Wednesday, May 23, 2007

'Weeds': Shifting Ground


Most people are used to some sort of stability. Some things in the world don’t change, ever. Gravity doesn’t change. If you jump up, you’ll always land. But there are also some elements in our lives that we take for granted, that we are certain they will always be there the way they are.

What happens when there is absolutely no stability? What happens when the ground itself, that thing people hold to be most solid and unshifting, keeps disappearing beneath your feet?

Loss of Stability Is a Feeling

Loss of stability is not only a set of circumstances. Loss of stability is also a feeling.

Don’t believe it? Try it out for yourselves, with a few examples from Weeds.

Nancy Botwin (Mary Louise Parker) is a recently-widowed mother of two, whose husband unexpectedly died. To survive, she sells pot to the friendly and spoiled people of Agrestic, California. Stability has been taken from the entire family.

In the pilot episode, her older son’s girlfriend suddenly asks Nancy, “Can we have sex in your house?” Later on, when Nancy has a heart-to-heart conversation with the girlfriend, she finds out that she’s not a virgin. Only then to find out that her sixteen-year-old son isn’t, either. How does that make you feel?

At a certain point, Nancy no longer has any money. She can’t pay for the phone, can’t pay utilities, and can’t pay to get more drugs so that she can sell them and get more money. Her dealer agrees to give her more drugs, taking Nancy’s car as collateral. Nancy sells the drugs, but then Shane, her younger son, breaks his arm, and she has to pay for the hospital with the cash she’s just earned. She returns to the drug dealer, begging for more drugs. This time she is forced to leave something else, something more, and the chasm underneath her feet deepens. She leaves her wedding ring (from her deceased husband).

How does that make you feel?

Dissolution of Order

Nancy has no control over her life. Things happen to her, and she can’t really cope, she just stumbles on, trying to survive. Lack of stability leads to a total dissolution of order in her life (also a feeling).

When Nancy’s dead husband’s brother comes over, he has cyber-sex with her son’s teenage girlfriend, following which he gives the son advice on how to get the girlfriend into bed. Then the brother-in-law gets the younger kid in trouble by selling t-shirts in school that make fun of Christianity. He closes the deal by blackmailing Nancy into letting him stay when he finds out how she makes a living. All this in one episode.

Constantly Shifting Ground

Lack of stability is also shown by the constant shifting of ground we’d previously thought of as solid.

Out of nowhere, a plane accidentally drops bags and bags of Cola bottles on the roof of Celia’s (Nancy’s friend) house, right on her side of the bed. The husband wakes up, horrified, not understanding what’s happening: the ceiling’s missing, the room filled with exploding Cola bottles, and the other side of the bed is crushed.

Celia then walks into the room: “I have cancer.”

No Discipline

With the loss of order and stability, the ability to discipline or keep discipline flies out the door.

Nancy’s older son is caught doing ecstasy. The next morning, once he comes down, she reads him the riot act. But then he accuses her of being a hypocrite, and she finds out he knows she’s selling drugs. He storms off, basically telling her to stay out of his way till he’s old enough. How does that make you feel?

Another time, the older son says, as he heads out the door, “Mom, just to let you know, next year I’m dropping out of school and moving to New Jersey,” and exits. How does that make you feel?

Nancy can’t fix these things, she just keeps getting slammed with balls coming out of left field. And the feeling of eternally shifting ground continues.

Feeling of Impending Doom

Lack of stability also brings about the constant feeling that bad things are always around the corner. In fact, it becomes a given.

Watch how this feeling has seeped into the younger son’s psyche so much that he brings it up time and again in dinner conversation. When asked for a topic for conversation, he exclaims: “We could talk about bird flu! It’s gonna kill everybody!”

Later in that same dinner, he says, “There’s this kid in my school who always picks his nose, and he says that if you don’t pick your nose, that your boogers could back up and block your airway and you could die.”

Sure, it’s not true. But the feeling for the son is. Death is always so close.

Inability to Cope with Rejection

The constant lack of stability is also the reason Nancy’s sons can’t cope with rejection and can’t hear ‘no’.

The older son, who is faced with a breakup with his girlfriend, who is a year older than him and in a few months will move to an Ivy League school, thinks he found a way to be with her always: When they have sex, he first sticks pins in the condoms, hoping to get her pregnant. (Which he does, thus causing the earth to further shift under everyone’s feet.) How does that make you feel?

Talking About Our Feelings

Lack of stability is a feeling. Shifting ground is a feeling.

Weeds isn’t about breaking us out of our suburban, middle-class convictions. Breaking us out of our suburban, middle-class convictions gives us that same feeling of instability and shifting ground that the plot does.

Jenji Kohan, the creator and main writer of Weeds has these feelings all the time. When she writes these plots, she creates situations time and time again that bring about these feelings. With Weeds, Kohan makes us feel for a few seconds a week what she feels every day in her life. Weeds is about sharing feelings.

1 comment:

yonatan said...

I liked the post.
But I think that in TV shows, books and movies
what interesting isn't the big thing that happens to a character, but how the character acts right after the big thing happend. Writers should think about what the character would really do now. In many films and books big things happen to characters, but the way they react to the event isn't credible.

Hope that my english was fine.