Remember when Mary Louise Parker played a feminist leader on The West Wing? Yeah, me neither.

When season 8 of Jenji Kohan’s criminal sitcom Weeds hits Showtime at 10pm on July 1st, it’ll be the last start for the notorious Botwin clan.

Heading into the hit’s final season, we’re left with the massive cliffhanger of “who shot Nancy?” (there’s a dude in the bushes with a rifle aimed at her head- BANG!- cut to black). The conceipt’s been done before. So often, in fact, that the stunt has lost its punch. (Is anyone really invested in this mystery? Compared to, for example, who shot JR or Mr. Burns?). That could have been an interesting series finale moment, but we know Nancy has to be alive for season 8 to work, so it’s mostly just stunt-y. As was the case with charming sociopath Tony Soprano, Nancy Botwin had it coming. She’s a truly terrible person and the good-intention that carried her into her plot in season one has long been replaced by, well, just more terribleness. And over the years, that’s become the schtick of Weeds– what else can we watch her do? If you are the rare person who was invested in mostly Nancy at the beginning (as opposed to Conrad, whose departure at the end of season three forced me to find someone else to like), even you have likely latched on to her far-more-interesting cohorts in the past half-decade. Older son Silas has become the principaled core of the group, smitten brother-in-law Andy the comic heart, and Nancy’s youngest son Shane (played by Nemo! I mean, superb full-grown actor Alexander Gould) has become by far the most complex and rewarding character to watch (killing someone with a croquet mallet will do that to a character). Shane’s got a mini-Dexter saga playing out as the perpetual C story (note to Showtime: Shane’s adventures in the police force- this is a spinoff I would watch) and it’s a good thing, too, since there’s only so much hypocritical bad decision making I take without a little bit of supporting cast relief.

But that looks like it’s about to change…

After screening the first two episodes of the new season, I’m happy to say that things are looking different. If the show revives its star to let her live her final season, no one’s likely to carry on the same BS post-getting shot. Not even Nancy Botwin. In theory. There’s the occasional unsavoury entanglement and boring subplot that plagues early season 8, but for the most part the characters are moving in the right direction. As we learned in last season’s finale, Silas finally gets his own grow house (a nice nod to departed mentor Conrad) and Nancy’s sister Jill has moved her kin to live with Nancy in Connecticut (a compromise over the custody of toddler Stevie, son of Nancy’s late Mexican gangster husband- see? She’s a Winner!). Jill is nuts, a little too nuts, and her bratty teenage daughters are even worse, but having those doses of crazy keeps our central Botwin characters a little more grounded, which does them a lot of good. 801 and 802 have some great moments of self-aware fun (Silas: “we’re criminals, it’s the family business”) and even little glimmers of heart that manage to shine through the showy bad-behaviour gloss.

As the Botwin boys contemplate the identity of Nancy’s shooter, there are lots of rewards for long-time fans as key character after key character from the past gets name-checked as a suspect (too bad U-Turn’s dead, he was my favourite: “thug means never having to say you’re sorry”). The real shooter’s identity is revealed to the audience, but not to the characters, shockingly early. This seems weird except I’m actually really into the psychology behind who they chose. I’m sure lots of critics will call it unearned and new/unobservant/inconsistent viewers will feel abandoned (though, honestly, you watch a serialized show and you’re gonna be upset when you need to know details you were too lazy a viewer to pick up on? 100% your own fault) but the throughline makes sense, is a great callback/payoff, ties the disjointed series together for the final season and I’m pretty sure not a single person could guess correctly before the July 1 premiere. I watch enough TV that I’m at the point where I can usually predict things like killers (Bones– it’s the first person they interview, seeming unconnected to the case. CSI– it’s the biggest name actor in the guest cast) or victims (um, guys, TR Knight wanted out of his contract, Of Course George got hit by a bus!) . Sure I didn’t actually put any thought into trying to guess, but even if I had I never would have pinned it on the right guy. TV almost never suprises me so, even if it is a bit of a stretch, I’m happy that they picked a killer who actually did.

There’s also a new title sequence that Finally brings back the great ever-changing theme song that kicked off the early suburban seasons (and, in all fairness, didn’t make sense for the California-Mexico-New York years). The show hasn’t returned to its conformity-centric visuals for the theme song, though. Instead, we get an illustrated history of the previous 7 seasons. On a show with so much plot, it’s cheeky and fun for longtime fans but also just largely necessary when you’re trying to remember why they ever left Agrestic in the first place.