Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Six Feet Under: Maggie

I'm going to do a couple of posts about some specific elements of Six Feet Under that I find interesting, and this one is about the character of Maggie. Maggie is someone who's full of contradictions and mystery, and even after spending a season with her, we have a better idea of what Nate sees her as than who she really is. So, what does our limited time with her tell us about Maggie and who she is?

The primary trauma in Maggie's life was George abandoning her and Brian when they were children. Clearly, they were close, as evidenced by their song in 'Untitled,' but in 'Static,' we get an idea of what has really lingered from her childhood. Maggie was abandoned by George and that scarred her deeper than she'd like to admit.

Maggie turned out ok though, got married and had a son. Here is where her life once again goes bad, her son died and she is once again deeply scarred. This is the kind of traumatic event that can destroy a life and what it seems to lead to is Maggie distancing herself from her emotions and immersing herself in a job that keeps her travelling all over. With no real home, she's never forced to reflect on her life, instead she runs from her problems, and has an essentially meaningless relationship with a doctor in Phoenix that dissolves by the time she makes it to L.A.

The start of season five sees George getting worse and Maggie drawn to a permanent residence for the first time in a while. George's mental illness has pushed Ruth to the edge and that means that Maggie has to stay in L.A. to ensure that George is ok. It's what she has to do and once again responsibility is forced on her. She's forced to care for the man who abandoned her, all the while keeping up a happy exterior to keep her dad feeling okay. He's so proud of her, she feels unwilling to let him see her flaws.

As the season continues, Maggie is drawn closer and closer to Nate. In Nate she sees a kindred spirit, someone who has also suffered misfortune at every turn. With Nate at a crisis point in his life, getting drawn more and more into a life he doesn't really want, he sees an out in Maggie, someone who shares his desire to move past the problems of the past and find some peace.

What is it that drawns Maggie to this damaged soul? It's primarily her loneliness in L.A. She knows no one there, except for George, and that means she's very alone. You can see this in the extremely sad scene in 'The Rainbow of Her Reasons,' where Maggie is sitting in her car alone, calling Nate because he's the only person she can relate to. The two of them are drawn closer together and though she knows it's a dangerous path, her loneliness draws her closer and closer to Nate.

To Nate, Maggie peace, someone who has life figured out. She can counsel him on the prospect of having a disabled child, though he alters his advice when he conveys it to Brenda. Part of the attraction for Nate is that Maggie has no other responsibilities, she can be solely devoted to him, demanding nothing but companionship. This is a stark contrast to Brenda, who is increasingly demanding of Nate.

So, her loneliness draws them to the fateful night where her car breaks down and Nate agress to give her a ride to the service. I wouldn't be shocked if the car breakdown was just an excuse to draw Nate closer to her. I think Maggie felt guilty about what she was doing, but also wanted more from Nate. He's the only person she has. When he kisses her, she initially resists it, but quickly that resistance fades and she sleeps with him. She doesn't really know Brenda, she has almost always seen Nate without her and without Maya. That's part of what allows Maggie to go through with what she does.

And when Nate collapses, she winds up at the hospital and is forced to acknowledge what she's done to everyone, most notably Brenda. There's the brilliant exchange where Maggie says they were talking and Brenda replies "About what, his daughter and pregnant wife?" Maggie, who has always presented herself as a moral person, it is her strong morality that draws Nate to her, is now forced to sit there, the guilt of the adultry mixing with guilt about apparently killing him.

However, while she is sorry, I think she does have strong feelings for Nate. This is one of the few people who can understand what she's been through, and her final scene with Nate, I think she imagines a future with him, the life of peace he's been seeking. They've found each other in the same place, just with the unfortunate fact that Nate is married to Brenda. Maggie never apologizes for what she's done because she knows that it's what Nate wanted at that moment. Would it have worked long term? I don't know, but at that time, Maggie acted on what she wanted.

With Nate dead, Maggie finds herself completely alone, and goes to Brenda seeking some absolution for what she did. She wants Brenda to say that it's ok, and forgive her, but instead receives only harsh words and the promise that Nate didn't really love her. Brenda refuses to grant Maggie clemency and instead brings to light the fact that Maggie has broken up a home, the same thing she could never forgive George for. She has become that which she hated most.

That's why in 'Static' she rails at George. When she criticizes him she is actually criticizing herself for becoming George. And the scene also reveals that the peaceful character we've seen over the season is a facade that has broken down in light of the horrific events. She won't lie to George anymore, smooth over the past, instead she confronts him with the impact of his actions, much like she just had to face the impact of what she had done to Brenda.

When last we see Maggie, she has again moved on, back to the solitary drifter life she lived before the brief stopover in L.A. Her final scene raises the question of whether she is pregnant with Nate's child. She is a pharmacutical rep so there's certainly logical reason for being in a doctor's office, however, the way she's called indicates that she's a patient. It's left ambiguous, but I would say it's quite possible she is pregnant, which would mean that Nate has given her what she lost years before, and another chance at being a mother.

Watching the drama with Maggie unfold was harrowing because it seems that Nate has finally found the perfect person, except that it means betraying his wife. She becomes a sanctuary for Nate, someone who he can share his problems with, and he becomes her only companion. They both make a bad choice, because even if they should be together, that wasn't the way to do it, and seeing the two of them together juxtaposed with Brenda alone in the Quaker church is heartbreaking. These are two people who strive to be good people, yet continually stumble. I really liked Nate and Maggie together, and part of me wanted them to get together, but seeing it actually happened, I hated Nate in that moment, and that's the problem. Maggie wants something she knows she shouldn't have, and the fact that she never steps back and looks at what she's doing is what dooms her.

Would Nate and Maggie have made it? Probably not, as Brenda said, Nate was always looking to the next thing, and Maggie's darker side would eventually well up, destroying the peace. But as Maggie tells Ruth, in that moment, Nate was happy, they both were happy. They were at peace.


Anonymous said...

i thought maggie was in a psychiatrist's office when ruth called her? seeing as to how fucked up her head must be after everything that happened..... i thought it was a psychiatrist's office because of the painting on the wall

Blue Deep said...

a sappy ferret face, as Brenda called Maggie, i see her exactly as that, or as Russians say as a "gray mouse", a person who is so ordinary and not special that you would never notice, but then Maggie ends up getting Nate. such an irony. it hurts that a sappy ferret face ends up being the last person Nate loved, ends up being his love, how ironic is that, that Nate, among everyone else, after everything that he went through, would betray Brenda for Maggie? It breaks my heart. And I hate Nate for it. For making this choice, his last choice... It breaks my heart...

Anonymous said...

nice reflection. I watched this series years after everyone else, and was looking for closure. I felt heartbroken, just like "blue deep" but saw the situation much like you did. I thought it was interesting too the resolution that the writers give to Nate and Brenda, which seems consistent with the idea that Maggie may indeed have been a better match for Nate, but honors the marriage and long relationship between Nate and Brenda. Wild how fictional characters can feel so real.

Anonymous said...

I just finished watching Six Feet Under for the first time. I've found your comments here (and in other posts you've made) to be the best I've ever read about the series.

I've never seen a show like this before. It honestly has taught me more about myself than my tries at therapy. How sad for me, right?

Patrick said...

I don't see that as sad, it's what art should do. It's just that so few works reach the emotional place that SFU does, we forget how good, and emotionally engaging and revealing stories can be.

Anonymous said...

i was very moved by the whole Nate/ Maggie/ Brenda thing so i was glad to see thoughtful comments posted here. I felt Nate's never-satisfied existence as the ache of compulsion. Earlier, when Brenda discloses that she is a sex and love addict, Nate mentions that he's been to a meeting because he thought "it might apply" but doesn't elaborate. I know that some people think that labeling something an addiction is a simplification but really, it's not -- that's just a run-from-the-stigma reaction and not the complex, nuanced reality of an addict. It's in a sex and love addiction one that most seems to be fulfilled in new/secret intrigues. Nate's relationship with Brenda (first episode), with Maggie and his deep longing for something different with Lisa are all tinged with the deep sadness of the lie of addiction: what you deeply believe will fill the hole doesn't: you slide from being at peace to being empty. Even though Nate's final hook-up with Maggie seems like a step towards happiness, one suspects that it won't be, even on its own. There will be the reality that a person like Maggie would still be deeply lonely, that the differences like what to do with a birth defected child, would have been a wedge sooner or later. Perhaps an addict dies most happily while under the influence. And perhaps those others in his life live most unhappily when an addict dies under the influence.

boy, I've never been sucked in by a tv show like this before.

Anonymous said...

I really am glad to have come upon this post. Really well done. I always liked Maggie's character for some reason. I think she represents what made six feet under so special: She's a very likeable but flawed person who has this peaceful exterior but is clearly messed up inside. She was always calming to see when she was on the screen. I will say I thought the actress who played her did a wonderful job.

Anonymous said...

brenda was a horrible miserable character

Silent Phoenix said...

I am WAY late to the party. I downloaded all five seasons based on Michael C. Hall being in it and being a huge Dexter fan. I tried a few times to watch it but it didn't stick then I got rolling and went through all 5 seasons in 4 days. Unlike many I don't see "Nate" as the star of the show. Actually, one of the things I find interesting is that the show follows the paths of all 3 Fisher children and their well as Ricco and Ruth. It unfolds that Nathaniel Sr. was not what all saw in the light of day. David is uptight, needing things to be in order, anal retentive (NO PUN INTENDED) yet acts out in unsafe sexual indiscretions completely opposite of his world of order and need for a stable life and home. Nate is wild yet wanting to do the right thing, often the voice of common reason yet acting outside of reason. I think the many that demonize Nate's final act should keep in mind how Brenda drifted less from her own center and, in many ways, became demanding and needy as Lisa. I felt bad for Nate as well as Lisa. He did the right thing yet felt trapped, Lisa was tragic, in love with Nate knowing he would never be what he needed. Much as I disliked Lisa for standing between Nate and Brenda I did feel bad when she died. I felt less bad when it appeared she was sleeping with her brother in law who was so in love with her he blew his brains out in front of Nate after Nate forced him to admit he was with Lisa at the ocean. Then Claire, the free-spirit! Trying almost too hard not to be her mother, lacking the voice and notice of her brothers, carving her own way though going through lots of wood along the way! She is cute, adorable, volatile, stubborn, insecure and an old soul.

Silent Phoenix said...

LOL!! I just saw where someone said Brenda was a horrible, miserable character. Honestly, I characterized Brenda as every nutty, crazy great sexual encounter and woman I ever dated rolled into one! Then we end up married to someone naggy and sexually repressed like Nate ended up with Lisa.

Jennie416 said...

After taking me about a month to get rolling on season 1, I flew through the rest in about a weeks time and am feeling emotionally drained after watching the series finale!! I am so glad that I found your post because I really wondered what Maggie was doing at the doctors office also. In fact, it almost seemed like she was about to tell Ruth something and then quickly changed her mind. I like to think that Nate was able to give her a another child to love. It was definitely a very dynamic relationship that will stay with me. I agree that the actress did a great job bringing such a feeling of peace whenever she was present. The series will definitely stay with me.

AuntPie said...

Last night I finished watching Six Feet Under. I had been watching it over time while exercising on my treadmill, but when I got to the episode where Nate dies, I had to finish it up. There were times that I had almost given up on SFU (I think it was Season 2), but by the time I watched the finale, I was so glad I had stuck with it, because the final 3 episodes were some of the most gut-wrenching tv I've ever seen. The cast was wonderful, I finally was able to sympathize with Brenda, and I could not hold back the tears, especially in the finale. I may watch it all over again.

Anonymous said...

I have watched this show so many times I can't even say. However, when it first came out , my own father had just passed, so it was too intense for me. I love the show, and feel Alan Ball is a genius! Brenda...we all know a Brenda. Maggie, she for me was nothing but a sad little home wrecker. Nothing more, nothing less. Nate tried so hard to be who ever the next girl wanted him to be,but in the end so so totally emotionally unavailable that his relationship with Maggie would have never worked out. He was not in tune with who he was. Great show...Clair was teriffic!

identifier said...

There is much that has been said about this show that is true, but what I have not read is how well it depicts the suffocation that a needy partner inflicts on a relationship. Yet that being needed is what we need most. It shows the fine line. Keith and Dave are constantly moving back and forth across that line and are dancing on it the best. Ruth is at once the victim and the perpetrator of suffocating the relationships with Hiram, Nicolai, George and her children.
Nate's relationships with Brenda, Lisa and Maggie examine the distinction most eloquently and yet leave just as many answers open. In the beginning Nate and Brenda's relationship is distant enough that there is no suffocation, but they drift away. Lisa completely smothers him. And Brenda smothers him the second time. The more she needs him the more distant he becomes, until he finds someone who supports him. That is where the for me the deepest conflict lies. The conflict between being in a relationship that smothers you and your responsibility to that relationship. Some have said that Maggie is just a home-wrecker, but if she weren't there Nate would have found someone else. Her character is irrelevant. Had she supported him the relationship would have worked, but at some point she probably would have smothered him as well. The question then remains is it something in Nate that would have always been smothered or were Brenda and Lisa at fault, by being too needy and demanding. Lisa was more clearly too demanding and needy, but with Brenda it is more difficult to make an assessment. Most of the problems between Nate and Brenda concern the complications concerning the pregnancy which I think stand for any serious problem that can occur in a relationship. And Nate and Brenda were just not able to reach an agreement. Was this because Nate or Brenda were just being stubborn? Both of their positions were reasonable but not compatible. That happens. So, what is the answer? We see Keith and Dave very often accepting and giving in - being flexible without keeping count. Nate and Brenda were not able to do that. So, I think the relationship was fataly flawed. And it was acceptable for Nate to consider ending it. Yet, at the hospital bed when Brenda asks if they can't work on it, he says no. At this moment she is showing willingness to be flexible, but his heart is already with Maggie. So, he can't go back to her even if it is right. And there we are at the deepest conflict between what is morally right and emotionally needed. That is what kills him. His super-ego breaks his heart.
Brenda calls him a narcissist. But he is the master of empathy. He is not a true narcissist. He was raised to be special, but he sees what is special in everyone. Brenda says to Maggie, he was just looking for someone to make him feel special. But aren't we all? Is that not what is central to a loving relationship? If Brenda is cynical about that then she has lost that important ingredient and love is no longer possible.

Anonymous said...

To clear it up, Maggie was not pregnant. She was just on the job. Listen to the commentary on the last episode.

Alan said...

I see that I have a different take than most. I always liked Nate, never thought he turned "bad"; I liked Lisa, disliked Brenda, and liked Maggie most of all and totally supported Nate's wanting to be with her rather than Brenda.

Polly-Jean said...

Brenda is complex yes but fun, funny and vibrant. I think she is the only women that Nate would have been able to last with. I think that Nate had found a women who could be his equal and wouldn't just either smother him like Lisa did or be a petty little whimsical flower like Maggie - which he would have got bored of very quickly.

Also I think Maggie was a bit of a freak coming to the family burial? She really didn't know Nate that well, I think it was very disrespectful to Brenda she wasn't family. Nate just fell for women front right and center and couldn't see that it always ended up futile. I mean he had sexual tension with the Jewish Rabbi women for God's sake, I could have seen Nate sleeping with her as well he's just a delusional jerk.

The first proper relationship he had was Brenda, she cracked him. As soon as he was with Maggie for a few months and the initial 'peace' attraction died he would have wanted to sexually ravage Brenda again. She was the only person who didn't take Nate too seriously who he had genuine passion for.

I also don't think that Brenda was ever really needy she never begged him to stay, I just think she had her own opinions. She was a strong independent women. They disagreed on the baby test so what just leave her? go to the attention you are getting on the side? forget all the great times, all the things you have worked through? The problem was they needed to learn how to communicate with each other better.

I think they just had to stop being so aggressive towards one another instead of screaming learn how to connect and talk about things in a loving way. I think if they did it would have been the only relationship Nate could have ever really worked in.

The key to a healthy relationship is to accept the other person for who they are and embrace that no one is going to be 100 per cent compatible that’s not real. It's just about not trying to change the other person but find the differences fascinating and endearing.

Brenda had to embrace that Nate had a spiritual side which by going to the meeting it looked like she understood that and Nate had to understand that Brenda was a highly intelligent person with interesting and equally beautiful ways to view the world as well.

But seriously if Nate was always going to be fishing around for other women I think Brenda would be a lot better off with someone who actually appreciated her. I don't think Nate was ever going to be truly happy in relationships.

Anonymous said...

For me, what Maggie is in the history of Nate's life is the opportinity of change that is too late to take it. Nate is selfish and i agree with the point that he wouldn't be with maggie forever, but When Nate realizes that he can't be with Brenda and he loves Maggie, and tells branda that, i think it's an evolution of him. Finally Stop the lies and starts to telling the truth; but it's too late for take that chance of a new life he dreams about...
Besides, i like Brenda a lot and i think she, differently of Nate, starts to know her fragilities, work to get better and was able to make the rigths choices, even when go wrong (sometimes). Gadly she didn't doing with billy (incest is not good decision, with him would be way worse).

Anonymous said...

No not sad .A positive for you.Me also. And Im only 58 .

Anonymous said...

This show affected me like no other.
It took me places I did not know existed. So sad it ended. A masterpiece.

Jaro said...

Best serial I have ever seen. I am 70 and I have seen many.
The finale, I watched twice because I missed a lot the first time for my tears.
This show beats the "Prison Break" which I also liked very much.
I was an addict watching it. I watched all five seasons in four days.