Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Six Feet Under: 'A Coat of White Primer'

It's been eight months since I last saw a new episode of Six Feet Under, on September 25, I wrote:

"I think in the next season, Nate and David might actually get some happiness, but Claire and Ruth seem to be ready to take over with the pain. It's pretty obvious that Claire is heading towards a drug problem, and considering this show's fairly liberal attitude towards drugs, it's going to be interesting to see how that's dealt with. If Claire actually gets together with Billy in a relationship, there's going to be some really weird family dynamics between Nate/Brenda and Claire/Billy. Whatever happens,
there should definitely be more Billy next season.

Geore is definitely more interesting than he was at the beginning of season four. I don't see good things in the future for him and Ruth. While the stripper plot got a bit ridiculous at times, I really like the way it turned out. Rico living at the house is a good idea, since it makes it easier to keep him integrated in the stories. And we'll have the opportunity to see him as a single guy, which is something we've never got before."

Well, to be honest, I barely remembered what happened at the end of season four, I forgot that Claire and Billy had gotten into a relationship, I didn't really remember David beating up the guy in the sushi shop, or the Rico moving in plot. Watching this episode, I saw him walking in behind Ruth and I was wondering why there was some guy just walking around the house.

Without going into spoilers, I'll just say that this was a really great season premiere. I viewed in this a different way than I had the other season premieres, because I watched the rest of the show in a binge run, with no breaks between the seasons. So, this season premiere actually had to bring me back into the world after a pretty long break, and in that respect it succeeded. It's not as stunning as the series' best episode, season three's premiere, "Perfect Circles," but it's a damn fine piece of television nonetheless. I've been watching Gilmore Girls over the past month or so, and while that's a pretty good, entertaining series, watching new Six Feet Under shows you just how good TV can be. This one episode had moments that were absoultely hilarious, and also moments that were incredibly sad, blended together in a way that recalls the best of Buffy, and even goes beyond that in terms of emotional impact.

Onto the specifics. The death of the week was pretty good, and I think it addresses an interesting question that does thematically tie in to what comes later in the episode. This woman finds actually telling the truth so liberating at first, but there's certain people who apparently can't handle the truth. So, the opening raises the issue of how open people can be, if you tell the truth all the time, you'll end up wounding those around you, but if you're too guarded, it's impossible to relate emotionally. This ties in to the stories of almost all the characters, each of whom are trying to guard things, and cannot be completely honest with each other.

The post death first scene was phenomenal. We see Nate's wedding video, Lisa and Nate so happy, the whole world ahead of them, and we assume that it's Nate watching the video, reflecting on what his life was then versus what it is now with Brenda. However, things are twisted and instead of Nate, it's Brenda watching the tape. She mocks it, but looking at the scene on the beach with Lisa, it's clear that she envies Lisa's purity. Brenda is someone who guards her emotional vulnerability by making jokes and rejects what she really wants because she refuses to be 'cliche.' This comes out in her discussion with Nate about how stupid she feels for wanting her 'dream wedding,' she can't allow herself to enjoy normal things, she has to be different, and Lisa was someone who could clearly unironically enjoy her wedding.

This is one of my favorite themes from the series, the fact that these characters define themselves with respect to what they percieve as boring, normal cliches. Claire and Brenda in particular are all about not doing the expected thing and trying to prove they are special by rejecting things that others embrace. This is best summed up in one of my favorite scenes in the whole series, from season two, when Nate and Brenda are breaking up. She tells him not to throw his ring at her because that would be "so fucking cliche," she's more concerned about preserving her self image as someone who's original and different than being present in the emotional moment. Then, when Nate does throw the ring, it cuts her even more because she has to recognize that she is the same as everyone else, and she no longer has Nate. The Claire art school arc in year three and four is all about this too, she has a disdain for the world, and considers herself above everything, but where does this lead her. "And that guy with the fucking boy scout jacket. I mean is that supposed to be ironic?"

That basically sums it up, and I think she has a conflict about her position outside society. It's quite similar to the story of Angela in American Beauty, who wanted more than anything else to be extraordinary, because to be normal would be the worst thing. I think this appeals to me so much because I have the same sort of conflicts, part of me just can't give in and enjoy these moments which are cliche, I have to do my own thing, even though it means missing out on potential fun. This is the sort of issue that doesn't seem like it would make for great drama, but on this show it does, and it's one of the complexities that distinguishes Six Feet Under from more pedestrian soap opera.

Anyway, the funniest scene in the episode is when the three Fisher siblings go out on the porch and decide to smoke a joint, only to get in a fight over who has the best weed. The high pitched weed speaking is hilarious, but the scene reveals the underlying conflict between them. Nate and David don't approve of Claire being with Billy, and they each see him as a ticking timebomb, who's going to end up hurting Claire.

Clearly Claire has these feelings too, as we see in her dream sequence, when she imagines Billy stabbing her in the neck, claiming that Brenda will always be his, and there's a lot of awkwardness in the conversation at the end of the episode, when Claire and Billy discuss the fact that the two pairs of siblings are dating. I think the Billy/Brenda relationship is the most interesting on the show, and pretty much anything surrounding the two of them is interesting, so setting up these clear conflicts should lead to some great stuff later in the season.

On TV shows, there are certain characters who make every scene they're in interesting, people like Spike on Buffy, and here, Billy is definitely one of those. He places everyone slightly on edge and makes for really odd dynamics. A show like this needs those jolts to the system to keep things from settling into predictability.

Speaking of jolts to the system, the Ruth/George plot is another really interesting story. Ruth clearly feels gypped by the fact that she married this guy, and after only a couple of years, she has to become his caretaker. She's defensive about the fact, as evidenced by the scene where she slaps Claire, a really effective, shocking moment. I loved the ECT scenes, really jarring due to the great filmmaking.

But, the episode is really about Nate and Brenda. The miscarriage scene is harrowing, and the pall it casts on the wedding scene makes for a really interesting tone. It's a combination of extreme sadness and what's supposed to be "the happiest day of her life." As I mentioned before, I love the Lisa scene. It gets to the core of Brenda, her struggle to reinvent herself after a rather sordid past. Can she really change, or is she being punished because of what she did on the first go around with Nate? I love the scene with her and Nate, where he consoles her. Peter Krause and Rachel Griffiths are amazing, and I'm really glad that they're back together, and apparently at the center of the series.

And at the end of the episode, we see Nate finally break down after being strong for so long. He told David that he wanted the baby for Brenda, but clearly he wanted the baby also, and the fact that Brenda has to abort their child causes him extreme pain. Once Brenda leaves the room, he can no longer keep up the facade, he breaks down and cries. He, like Ruth, is forced to play the stable caregiver, and sometimes, it's much easier to just break down.

It's so good to have new Six Feet Under again, I haven't been this excited about a show since Angel was airing every week. Monday is now the highlight of the week, and I can't wait to see where things go from here.


Keith G said...

I basically agree with everything you said, except we still disagree on the series' actual best episode - although "Perfect Circles" and "The Last Time" are pretty close.

My review of "A Coat of White Primer" is here

Keith G said...

Or here: http://reviewaday.blogspot.com/2005/06/review-six-feet-under-season-five.html

If that link in my first post didn't work :-)

Patrick said...

The Last Time was the one with the ring cliche scene, right? And the bus at the end too, that was a great one.

So you get these shown at the same time they're airing here in the States, or did you just download the episode?

Keith G said...

Yes, "The Last Time" is the ring cliche scene and the bus at the end episode :-)

Australia won't get these episodes for months. That's all I'll say :-)

miecky said...

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carlo said...

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tv ted said...

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Anonymous said...

it's kind of pathetic the way you spout shallow, juvenile judgement as intellectual critique, which clearly it is not. Go back to watching Gilmore girls. obviously those "plotlines" are a bit more cohesive for you.

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