Wife and I have been slowly making our way through Six Feet Under. I remember when it was first airing. I was in middle school then high school and it all seemed a little too morbid and dramatic to me. Over the last few years, Six Feet Under has been one of those “I hear really good things about it” shows that you always consider watching but never do. But we finally decided to try it out. And, sure enough, it’s been really good, despite some of its characters frustrating me.
Because this is the first time I’m writing about Six Feet Under, I want to discuss a little bit about seasons 1 and 2. Now that we’re deep into season 3, looking back on S1 is a little strange. The show was so different. It focused more on David and the lessons David learned from the “dead person of the week.” All of the characters had visions of the dead family patriarch, Nathaniel Fisher Sr (Richard Jenkins). There was a bit more of the supernatural and satirical. And very obvious character issues everyone was trying to get through.
And I loved the finale. You have Nate dealing with this very ominous and external threat in Billy, his girlfriend’s brother. For so much of the season, we’re waiting for Billy’s psychotic episode to end in some kind of violent outburst. Either violence inflicted on himself, or on his sister Brenda, or on Nate. He finally attacks Brenda, gets hospitalized, and the threat seems over. Nate’s free! Only to then find out he has arteriovenuous malformation (AVM), a brain condition that could kill him today, tomorrow, or years down the line. It’s his own sword of Damocles. I just love the juxtaposition. The threat of Billy was so dramatic and, for the viewer, thrilling. It feels real and terrifying. AVM is, in contrast, boring. It’s ethereal and hard to picture. What’s it mean that a vein in your brain could burst? All of the entertainment goes out the window, all the rush goes out the window, and you’re left with the very real fact that our bodies are imperfect and can betray us at any minute. It sucks. It’s actually way more terrifying than Billy or any other external threat. It’s a reminder of how many people get deadly medical conditions that are completely out of their control. And that’s far more likely to happen to someone than a bad encounter with a mentally unstable photographer. Ugh.
So season 1, fantastic. Season 2 starts the shift. Nate still talks to his dad’s ghost, but most of the other characters don’t. Especially David. He remains a main character, of course, but the show begins to feel a bit more ensemble than before and a bit more grounded. Relationship drama takes center stage over character development. The season’s still good, but it definitely feels like they wanted to take a new direction with a lot of the characters and spent this season re-positioning everyone for what will come next.
And then we arrive in season 3. Which has been really strange. Again, still good. But way way way way way different. All of the ghostly stuff is gone. We retrain the spirit of it in “daydreams” the characters have that can trick us into thinking something’s happening that isn’t. But that’s it. Relationship drama continues to be the main ingredient. Nate and Lisa. David and Keith. Ruth and Arthur. Claire and Russell.
At this point, we’re kind of reduced to reactionary plotlines rather than character arc stuff. Like in season 1, David’s whole arc was can he be honest with his family about his sexuality? And we watch each step in the process that leads to him having that breakthrough. Same thing with Nate and settling into a responsible life rather than running away from adulthood. Now it’s just, what’s happening in David and Keith’s relationship? What’s happening in Nate and Lisa’s relationship? Not: what is happening to David because of his relationship?
While the season is still enjoyable beacuse of how strong the performances are and how smart the writing is, I don’t think it’s as good. Especially with how absolutely insufferable Lisa is. Like, I thought Brenda was bad in the first two seasons. So selfish and indulgenet. But Lisa takes it to a whole other level. In episode 9, I seriously thought we’d see Nate and Lisa break it off. Which I was THRILLED about. Alas, they just redefined their relationship. Bummer.
Claire’s whole arc with Russell is nothing more than the suspicion he might be gay? Early in the season, she had told another guy she was seeing Russell was gay. Then David met Russell and thought they were on the same team, so to speak. And now Claire’s unsure if Russell slept with their art professor, Olivier. We find out in e9 that Billy, now completely medicated and normal, slept with Olivier. Which rocks Claire because she had almost dated Billy too. Then Claire and Russell have works in an art show. Lo and behold, Olivier buys Russell’s piece and when Russell finds out his brooding reaction only fuels Claire’s suspicion.
Honestly, I’m wondering what they do with that arc to make it meaningful? Like, if Russell says, “Yeah, I slept with him.” Is that really that big of a deal in this show? We already know Olivier sleeps with students. He’s slept with other people. It sucks for Claire. But I don’t know if Russell’s bisexuality warrants being the centerpierce of her arc. Maybe they have Russell go crazy over it? But if he does something wild like attempts to kill Olivier, then you’re just repeating her season 1 arc with Gabriel. That’s never what you want to do. Maybe Claire drops out of art school because of it? But that’s a bit of a shame because then she’s throwing away something she really wanted because of some melodrama. It would be a major step back for the character. Hm.
And then you have the contrast of Ruth and Arthur getting closer to dating while David and Keith get closer (maybe?) to breaking up. At this point, I’m kind of wishing we’d have a little more forward momentum than the limbo these relationships have been in. To be fair, Ruth and Arthur have only really had 5 episodes. David and Keith have been in slow-motion implosion ever since they got back together, so like 15 episodes. It’s probably unfair to complain about Ruth and Arthur staying in the “will they, won’t they.” But when you have multiplate couples in a “will they, won’t they” situation it can get boring. And it’s also the only thing Ruth has going on after they abandoned her subplot with Kathy Bates.
Then we have Rico and his wife. Yeesh. Six Feet Under is so all over the place with these two. They have drama. Then it’s gone. Then new drama crops up, then it’s magically gone. And most of it is never set-up or developed. It’s just like “Oh…we need Rico to do something?” Vanessa’s super depressed about her mom’s death, but it’s out of left field since we never knew her mom or heard her really talk about her mom. The show never made a big deal about her mom dying. I get that they’re tertiary characters, so they don’t get the same screen time. But it’s such a heavy storyline that relies on believing her emotional state. If we don’t have a reason to buy-in then we can feel disconnected to the subplot rather than engaged. And maybe that’s intentional? Maybe the show doesn’t want us to like Vanessa as much as the other characters? Same with Lisa?
I can’t imagine it’ll be easy for Rico and Vanessa to go back to normal after this. We’ll see.
But I did like how the episode revolved around the art show and brought a lot of the characters together via the show, allowing them to cross paths in minor (or major) ways.
Let’s see what’s next