Monday, August 22, 2005

Burying Six Feet Under

The last four episodes of Six Feet Under were maddeningly similar to the last two seasons of Six Feet Under: stretches of melodrama punctuated by brief moments of intensity and beauty. The latter almost counterbalanced the former, but not quite.

The immediate fallout from Nate's death was handled well, but things took a Terms of Endearment dive and never recovered. The Fishers' mourning and Brenda's hostility with Maggie were moving and effective, but these were no-brainers. By this point, we have enough affection for the characters that even the worst writing couldn't screw up the episode after Nate's death.

But then came all of the eyerolling factors. They were, by turns, exploitative, non-credible, and lazy. First, the writers made an unforgiveable move with David's hitchhiker hallucinations. They had the feel of a cheap horror movie, with an I-told-you-so taunt to everyone who bitched about the hitchhiking episode from last year. I don't know why they would wanted to remind us of that disastrous episode, except as an attempt to sell a conceit that it was part of a master plot toward David's redemption. Stylewise, the ominous music accompanied by the sinister red hoodie were cheesy as hell. In all, it was wholly unpersuasive.

I also considered the following ineffective: Brenda's renewed sexual tension with Billy; the quarrels over who would take custody of Mya; Nate's beyond-the-grave observations; Keith's escapade with the drugged-up actor; Ruth's brief breakdown over the stuffed monkey; Claire's flashback to Kurt Cobain's suicide.

What worked: Nate's funeral and burial; Ruth washing the hair of Nate's body; Maggie delivering the quiche to Brenda; George's return to lucidity and his interactions with Ruth; every story involving Rico and Vanessa; the scenes with David and Keith's adopted kids.

Indifferent: Claire's storylines and her interactions with Ted.

At its high points, the show thrived on weighing its characters' risktaking and compromises. Nate chose stability with Lisa and immediately regretted it; David had to reconcile his self-righteousness with normal human behavior; Ruth stumbled her way out of emotional repression. But the show's macro plots rarely were convincing, with the writers pushing their characters beyond believability. The resolution of Lisa's disappearance and George's bomb shelter both come to mind, but there were plenty of other lowlights.

The close of the series worried too much about tying up loose threads and asserting closure at the expense of our spending more time with these wonderful characters.

Still, I spent large parts of the last four episodes misty-eyed, thinking about missing these people in the same way that you miss people in real life. These last four episodes had plenty of sloppy writing, but much excellent acting. I loved that the series ended with Claire leaving the funeral home for New York, the way that Nate once left the funeral home for Seattle.

And just then, when I was blissed out on the show, there came the spectacle of shitty make-up and flash-forwards extending through 2085, and we were on the fast track to pompousville. I'll chalk it up to the residual effects of LSD in Claire's system and assume that none of it happens. Because, goddamn, while closure is nice, so is a little bit of mystery.

Postscript: I might have benefited from waiting until today to post about the episode, which, despite my harsh words, was very affecting. It made for a difficult work day.

No comments: