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Classic Television Rundown: Six Feet Under, Season One, Episode Seven: "Brotherhood"

Six Feet Under
Season One, Episode Seven: "Brotherhood"
Written by Christian Williams
Directed by Jim McBride

"You did the right thing today." -David
"I know. Feels kind of good, doesn't it?" -Nate
In many ways, the first season of Six Feet Under revolves around the ways families interact with themselves, and in particular, the way two brothers with different personalities can find common ground in their shared background. Episode seven of season one of Six Feet Under puts Nate and David's brotherly relationship under the spotlight for the first time since the pilot episode. At this point in the season, though, a number of other plot points had been introduced, making this episode feel slightly less than cohesive.

Nate and David take in an Iraq war veteran(*) who passed away due to lung cancer named Victor Kovich. His brother steadfastly refuses to allow a Military funeral, citing the fact that Victor never talked to him about his service. While David and Nate spar over what they should allow him to do, at this point, predictably, with Nate siding in the camp of Respecting The Deceased's Wishes While Exhibiting A JackBaueresque Loose Cannon Streek and David siding with the Do Things According To Plan, ultimately Nate takes charge and gives Victor a military funeral.

(*)I had to recall that the Iraq war they were depicting was the one that took place in the early '90s, and the one in which I still have official Operation Desert Storm trading cards, including President George H. W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle as cards #1 and 2. I also forgot about the controversy surrounding Gulf War Syndrome.

Brenda, meanwhile, demonstrates her strong sibling relationship with the well-meaning but unstable Billy, he of the Claire-heart-breaking behavior. When Brenda and Nate receive a creepy gift basket featuring inappropriate gifts from Billy, Brenda reassures Nate that Billy has good intentions and that, in his bipolar brain, means that he actually likes him. Nate isn't buying it, though. And, probably, for good reason.

Claire finds herself moving further down the "What is my future holding for me?" wormhole, intentionally bombing her PSAT exam (with a wicked Skull and Crossbones bubble-fill-in image on her test!) Ruth invites Hiram over to cook dinner for the family, while each of them have their own imaginary fantasies of what's really happening, mostly giving Frances Conroy an opportunity to say wacky things that she doesn't normally say as Ruth. This season of SFU uses these imaginary things as comic relief quite a bit, to varying degrees of success. Claire's imaginary algebra-teacher-with-an-exploding-head bit looked a bit more like a scene from Evil Dead than an HBO series, and I'm not sure it was in an entirely good way.

David, as usual, is the highlight of the episode, with his conflict in whether to make the deciding swing vote in favor of bringing the progressive-minded Father Clark on board at St. Bart's church. Father Jack lobbies hard for David to make the vote in favor of Clark, but ultimately David chooses to vote against him, siding with the deacon who calls him the night before the vote concerned that he might favor a pro-gay agenda.
"I mean, I don't care if he is. I just don't want him to push that agenda. You know, marriage, that whole thing. I have a cousin in DC whose church split because of that. Literally half the congregation left. And I don't want to see that happen to St. Bart's. I've been going there for 40 years."
That David made that decision while putting some gay porn on pause(**) to take the call was a sad and extremely effective way of showing his internal struggle with his sexuality. I continue to be astounded by the excellent work by Michael C. Hall and the superb, tender writing of his character throughout this first season. And the hypocrisy of the members of the church against progressive-minded leaders like Father Clark is depicted in such a realistic, understated way. It's amazing to see characters who are obviously hypocritical, yet not depicted as total a-holes as they would be on, oh, say, True Blood. That television has rarely reached these understated heights since this originally aired in 2001 seems wrong, especially considering present-day societal circumstances.

(**)That David watches it while drinking a tall glass of milk is an especially nice twist.

Ultimately, Victor's brother attends a military funeral and is presented with an American flag. As is now custom with this show, the expected reaction, a wholehearted embrace of his brother's military past, does not come to fruition. Instead, his brother coldly shoves the flag into Nate's hands: "Give this to one of his friends," he says, and walks out the door. David somewhat begrudgingly admits that Nate was right about pushing for a military funeral, and Nate perhaps lingers in his pride a little too long.

But when Nate returns to Brenda's house for what he expects some usual post-family ca-noodling, he finds Billy in pieces on the floor, and Brenda helping him through a bipolar episode. Nate expects Brenda to push him away for what he gets used to, but he finds the strength of familial bonds stronger than the strength of doin'-it-in-crazy-positions bonds. As the episode title suggests, Brotherhood is a strong bond that is hard to break.

Grade: B+

Memorable quotes:
  • "Exposure to formeldyhyde gives me a brain tumor." -Nate. Hmmm...
  • "Your mom walked in on us once, so I guess we're even." -Brenda, on Billy walking in on Nate and Brenda doin' it.
  • "You think the world runs on logic? Open your eyes." -Claire, to her algebra teacher. Oh Claire, I wish you knew what a cliche you were.
  • "I just want something to matter. Maybe I should just wander around the desert and eat peyote and see God." -Claire, in exploring who she is with her (creepy) guidance counselor.
  • "You know what occurred to me tonight that's really strange? I wish you met my husband. I think the two of you would have liked each other." -Ruth, to Hiram. Hiram doesn't totally dig this comment.
  • "Website, we no have website!" -Nikoli; along with references to Gulf War Syndrome, this quote makes this particular episode feel quite dated.
  • "I'm so happy, I can't wait to come back tomorrow." -Ruth "You're not going to be like this every day, though, right?" -Nikoli, after finding Ruth huddled at the flower shop finding joy in the selling of flowers for joyous occasions. And, thanks to HBO's excellent actor contracts, Ed O'Ross, who plays Nikoli, shows up as, essentially, the same character in the memorable Curb Your Enthusiasm episode "The Larry David Sandwich." This is probably my favorite Curb scene...ever. ("Cream cheese. Capers. Onions." Ahhh good lord, Jeff Garlin is a genius!!!!!) Okay, along with "a little too saucy."
  • "This is who I am, this is what you get." -Brenda, to Nate on helping Billy with his stuff. Some of the first signs we see of trouble in Nate's relationship with Brenda. Man, sometimes I just wanna slap Nate repeatedly.

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