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Classic Television Rundown: Six Feet Under, Season One, Episode Four: "Familia""

Six Feet Under
Season One, Episode Four: "Familia"
Written by Laurence Andries
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko
Paco: Let go of me, you fucking fag. I gots to go.
David: Jesus, you're just a kid.
Paco: So are you.
As an excuse to link to the greatest fan fiction crossover I have ever read, "Dr. Frasier Crane Meets Jerry Seinfeld", I must point out the excellent fan fiction crossover possibilities that exist in the opening scene of "Familia". In the aftermath of the fire that ended "The Will", Nate and Brenda are questioned by two detectives, one of whom is played by Dean Norris, aka Hank Schrader from Breaking Bad. The fact that his character is named "Detective Shea" is not a detriment to the excellent crossover possibilities, seeing that Norris plays Detective Shea's questioning abilities in exactly the same way he plays Hank's questioning abilities. I'm going to assume that, prior to moving to New Mexico, Hank was LAPD.

In all seriousness, though, after a minor misstep in last week's "The Foot", "Familia" brings the family back together in an episode that both advances the plot, character development, and works terrifically as a stand-alone episode.

Let's start with David, as this is mostly his episode. David continues to soul-search in his decision whether or not to sell his shares in Fisher and Sons. And, he continues to deal with the fallout of the gay-slurs thrown at Keith and him at the grocery store in the previous episode. And, with the young man in question who was murdered speaking to him(*) about what to do with all of the various problems in his life, Manuel "Paco" Pedro Antonio, he starts to figure out what to do with his life.

(*)In one particular scene, David is talking to Manuel in the morgue downstairs, and Ruth asks him who he is talking to. This weirds me out a little because I always assumed that these scenes were purely imagination. When this happens on Rescue Me, a show that liberally borrows the Memory Ghost device from Six Feet Under, it is assumed that Tommy Gavin has post-traumatic stress disorder that brings on schizophrenic conversations with figments of his mind, brought upon by his heavy drinking. No such explanation here.

David messes up when he tries to bring Rico into the funeral planning of Paco, not differentiating between Rico's Puerto Rican upbringing and Manuel's Mexican heritage. Keith gives him grief about not defending himself toward the gay bashers, and he continues to fret about what to do with his newly found family business.

It cannot be stressed enough how strong of a character David is from day one. Knowing actor Michael C. Hall's pedigree from his work on Dexter, it is amazing to see how distinct of a character David is. David Fisher and Dexter Morgan look pretty much the same physically, but there is no doubt that if David and Dexter met each other in a wacky crossover universe, the viewer would easily know the difference. This is not because of a slightly different haircut, or looser-fitting clothing worn by Dexter than by David. It's the way David talks, the way David moves, and just the way he looks around. Michael C. Hall is spectacular.

Nate continues to go down the path of messing around with Brenda, and their bond becomes deeper and more intense as she continues to connect with him on a physical and emotional level that he totally digs. But, obviously he starts suspecting her of being responsible for burning down the house. Nate also invites her to an awkward family dinner, in which Ruth accidentally walks in on him giving Brenda some, shall we say, "inappropriate appetizers." It's all quite hilarious and somewhat inconsequential.

But the most touching moment comes from after the funeral, when the Antonio family asks the Fishers to join them in prayer. In that moment, the Antonios reach out to the Fishers and mention in their prayer the Fisher family, who also lost their father recently. See, every time the show uses Nathaniel's death in the first season, it is done so freaking artistically and beautifully, so that we immediately remember the reason why we care about these people in the first place: they are going through a tremendously traumatic experience that they are dealing with in the only way they know how to -- by being a family and sticking to each other. And in that moment, the Paco ghost tells David hammers home the point he has made every time he's given him advice on how to handle his situations: that he's just a kid.

So when David starts throwin' down on Gallardi(**) and confidently pronounces that he is "together" with Keith at the bowling alley, we've somehow come to the end of a classic "comes to realize" story about David, where, at least for one episode, David learned something about himself, and about his relationships with his family and his boyfriend.

(**)He delivers this speech in his now trademark Dexter voice. Although, he looks a lot different than Dexter Morgan does.

Much like the awkward family dinner in the middle of the episode, and the flip side to that in the tender moment at the end of the episode between Ruth and Claire, the Fisher family knows no other way to deal with their grief than to interact and to work out their feelings by sharing their bond with one another. Like the Antonio family shared with the Fisher family, that bond is what makes the concept of familia universal and so important.

Grade: A-

Other Stuff
  • Director Lisa Cholodenko also directed this summer's wacky Mark Ruffalo sperm-donor themed film The Kids are Alright as well as the most recent episode of HBO's not-really-a-comedy-but-thinks-it-is-a-comedy Hung. Writer Laurence Andries, meanwhile, was a staff writer for Graham Yost's (showrunner of Justified) Boomtown, and wrote the mega-harrowing parts 5 and 6 of this year's excellent miniseries The Pacific on HBO. It's kind of amazing to see the pedigree of writers and directors who started on Six Feet Under.
  • "I was all-state champion in the Youth for Christ bowling league when I was 17." --David, on his bowling skills. In the meantime, did you realize that Pete Yorn is in that scene? Wonder what he's up to. Then again, maybe I don't.
  • "Dinner's almost ready." --Ruth, after a tender interaction with Claire over the mysteriously burned house. After all of Ruth's suspicions of Claire's crazy behavior, she quietly understands that Claire is her daughter, and loves her. This kind of tenderness is what Six Feet Under delivers better than most other family dramas on television.
  • The above point lends itself to the question: What genre of drama is Six Feet Under? Clearly, in the early 2000s, HBO was all about taking familiar genres and twisting them -- The Sopranos with the mafia genre, Deadwood with the Western, Rome with the medieval stuff or whatever. I would say Six Feet Under is truly a descendant of the classic family drama, like The Waltons. Big Love, then, would be more like a descendant of Six Feet Under.

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  1. Blogger Brigitte | 12:49 PM |  

    Man, what a great episode. I love rewatching/reliving this first season of Six Feet Under. What a show!

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