care about. (But that may last just until she falls onto the penis of the first Zack Morris stand-in she encounters; If Sex and the City taught me anything, it's that New York is a city full of men who will do it against a fire engine.) Aw, and look, y'all! Nancy's first act of semi-freedom -- after getting back into her fancy-prostitute gear -- is to try to video chat with baby Stevie! She's a changed person and a reformed mommy, guys, for realsies this time! Oh, wait. Scratch that. I just finished watching the episode.

Oh, that Nancy. She just doesn't learn, does she? Even after three years in the slammer. (Note: By the end of this blog post I will have used both of the slang terms for "prison" that I know.) But I suppose the audience, including myself, has certain expectations. On the one hand, I was sort of relieved to see her go almost an entire episode without sniffing out nefariousness. On the other hand, boooooriiiiiiiing! So, needless to say, I had similarly mixed feelings about the final suitcase-full-of-deadly-weapons scene: on the one hand, yay, danger/excitement! On the other hand, really, Nance? You're not even gonna wash off the prison stink first? Still, I do have to hand it to the writers for zeroing in on a foolproof way to make the audience sympathize anew with our complicated protagonist: make her sister, Stevie's current mother figure, into a raging role-usurping bitch; not only is Jill manipulating Nancy out of her own son's life/consciousness, but she's doing the same to the Botwin manboys (menboy?) as well. America, I think Betty Draper has just been out-hated.

And speaking of those manboys over in Copenhagen, Shane has hilarious muttonchops now, presumably to indicate that he is older and more mature but not so mature that he's ready to give up quirky hipster jobs, like, say, nude puppeteering (the puppets are nude, not the puppeteers), and definitely not so mature that he's ready to put a baby inside his temperamental Danish girlfriend. Andy and Doug are making an honest living as tour guides, but are we really supposed to believe that Andy is running for president of a so-called country, anarchist and minuscule as it may be? (Though while we're on the subject, any Birthers reading this, you can take a page from the constitution of Freetown Christiania (totally a real place!), where apparently native birth is not even a prerequisite to presidential eligibility.) Still, at least he has some ambition, unlike Silas, who seems to have regressed for the first time ever; he even has a gigantic zit to match his recently acquired teenage attitude. Throughout the course of this show, Silas went from being a reckless shaggy-haired boy with crooked teeth* and grown into the one reliable voice of reason of the Botwin clan, and by the end of the last season, his character had been firmly established as the "heart" of the show, and yet quicker than you can say "Who's the daddy?" he seems to have morphed into just another dime-a-dozen privileged party boy with a hair-and-makeup team? I don't accept.

And what's up with Nancy not being assigned into witness relocation? Did everyone just forget about Guillermo, who wanted her dead probably even more than Esteban did? For that matter, what about Esteban? Call me a crazy conspiracy theorist, but I'm not yet ready to accept that the primary antagonist of the last season -- and the most well-realized and terrifying of the whole series -- suffered an off-screen prison courtyard death, just like that, the whole situation being magically taken care of in one line of dialogue. Then again -- to paraphrase Nancy -- they who marry/love her do all die, and her first two husbands also died off-screen. And OK, maybe Agent Lipschitz had no reason to lie about his death, but is it crazy for me to harbor an infinitesimal hope that the series will end with Nancy going back and killing a still-alive Esteban herself, Kill Bill-style? Or am I overestimating the stylish martial arts/samurai sword wielding/coldblooded vengeance skills acquirable during a three-year stint in the clink?

*I know they make a world of positive difference sometimes, but does anyone else find dental veneers a little creepy and off-putting?

Friday, June 24, 2011

For My Next Act

This summer I am sticking with Showtime. How fortuitous that one great show's [permanent] ending means another's return, no? I figure weekly recaps is the least I can do after lambasting both Tara's and Nancy's parenting skills a long time ago. And I have to say, the teaser above has me chomping at the bit to start. Let the ethical decrepitude begin anew!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

USOT Recap: Beautiful, Magical

Adieu Gregsons!

"When you get to Boston, don't let 'em pull out all the good parts."     -- Marshall

And that's all she wrote, friends. Tara is now off into the magical unknown, hoping against hope to find help and answers with the Boston psychiatrist of Hattaras's recommendation, Max, as always, in her tow. Except this week Max earned his dues as a full-fledged character independent of his troubled wife. I'm referring, of course, to his moments of extreme inner turmoil and despair, which ultimately culminated in the mother of all uncomfortable dinner table outbursts. That poor turducken never even saw it coming. The fact that three distinct birds had to die in order to bring about John Corbett's best acting on this program only makes that moment more dramatic somehow, and being able to see Max finally lose his cool in such an achingly honest, frustrated, loving way (after three seasons of being a glorified straight man) almost makes up for the premature demise of this show.

But temper showcases and midnight guitar solos aside, Max had some typical knight-in-shining armor moments, too, what with saving Tara from drowning and all. Luckily, her attempted suicide managed to only take out Bryce, but not before the two engaged in a final confrontation, replete with desperation (on Tara's part) and aloof skeeviness and foreboding on Bryce's ("You have no idea how much crazy is bouncing around that lopsided skull of yours." Yeesh!) Besides Bryce's drowning, the only other alter sighting takes place at the very end of the episode, when Tara catches a glimpse of the original three looking a little worse for wear, almost as a quiet reminder to the viewer that Tara's DID will never truly go away despite her success in banishing Bryce.

With Max and Tara on their way to Boston and Charmaine and Neil moving to Houston and getting engaged (she proposed this time, so we know she's no longer as self-sabotagey as before. Growth!), it really looked like Kate would take Evan up on his suggestion that she move to St. Louis to be closer to him. And yet, twist! She loves Evan, but Marshall needs her. It's interesting that, like her mother before her, Kate ended up falling for a stable, almost staid, kind of man, yet in doing so (like her father before her) she is also embarking on a romantic adventure that comes with some collateral baggage she did not initially bargain for. She is another character who underwent tremendous growth this season, now stepping voluntarily into a maternal role with both Evan's son and Marshall, who spent the majority of the episode being justifiably angry at Tara and releasing an uncharacteristic torrent of snark at her. He is still reeling from the altercation with Bryce as well as Lionel's death, so it's understandable that he would regress into egocentric teenager mode for an episode. In fact, it's all too easy to forget how young and fragile Marshall actually is beneath those wise eyes and verbal eloquence, but he pulls it together in time to see his mom off to the "loony bin" with appropriate Moosh-esque knows-just-what-to-say flair.

As much as I loved the hopeful note the show ended on, with a serene-looking Tara letting the sunlight wash over her face and entrusting herself to the road ahead (a scene fittingly scored by Supertramp's "Logical Song," the same tune Bryce was singing in the episode's beginning) it's difficult to completely banish the resentment I feel at being unable to know what might have come next for this family, especially after such a stellar season. I've talked before about how USOT evolved from a quirky comedy to a layered almost-drama from inception to conclusion. Well, I dig that, even though it probably alienated a lot of viewers. I will take development and fluidity over wheel-spinning and repetition every time, even if the elements being repeated happened to be strong at the outset -- eventually, even caviar gets boring. The downside of this, of course, is that the evolution of a TV show often takes place at the cost of its characters growing less sympathetic as new complexities are added, yet I still prefer to frequently and vigorously shake my head at Nancy Botwin's latest sin than watch a show that, six seasons later, still had her in Agrestic, combating newer and meaner antagonists just for the freedom to peddle dime bags to bored suburbanites.

So perhaps it's preferable that Tara ended when it did, after creating three dynamic seasons but before getting the chance to subject us to hypotheticals like the Max/Tara split or Marshall turning tricks to pay for NYU film school. As for closure, accidental though it was, "The Good Parts" may seem like a poor substitute for a proper series finale, but it actually gave us as decent a resolution as the fans could have hoped for; the tragicomedy of this show is that there's just no curing Tara, and the ambiguity surrounding her future would have featured prominently in any deliberately plotted finale the writers may have produced. And at this point, I have no other choice but to look on the bright side, namely that this finale ultimately made for a cathartic and satisfying-enough conclusion to a gem of a show I got to enjoy for three seasons. But I"ll sure as hell miss it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

USOT Recap: Till Death

"You're not going to win, Bryce. I'm not going to let you win."   Max

Gah! Only one more installment left of this show, and I am unfairly resenting it for failing to give us an action-laden penultimate episode. And I'm even more worried that the season/series finale next week will provide more questions than closure. But I digress.

As I said, this week's episode was not an adrenaline-pumping affair. Even Bryce has toned down the theatricality of his destruction, moving away from the in-your-face havoc-wreaking and going instead for the psychological jugulars of Tara's loved ones, a technique made even creepier by his prep-school-esque wardrobe. His alter-killings, too, have lost their initial steam and dramatic flair, instead treating us (and the Gregsons) to surprisingly emotional final glimpses of the original three personalities before they are to be mercilessly and internally executed, free of outward fuss or fanfare, in probably a similar fashion as the series itself will end. It seems appropriate that the audience was given one last chance to say goodbye to Buck, T and Alice, and even more appropriate that Bryce/Tara allowed each of them to say their final piece to a different (and relatable) family membera somewhat sweet gesture if not for the fact that all three of the alters reverted back into Bryce just in time to thoroughly disturb Max, Kate and Marshall, alike. In fact, the entire episode managed to consistently communicate the same underlying message throughout: no matter how good/happy/nostalgic life can get for these people, it will always be punctuated by the danger/chaos/insanity that will quickly follow. If we didn't get the gist of this before, it certainly became clear the second Bryce literally rattled Kate and Marshall out of their happy childlike reverie.

"Crunchy Ice" was definitely designed to appeal to our emotions rather than our desire for excitement, and as such, it was a success. Who among us was able to watch with a straight face a horrified Tara begging Marshall for forgiveness after physically attacking him? Or a painfully loyal Max trying to come up with alternatives to having Tara institutionalized in spite of everyone else's advice? Or Charmy raging at Real-Bryce's decade-old grave? Or Tara grimly recalling her vows and professing her love for Max right before jumping off a bridge? (We know she survives it, but stillthe intent!) Sure, we can all agree that having Tara committed is probably best at the moment, especially when Max's crazy mom seems normal by comparison, but seeing Tara's entire family unanimously decide to send her away and knowing it had to be done was... hard, and the evidence of everyone moving on with their lives away from Tara was both triumphant and tragic.

This is officially Tara's nadir, and it's one that the entire season up to this point has worked up (down?) to. With a single episode left, questions abound: Was Tara's subconscious search for Bryce (via Buck) the reason she retreated into his personality? Will she ever get to meet with the Boston doctor, and will he be able to help? Will Marshall ever get to New York City? Will Kate find stability with Evan and his son? Perhaps next week's finale will answer these and other questions; perhapslike season finales pastit will leave us with an overall sense of hope for the future of this family. But for now, I can't help but fear that the season-long self-destructive motif up to its culmination in Tara's leap off the bridge was mere foreshadowing. Five more days and we'll know for sure. Or, you know, for ambiguous.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

USOT Recap: Be My Problem

 "Go put the fun back in funeral."   Bryce

Whose funeral, you ask? Lionel's! And, as it happens, this show's. (The fact that Tara got sacked in favor of the ever-stagnant Nurse Jackie is just salt on the wound.) I literally don't know which piece of news to focus my sadness on. Like Kate says in this week's episode, "I wish we were the sort of people who could just get upset about . . . one terrible, horrible thing a day." A rational person would point out that only one of these events is really real, but damn it, I liked Lionel, and my growing affection for him was the kind that developed from initial feelings of discomfort and straight-up horror at his behavior; that kind of drastic shift doesn't generally happen to me. So yes, while I will likely spend more cumulative minutes mourning the loss of what, in my opinion, has been a layered, compelling and consistently dynamic show, my grief over Lionel takes center stage for the moment.

"Train Wreck" was heartbreaking in so many ways, I don't even know where to begin. It kicked off innocuously enough, with Tara having seemingly found a Bryce-proof way to keep her crazy pills down (she snorts them) and her inner teen terror at bay. It is only about a third of the way into the episode that the bomb of Lionel's fatal car accident is dropped, and not until the day of the funeral that Bryce shows up to wreak havoc on the family. Chronologically speaking, the heartbreak starts with witnessing Marshall's stoicism as he first tries to cope with Lionel's death and his bitter acceptance of his mother's inability to be there for himwhile effective, Tara's medication apparently turns her into a loopy, vegetative mess. The real tragedy of Tara, however, is that when she is on, she is on; she was the only one who was able to pull it together long enough to truly and beautifully comfort Marshall through his loss. The following scene where Bryce hijacks the day of the funeral is all the more hard to stomach in light of that moment. As for the final heartbreak of the episode, two words: the basement. Just... damn.

On  the plus side, Tara's most recent "rock bottom" does lead Marshall and Kate to come to an important realization: their mother is not their burden to bear. "Be my problem," Kate says to Evan in a gesture symbolic of her decision to move forward and leave the [dysfunctional] nest, at least figuratively. Marshall instead takes the literal approach, deciding to move, it seems, to New York in tribute to Lionel's memory as much as out of a personal sense of duty to himself.

The final basement scene/goodbye between Max and Marshall was nothing short of spectacular, with Max absolving Marshall of his family responsibility and Marshall expressing love and concern for his parents but realizing he needs to leave them all the same. (There's a great moment there where Max urges his grieving son not to lose his childlike wonder and innocence, yet Marshall's expression (and all of us at home) practically screams, "Who are you kidding?") This need to put distance between oneself and one's childhood is as real and relentless for Marshall as it once was for Claire Fisher of that other dark family dramedy, Six Feet Underfitting, seeing as how both characters underwent personal tragedies and eventually became the symbols of change/audience surrogates for their respective families/shows.

Arguably the most introspective Gregson, Marshall's recent change of heart regarding his mother's condition (or really, his growing ability to see it clearly) is more significant than anyone else's in that his character arc illustrates the evolution of the show itself from quirky comedy to complex meditation on mental illness, family, and identity. Season-one Moosh, who reassures Tara that her DID is the reason their family "gets to be interesting" is a million miles removed from present-day Marshall who is on the cusp of a real and bittersweet coming of age. I mean, really: How do you cancel this show?! On the other hand, if Marshall is indeed preparing to follow in Claire's footsteps all the way to Manhattan, perhaps it's somewhat appropriate that the Gregson saga will also end on a note similar to the Fishers'.