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Classic Television Rundown: Six Feet Under, Season One, Episode Eight: "Crossroads"

Six Feet Under
Season One, Episode Eight: "Crossroads"
Written by Laurence Andries
Directed by Allen Coulter
Claire: Hey, what happened to that guy, Keith?
David: It just didn't work out.
Claire: That's too bad.
David: Life goes on.
Claire: That it does.
David: There's work to be done.
While going through the first season of Six Feet Under, one pattern I have noticed is some fairly on-the-nose episode titles. Usually, episode titles relate either to some physical space or event that occurs in the episode, or relates to some situation the characters find themselves in. Episode eight, "Crossroads," has the somewhat dubious distinction of being both. Not only does Claire finally attend the oft-discussed Crossroads camp, but most of the major characters find themselves at a metaphorical crossroads. In life. Get it?

Okay, so this is one of those times when Six Feet Under gets a little too in love with itself for its own good. As with the rest of this season, there is enough good stuff to make this an alright episode.

Rico, who is looking for the Fischer boys to show him some respect for his mad skills in body restoration, decides to take on a one-off job with Krohener, the previously-mentioned Evil Funeral Conglomorate That Only Cares About Money, Not Caring About Familes Who Die. That Gallardi(*), the guy who shows up in the pilot episode and the second and third, walks in to give Rico an offer for full-time employment (that, oh, by the way, he only has 48 hours to accept! Them slick-speaking business folk!) is further proof that Evil Funeral Conglomorates That Only Care About Money are totally Evil. This is, of course, Rico's Crossroads event: should he leave Fischer and Sons to take a better-paying job(**)? In the end, Rico decides to go with Krohener, because the Fischer brothers can't offer him a partner gig with their business.

(*)Further making Gallardi Six Feet Under's worst character of all time is the fact that he walked into the factory-like mortuary with an open mug of coffee. Aren't there health code violations against stuff like that?

(**)This is the second Should I Take This Job dilemma on an episode of TV that I watched this week. The other was episode 11 of the latest season of Mad Men, "Chinese Wall." Dammit Pete, just take the damn other job where you won't be verbally and emotionally abused by e'rybody around you! Do it for Trudy, dammit! DO IT FOR TRUDY! THAT'S ALLISON BRIE YOU ARE MESSING WITH!!!

Ruth finds herself at a relationship crossroad: should she spend her romantic time with the romantic, ethereal, gentle Hiram? Or should she be with the cantankerous but potentially passionate Russian Nikolai? Her dilemma is mostly comically played for laughs with her imagination running wild about Hiram while talking with Nikolai and vice-versa for Nikolai while hanging with Hiram. Personally, it seems odd that Ruth would even go for Nikolai -- it seems as though Hiram is so well-suited for her that it's crazy. Plus they've been together for a lot longer than Ruth has even known Nikolai. Why is this even a dilemma?

Nate, meanwhile...oh, Nate, Nate, Nate. Nate has had his share of exasperating self-aggrandizing moments, but he really goes well above and beyond anything he's done in prior episodes here. His clear crossroads moment comes when he decides to go sunbathing instead of studying for his Funeral Directors exam, while business over the summer starts to dry up. Like the true a-hole that he is, he decides to spend more time getting all paranoid about Brenda's friend from Australia who comes to visit. That Billy speaks as the voice of reason while Nate smokes a whole lotta marijuana with the gang and has a pretty bad trip speaks to Nate's total lack of empathy toward others. And that Nate has the gall to show up at Brenda's the next day and give her a quasi-apology about his high freakout, while explaining that he only did it because he couldn't stand the idea of her spending time with another dude (which, by the way, isn't a real apology, Nate!) and THEN demands that Brenda apologize for using other people to push him away, makes my head hurt. Brenda mostly laughs it off, but takes it a lot more seriously than I would like to see her do. Granted, I think all of us can relate to what I would ultimately consider Nate's deep insecurity(***).

(***)As Chris points out in his recent Nip/Tuck post, Nate Fischer represents the leading man jackwad who ultimately tries to change and continues to revert back to what he is. He's somewhat similar then to Tony Soprano, although the big difference is that David Chase continues to slap the viewer upside the head every time we are about to think, "Hey, this Tony guy is actually just like me!" whereas it is more clear that Nate represents the everyman. Thankfully, Six Feet Under works better when looking at the central character as the entire Fischer family, and I think that, while Nate might be the prodigal son character, the story arcs of the others in the family are just as important.

David, as per usual, has the most compelling crossroad situation. Square dance teacher Kurt shows up, all handsome and smooth, and takes David on a date. When Kurt starts asking him about what he thinks about dating older guys (David being an "older guy"), David has the chance to come clean about how he's not really out at all. In even more heart-breaking fashion, David forgoes more opportunities. At this point, both Nate and Claire separately know that David is gay, but the wall that he is building around himself is starting to damage his relationships with his family and is putting him in a potentially self-destructive spiral.

That Claire's literal crossroad is essentially the Crossroads program she finds herself in is typical of her character in the first season. I really do like Claire as a character and, in general, Lauren Ambrose's portrayal of Claire as a misanthropic teenager who is trying to find herself. But too often in the first season, it seems like the writers don't know what to do with her, so they either send her off on unrelated side stories, like putting a foot in Gabe Dimas' locker, or have her work as a foil to other characters' stories, like using her as a conduit to show how whacked out Billy is.

All in all, we find ourselves at a "crossroads" to the season. More than halfway through the year, we are starting to find our characters moving toward making decisions in their lives that will affect each other, and their lives. And, after a few episodes of some navel-gazing (albeit, really great naval-gazing), the plot machinations need to start moving along. So, in episode eight, we get an episode perhaps a little too clever for its own good, but one that works fine with what it is intended to do.

Grade: B

Memorable Quotes and Miscellaneous Trivia
  • "You are fucking with people's lives here!" -Dennis, the Crossroads guy. "Some of those people are completely innocent bystanders. Hello!" -Claire. Claire says "hello!" in exasperation better than most people on earth.
  • "My dad's a big shot at Disney." -Parker, in revealing to Claire that she's a "compulsive liar danger slut." This character development, along with the guy in the entertainment biz that David took home that one time, seems to suggest that the writers have some issues with other people in the entertainment game.
  • "Irreverence was my drug of choice. Still is, I guess. Ha ha ha ha ha!" -Hiram, at the end of Ruth's Nikolai fantasy. Okay, now I understand a little more why Ruth would be interested in Nikolai over boring Hiram.
  • "Nobody's ever what they seem to be." -Parker. "Nobody interesting." Claire.
  • "Did you just make me a lifetime commitment right before the thinly-veiled threat of abandonment?" -Brenda, on Nate being a total jackhole.
  • Episode director Allen Coulter is kind of the go-to guy for pilot episodes for HBO-template serial dramas these days, having recently directed the pilots for Rubicon and Sons of Anarchy. He also directed many episodes of The Sopranos, including a definite Top 5 Episode of the series, "College." That's the one where Tony brings Meadow on a college visit and, well, you know the rest.
  • Every time I see Michael Cudlitz in anything, I think to myself, "Hey look, it's Sean Astin!" But, it's not. Cudlitz was most recently on Southland and had a longish guest bit on the original (and still the best) 90210.
  • Yeah, that was Stephen Pasquale, aka Garrity from Rescue Me as Kurt, the square dancing teacher going out with David. For as many times as Denis Leary called Garrity gay on Rescue Me, he plays his gay character pretty straight on Six Feet Under. (No pun intended.)
Finally, episode links.

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  1. Blogger chris | 1:13 PM |  

    Wow this is the first season one episode you've recapped that I simply do not remember whatsoever. And I know I saw the whole first season because my brother taped every week for me. Weird, I hope I remember the next one you write about!

    "College" is def still my fave Sopranos ep yet (about four eps away from finishing S5), possibly tying with the penultimate ep of Season 2.

  2. Blogger qualler | 2:30 PM |  

    Yeah, it's funny how elements of certain episodes I just remember as moments but don't remember exactly how or when stuff happens. I remember the stuff about Claire going on a trip and about Nate getting high but I didn't remember that they happened in the same episode. And I definitely don't remember Garrity showing up!

  3. Blogger qualler | 3:01 PM |  

    Oh yeah, College is a great episode, perhaps the best single example of how great The Sopranos can be. I can think of a few others off the top of my head that you have yet to get to that are as good as that one, albeit episodes that function better having seen the culmination of the events that lead up to them, but "College" might be my favorite of all time. I can't remember what happens in the penultimate episode.....oh wait, now I do. Oh yeah. That's good. Whoo.

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