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Classic Television Rundown: Six Feet Under, Season One, Episode Nine: "Life's Too Short"

Six Feet Under
Season One, Episode Nine: "Life's Too Short"
Written by Christian Taylor
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa
Brenda: You counsel people about death every day, Nate, when death is what you're most afraid of. What's wrong with this picture?
Now we're getting somewhere. Now we're moving toward some kind of grand themes. In episode nine, written by Christian Taylor and Jeremy Podeswa, our characters move closer to some resolution, or some realization of some type. And it is done, again, in an episode that toys with stand-alone episode themes, mostly relating back to the title of the episode.

Nate, having inevitably failed his funeral directors exam(*), found himself at somewhat of a career-related crossroads. Brenda picked up on this and, in Brenda-like fashion, secretly booked some appointments with other funeral directors to see how they do their customer service. She takes him to different types of directors, stating that they are planning a funeral for an aunt. While at the third director, Brenda surprises Nate by pretending she is the one who is dying, acting as if she has cancer. Thus Nate's freaked-out reaction that causes Brenda to say what she said to him in the quote-of-the-episode.

(*)Yes, there truly is a funeral directors exam. It is administered by the International Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards, or, ICFSEB, or simply, The Conference. Directors are licensed on a state-by-state basis. Yes, I may be the only person Googling this information for the purposes of TV blogging today.

Which leads me to something that's not quite on-topic but also not quite an aside. Brenda's behavior in this episode bothers me. Her journey to take Nate to other directors and elicit a reaction from him seems to be breaching on Manic Pixie Dream Girl(**) territory. Brenda, at this point in the series, has always been teetering somewhere between realistic eccentricity and MPDG-dom, but this journey she takes Nate on is the most egregious example of moving the wrong way.

Of course, like what frequently happens on Six Feet Under (at least, in its first season), Brenda's eccentricity has a purpose, and a root. Of course, her insanely psychoanalytical parents, the ones who put her through crazy psychoanalytical testing that led to the writing of "Charlotte: Light and Dark", are mostly to blame for her eccentricity. And, like we learned in "The Will", Brenda has a heart that is deep and giving. So, it is not totally out of the realm of realism for Brenda to get Nate to come to realize what may have kept him from the Fisher family business for so long in the first place: his paralyzing fear of death.

(**)Thank you, Nathan Rabin of the AV Club, for coining this incredibly descriptive term. You are a master of writing!

If the main thrust of the episode is explicitly stating Nate's fear of death, the side stories involving David, Claire, and Ruth all do a nice job of depicting the main themes as well, perhaps more subtly and beautifully than Nate's crisis. For one, the episode opens with Gabe Dimas' little brother accidentally shooting himself while Gabe and his druggy friend were absentmindedly doing some drugs in their bedroom instead of watching over him. Like so many times in the first season of Six Feet Under, Gabe being a Big Old Toolbag gets twisted, as we see him in a sympathetic light. Not only was this a horrible tragedy for him and his family, but we also see perhaps why Gabe is a Big Old Toolbag: absent dad who only shows up for the boy's funeral, Gabe and he get into a physical altercation, mother with substance abuse issues. The closing shot of Claire rubbing Gabe's head at their house while he cries is one of the more heartbreaking-yet-touching moments of the first season.

David continues to see young square-dancing stud Kurt, who gets him to take some ecstasy at the club. Lo and behold, David starts to realize that clubbing, doing drugs, and promiscuous sex are not for him. And, just when I was about to mention to Brigitte how much I was missing Keith, he showed up at the club with his new boyfriend. Keith gets disgusted by seeing David doing drugs at the club and leaves.

Meanwhile, that ecstasy finds a wacky home when David leaves some of it in the aspirin jar in the kitchen. In Six Feet Under As A Sitcom news, numerous wacky situations get us into the "Who Accidentally Took The Ecstasy" situation that was similarly played out in last week's uproarious It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode "Who Got Dee Pregnant?" Surprise, it's the least expected character who takes said ecstasy accidentally as Ruth takes it while on a camping trip with Hiram. Thankfully, what starts as a much too wacky situation turns into one of the more touching moments of the season: Ruth's ecstasy trip takes her to a conversation with Nathaniel, Sr., and her admission of missing what they once had, and their embrace. That Ruth apparently had hot blackout sex with Hiram as a result doesn't seem to matter: at episode's end, her drug-induced rendezvous with her dearly departed husband leave her happier than she's been all season(***).

(***)Great scene, bee tee dubs. It starts with Ruth following a guy dressed in a bear suit down to a valley where Nathaniel is working on a car. The whole scene has a blue tint to it, and Ruth's conversation with him takes it from a silly world to a silly-but-still-real-feeling world. Kudos to Taylor for writing a beautiful scene and Podeswa for directing it, and for the incomparable Frances Conroy and (uncredited in this episode) Richard Jenkins for bringing it all to life.

It's Six Feet Under's ability to make me tear up at the little moments of life, smile at the little character interactions, that demonstrate its biggest strengths. It seems, at this point in the season, that these moments are unable to happen without those big, wacky, broad moments. This can get maddening, but the payoff, especially in this first season, is very much worth it.

Grade: B+

Memorable Quotes and Trivia:
  • "We don't have anniversaries. I never agreed to anniversaries." -Ruth.
  • "What would you like the note to say?" "Fuck you, cunt." -Ruth, and an unruly customer at the flower shop.
  • "It's an electric car, and it's very good for the environment." -Ruth, on Hiram's electric car. Actor Ed Begley, Jr., is a staunch environmentalist. Meta alert!
  • "Beep beep! Beep beep! Hehehehehe!" -Nikolai, on said electric car.
  • You know what I find interesting? If you lose a spouse, you're called a widow, or a widower. If you're a child and you lose your parents, then you're an orphan. But what's the word to describe a parent who loses a child? I guess that's just too fucking awful to even have a name." -Brenda.
  • "She was only sixty-three. Isn't that young?" -Unnamed intake people, whom Nate and David get tired of, in the light of a six-year-old accidentally shooting himself. A little perspective goes a long way.
  • "I get it. He's hot. In a generic, Banana Republic kind of way." -Claire, on Kurt. Claire is funny. I like her. She's got spunk.
  • "Did you know you're not supposed to go camping while you're menstruating?" -Ruth.
  • "Michael C. Hall! You're hot! You're hot!" -Brigitte, on David takin' off his shirt at the club.
  • "I'm a serious guy. I bury people for a living. I'm sorry I can't...I'm sorry. Goodbye." -David! Oh, man, what a great admission to see for David. Now, David, please take the next step and just come out of the closet.
  • "Life happened to us. I buried hundreds of people and we watched each other grow old." -Nathaniel, while on Ruth's drug trip.
  • "I miss what we had." -Ruth.
  • Nice to see Stephen Pasquele again, reprising his role as Kurt, the square dance instructor. Which reminds me how great the acting is in Rescue Me, and yet how reprehensible most of the later-series episodes have been. I hope when that series returns next year, it comes close to its heights in season one and a few episodes here-and-there after.
  • As an aside to my aside on Rescue Me, later down the road, I'll be tackling the total pointlessness of Misery Porn plots, of which this series, along with shows like Rescue Me and Nip/Tuck put to use far too often in order to stretch the series for more episodes. Only the truly great series avoid the Misery Porn conundrum.
  • Christian Taylor, the writer of this episode, was also responsible for the high point of this season, the masterful "The Room." He also wrote Lost's season one episode "White Rabbit," the first one of Lost to feature Jack Shephard chasing after the ghost version of his dad. Interesting, because when I first saw that episode of Lost, I deemed it a Six Feet Under ripoff.
  • Jeremy Podeswa, meanwhile, is a frequent TV director, having directed recent episodes of Rubicon, Boardwalk Empire, and The Pacific, as well as the episode "That Night, a Forest Grew" of Dexter, season two, aka the last season the plot of that series had any type of urgency. Dexter also stars Michael C. Hall, obvs.
Finally, episode links below.

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  1. Blogger chris | 1:24 PM |  

    Ah yes I remember this ep well, despite its horrendously trite name! Good stuff.

    I think that quote from Brenda at the bottom (about parents who lose a child) was the subconscious inspiration for a couple of my characters (Samira and Kyle) in Griefbusters aka Dead Hearts.

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