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Monday, August 01, 2005

Six Feet Under

Since I can't get last night's episode of Six Feet Under out of my head, I figured I might as well write about it. I apologize to those of you who think TV is evil. You're not wrong. On the other hand, if you're going to watch TV, an adult soap with Shakespearian twists and turns and Jungian overtones (and overlords) isn't the worst way you could go.
The most recent episode of Six Feet Under ends with one of the few predictable deaths of the series—that of Nate Fisher, Narcissist. His wife, Brenda, calls him a narcissist in his dream shortly before he dies. But he actually dies in his brother David’s dream, as signified by diving into a warm ocean, one of the more unsubtle dream sequences of the show. But little in the devastating episode is subtle. The characters on Six Feet Under are decompensating like mad. Just as dead characters are as present as living ones on the show, the shadows of the characters’ psyches also are no longer staying underground. Just as viewers may be experiencing the sense that familiarity breeds contempt with these characters, so are the characters themselves. The main characters on Six Feet Under all hate themselves, and as the series draws to a conclusion few are even trying to hold it together.
First: Nate. Having married and impregnated Brenda, with whom he has shared an intense and dramatic on-again, off-again relationship for the entire series, Nate now realizes that they don’t work. That men and women don’t have to be at odds, at war, locked in tension. What looked like romance, he realizes, was just drama. And he’s done with it. A healthy observation under most circumstances, but not when your wife is pregnant, you’ve just had adulterous sex with your former step-sister, had your second brain aneurism and are reaching most of your conclusions about how you’ll be spending the rest of your life from the comfort of a coma. Most of the deaths on Six Feet Under come as a black-comedy surprise. Not Nate’s. Even if spoilers hadn’t riddled the Internet for weeks, his dreams in the hours before his death are clear signs. They are unsubtle. In one, he tells Brenda he is leaving her and hears exactly what she will say. She accuses him of selfishness and immaturity. In another, he continues with his lovemaking of his former step-sister, as he might have had he not collapsed in real life. This is, in fact, his future a priori, but it’s not a future he’s going to have, nor is it one with much meaning. Nate is ready to die; his story is played out. In David’s dream he dives into the warm womb-like primordial sea. Buh bye,
Meanwhile, the war between the genders continues. The only happy couple on Six Feet Under is David and Keith, two gay men who have worked through their problems in therapy and are now in the process of adopting two screwed-up young boys. Everyone else on the show is a wreck. Ruth Fischer, the martyred mother, can’t be found during Nate’s collapse because she’s off in the woods with her former hairdresser boyfriend. But she can’t follow through on their sexy woods trip and stomps off into the woods. While walking she indulges a fantasy sequence in which she shoots all her former boyfriends and husbands. Her feminist fantasy is short-lived. She catches a ride back to town with a busload of Tai Chi practitioners, and converses, via translator, with an Asian woman who advises her that all men just want their mothers and that she might as well stay with the devil she knows (her estranged second husband, who is paranoid schitzophrenic and spent most of last season preparing a bomb shelter to live in).
As for Claire, she engages in a political argument over the Iraq War with her new lawyer boyfriend, an argument in which she makes it clear, by her expression, that she could never love a man whose politics were so bad. Well, that is until he stays all night with her at the hospital. There’s nothing funny about peace, love and understanding on Six Feet Under. Any act of kindness on the show makes you realize you’ve been holding your breath for half an hour.
As for Brenda, she’s always been my favorite character. Crazy, crazy, crazy, yes. A child genius who acted out most of her adult life and then decided to become a therapist. Nate won’t even fight with her right before he dies. He tells her from his hospital bed that he’s done fighting and his sanctimonious face, as if leaving your pregnant wife is a Zen act, is so excruciating awful that if he hadn’t died by himself, one would have forgiven Brenda for killing him. But what’s clear, as this wacked-out HBO show comes to a close, is that no one is getting out of here alive. Even if everyone isn’t going to become a “shadow” in the ghost-sense, the shadows of the characters’ psyches seem to have had enough of being polite. Just before Nate dies in David’s dream, their father offers David a hit off a crack pipe (harckoning back to the season where David was carjacked by a crack addict). The look on David’s face is pure anguish. Something tells me there is more to come.