Monday, August 08, 2005

Six Feet Under: 'The Silence,' 'Singing for Our Lives' and 'Ecotone'

I already did an extensive writeup on Nate's fate yesterday, and what happens to him makes almost everything else that happened in the previous episodes seem utterly insignificant, but that doesn't mean there's not a lot of cool stuff going on.

Other than Nate's story, Claire's stuff in these three episodes was the most interesting. We get to see her pushed out of the art world bubble she had been in for the past two seasons and have to deal with 'common people,' who perhaps aren't as attuned to the fine points of culture, or particularly worried about being hip, something that's most notably evident in the fact that they're still using a seven year old catch phrase to answer nearly every question. So, it's fun to see Claire totally dismissive of going to the corporate chain mall bar, Doc Hannigan's. I love the fact that Claire first looks down on these people, then finds herself watching TV alone at home and realizes that maybe doing something, even something lame, is better than doing nothing. This is a storyline I found really relatable, and it's the sort of conflict you're not going to usually see on TV, the conflict that occurs when high standards prevent someone from engaging with common people.

So, the next episode brings back some characters from Claire's art school days for what I'd suspect will be, a final farewell. I liked the way they compared the brutally normal frat boys with the self consciously out there art school kids and concluded that both of them are living in constructed worlds, unable to think of any life outside what they had. Claire was fully into this world, but looking back on it now, it seems ridiculous, and all the stuff they went through seems painfully insignificant. This episode goes a long way towards showing how much Claire has gone. Is it good that she's moved away from the art life, that's difficult to say, but she's gained some perspective. I'm really not sure how to feel about the Claire storyline, it seems like she's happier now than she was early this season, but I don't like the idea that she finds happiness by giving up her art and working in an office. Considering what's already happened to Nate, it'd be tough to give another character a rather down ending and have Claire become a lifer at the office.

The inherent conflict between her and that lifestyle is apparent in the first scene of 'Ecotone,' where Claire and Ted argue about the Iraq war, Claire once again is having her assumptions challenged. She figured that no intelligent person could be pro-Bush, and yet here's someone she likes who she finds out is an Iraq War supporter, and who actually presents a decent argument in favor of it. Obviously, I don't agree with what he says, but his argument does a good job of puncturing liberal views about the war, and doesn't make him a less sympathetic character. I like the scenes of them together in the waiting room, and though I doubt Ted's going to be the 'one' for Claire, he's put her character in an interesting place.

Off elsewhere, Brenda did much of the same. My favorite scene with her was when Jackie finally tells her to stop talking about her problems with Nate. This year, Jackie and Ruth's knitting friends were set up as basically sounding boards for the characters' problems, so to have one finally react against this was great, and this leads Brenda to reach out to Nate, in the tragic image of her sitting alone in the Quaker church.

The best material for Ruth came in episode nine, when she's shooting down all the men in her life and we get some nice cameos from years past. The basic point seems to be she doesn't know what she wants, it's the same conflict she's had from the beginning of the series, when she was left single with Nathaniel's death. She's sort of been written into a box, because to give her a new guy at this point would seem trite, while we know things wouldn't work out with George. Add in having to deal with Nate's death, and I'm not really sure if she can get a happy ending. If I had to guess I'd say she'll end up leaving the house to live a lifestyle more like Sarah's, and maybe David will move his family in.

Speaking of David, he has more adventures in parenting which are entertaining, but his story doesn't have the overarching grandeur of the best stories on this show. It's fairly conventional soap opera material and we can imagine their lives will go on in much the same way until the kids are grown. With Nate, I always felt there was some greater purpose to his life, and all his traumas along the way were leading somewhere, and ultimately they were. Not so with David, who's never had an experience like Nate had during 'Perfect Circles.' Maybe the surfer vision will lead to something, but I doubt it.

One choice I'm really happy with is that Ruth wasn't there for Nate's death. By taking her out, there's no one who can really take control, Brenda feels left out because of Nate's infidelity, Maggie can't take charge because of Brenda and David has problems dealing with it because he knows what Nate did.

I'm still not sure of the decision to make Nate go out like he did, as someone who didn't regret at all what he did. I think it's in character, but still sad. Nate may wander out into the sea and leave it all behind, but he leaves no peace on earth with his passing. Brenda must be devestated that the love of her life, the person she changed everything for rejected her in the moments before he died. All she'll remember is that he would rather have been with Maggie then her, and she'll see that in Maya, who she will presumably have to take care of now, raising two kids as a single mother.

This string of episodes is a testament to what television can do, in telling huge stories that span over many, many hours. Very few films reach the emotional power these episodes had for me, to go through such a long journey with this character and then lose him, it's tough. And I can't wait to see what we get in the next string of episodes, will Nate be a ghost like Nathaniel, and will the characters get any sort of happy ending, or will they all pay for the bad things they've done, as Nate did?


Keith G said...

I'm so glad you've caught up! Now you can go back and read my reviews - I'm glad I had a week between episodes so I had time to write my thoughts on each. If I'd seen the previous three all in a row like that I wouldn't have been able to say much about anything else!

I agree with you - it's sad that this was Nate's fate, but it is a primary theme of the series: people need to work at their relationships, not just wait for the next good thing to come along.

Unfortunately it was karma that got Nate and that felt a little heavy handed. But it does set up an interesting dynamic for the final three episodes.

Will they all be punished? I don't think so. But something deep within me suspects we haven't seen the last Fisher to die before the final fade to white...

Patrick said...

I did read your reviews, and I think you might have been a bit harsh on the series. But, that's probably largely due to the way we watched the episodes, watching them all in a row, the little flaws slip away and you see mainly the big picture, whereas watching each chapter gives you more of a chance to see the problems.

I'm not going to deny parts of the arc don't work that well, but like the end of season three, the story is so emotionally involving and dramatically intense, I can forgive the flaws and just get lost in the story.

I'll be seeing the next episode tomorrow, it's going to be pretty interesting to see how things go from here, I too would not be surprised to see someone else go.

Keith G said...

Definitely the way a series is watched affects how we perceive it. I've just read another review of 5x1 through 5x9 which was basically watched in one big chunk - and they thought it might have been better to watch each ep a week apart! :-)

If I'm ever harsh on the series it's because it can be so good - and because its first two seasons were flawless, even on a rewatch. So I know it can be better. But it's still pretty damn great anyway.