Saturday, August 13, 2005


At the risk of no one giving a shit, a word on last week's episode of Six Feet Under.

I thought it was astonishing--one of the most wrenching, honest, and well-executed pieces of drama I've seen in a while.

The show's writers and actors pulled off a remarkable achievement, since the nature of the episode--the aftermath of Nate's (the most important character's) death and therefore the show's apotheosis--inherently set very high standards for them.

Significantly, the actors playing characters who, in the last few seasons, have been written into preposterous and even embarrassing plot-lines (when not forced to languish in repetitious mannerisms)--I'm talking mainly about Claire, David, and George--were given an opportunity to redeem themselves, and they took full advantage.

Claire, who in past episodes was forced only to appear on screen with her mouth glued to a bong as some sort of symbol of her angst, now licked at the dregs of a plastic baggy in the dire abjection of her shock at Nate's death. Her characteristic misunderstood-artiste eye-rolling now took on the quality of near-dementia. When Claire walked into the funeral room in jeans and a purple T-shirt, she was a vision of beauty, disorientation, and total exhaustion.

As for David: one of the series' most embarrassing errors of artistic judgment was David's abduction by the crack-smoking maniac. The post-traumatic stress David (and the viewer) had to endure was uninteresting, since the plot event which caused it was such a gratuitous, over-the-top reach for an infusion of high drama. In last week's episode the maniac returned, but now transformed into a haunting and deeply effective narrative device. The maniac reappeared, as he had occasionally in previous episodes, as a hallucination flickering on the periphery of David's vision. But now there was nothing gratuitous or forced about this device, because its purpose was entirely clear: the hallucination conveyed to the viewer the nature of the shock and grief which David was fighting to hold at bay: an actual, inescapable waking nightmare. David's panicked response to the hallucination conveyed perfectly the total physical revulsion one feels toward the loss of a beloved brother which--because the loss cannot be apprehended directly, and because the brother is now only a body, a corpse--takes the form of a traumatic memory disgustingly re-embodied in the flesh.

The writers made excellent use of George, whose role as an eccentric cum recovering major depressive has often veered into bathos. It is obvious that the funeral service is a disaster. David has broken down in panic and dementia and even the rather odious Rico has choked up and lost the ability to speak. Claire is beyond speech. At this point--when the outraged grief of the gathering has become insupportable--George emerges to say a few simple, eloquent, almost breathtakingly honest words about Nate's death and who he was as a person. This understated performance by George served as a precise demonstration of what it means to hold oneself together during a major depression.

Finally, what can be said about the use of Claire's flashback to 1994, Nate weeping and smoking pot in his bedroom on the day Kurt Cobain killed himself? That his words were so hokey--Cobain was "too pure for this world"--makes the memory all the more believable and moving. Fade-out to "all in all is all we are" as credits roll. Wow.

I do hope that the season's few remaining episodes won't, in their striving for a bit more, damage what this episode has achieved.


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