It’s time to think about winding it up. This season of Six Feet Under has been a mixed bag. Prior to the start, the word was that things were going to be more lighthearted. There was going to be a lessening of the morbidity and a greater emphasis on life than on death. That turned out to be very true. There have been some truly humorous moments this year. And, frankly, it was a nice break from three seasons of life in the ‘burbs with ghosts. But the downside is that we lost the core theme of life in the face of death that ran beneath the previous seasons. The net result being that this season can only be described as the sum of the plotlines, whereas the others (at least the first and third seasons, anyway) surpassed that.
The plotlines themselves were hit or miss. The relationship of David and Keith remains one of the most realistic ever portrayed from an emotional standpoint, and even the histrionic business of David’s carjacking played OK into David’s own insecurity in the face of aggression. But Keith working security for a Britney Spears clone and ending up having sex with her, and then his subsequent sex with some sleazebag to get David out of a lawsuit were really off the charts. Part of the success of David and Keith as a dramatic device depends on their being such a normal couple, except for the fact that they are both men. Their interaction is familiar yet heightened because you are concentrating on the roles each partner is playing since you can’t make the same assumptions about personality that you would in viewing a heterosexual couple. Well, I don’t know any couples of any orientation, where one partner would sit in the living room while the other had sex with a stranger upstairs in the hopes that he would drop a lawsuit against them. But maybe that’s just me.
If there is a TV relationship that is more realistic than David and Keith it’s Ruth and George, whose new marriage was in for some rough times. As with David and Keith, this couple is not your garden variety TV couple. Senior citizen couples are generally portrayed as sitting on a porch dispensing folksy wisdom or curmudgeonly wisecracks. Ruth and George are actually three dimensional old people and, despite their age, they are as messed up as the rest of us. Ruth can’t handle anything short of total emotional exposure from those around her. George doesn’t want to pull the past into his life, but it keeps intruding and when he pushes it away, Ruth believes he’s trying to hide it from her. She goes off in search of honest emotion with her sister’s friend. Meanwhile, George gets more and more obsessed with end of the world scenarios, which one suspects may be substitute for either his fear of his past catching up with him. Or his fear of death. They are as irrational and anxious as any newlyweds. Again, the use of unconventional characters only ends up heightening how identifiable they are. From a dramatic standpoint, this was most compelling plotline of the season although it went way out on a limb in the finale.
Claire fares pretty well. She tumbles headlong into drugs and sexual experimentation as is de rigueur for snobby art school types. She also begins to really find her way with her photography. A solid plotline, if a bit innocuous.
Rico was driven into the arms of another woman when his wife was going through a bout of depression. She turns out to be a manipulative maneater, and Rico gets kicked out of the house when his wife finds out. Again, dramatically, this is nothing terribly interesting. It was an excuse for a nice cat fight scene, however.
Nate’s season wasn’t all that great. He basically dealt with the death of his wife by going crazy; believing in sooth-sayers and getting messages from the great beyond, and oh yes, getting back together with Brenda who is on her third or fourth time of giving up sleeping around — this time for sure. Lots of events — some mind-numbing — happen to these two, but not so much character growth or development.
Six Feet Under is never less than exceedingly well-written. Points are made subtly through the actions of the characters and with trust in the audience’s ability to make the appreciative leap. The acting is always good, and occasionally brilliant. What was gone this season was the deeper sense of something special. That consistent underlying thread of life-death-yin-yang took a back seat; the life was there but there was no counterpoint (although the season finale set up a potential return to that form).
This could go on forever and still be entertaining TV. You can always go on, and you can probably keep the quality high for a good long time before you drift into pure soap opera. But wouldn’t it be better to wrap it up promptly? Wouldn’t be better to leave something pure and extraordinary for posterity?
Six Feet Under has been a remarkable achievement. Use season five to say what you have to say, then call it a classic and move on. You done good.