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Classic Television Rundown: Six Feet Under, Season One, Episode Ten: "The New Person"

Six Feet Under
Season One, Episode Ten: "The New Person"
Written by Bruce Eric Kaplan
Directed by Kathy Bates
Angela: I get that feeling from all of you here. Everyone is so fragile and can't bear to hear anything. . . You know something? I never worked in a funeral home that was this depressing.
One of the unexpected benefits of going through a season of a TV show I've previously watched and writing a review of each episode is getting the opportunity to see how different writers affect different episodes. This can cause the entirety of the season to feel disjointed, with the tone sometimes shifting entirely. This is the case with episode ten, "The New Person," written by Bruce Eric Kaplan.

Kaplan was responsible for episode three, "The Foot", episode three which I had some issues with tonally. Interestingly, prior to joining the Six Feet Under writing staff, Kaplan wrote for Seinfeld, having written "The Cartoon", the episode where Elaine tries to send a Ziggy cartoon to the New Yorker to use as a New Yorker cartoon. (Kaplan was also a New Yorker cartoonist.)

Suffice to say, the sitcom elements that occasionally aggravate me about this season of Six Feet Under are in full force, starting with the hiring of a new restorative artist named Angela, played by Illeana Douglas(*). Angela serves as a classic shake-things-up-for-the-main-characters guest star, which is aggravating in itself. And she mostly exists in comic relief form to work as perfect foils for our main characters, also in turn allowing them to get along with each other better than they would without a unifying force. You get the idea: she picks up on David being gay and says awkward stuff to him, horrifies Ruth with filthy talk, and pisses off Nate for butting into his business.

(*)Actually, she was the second sitcom element added. The week's death of the week, played by John Billingsly of The Nine, is the first one of the series that has little relation to the rest of the episode, other than to provide some comic relief. He was irritating in The Nine, too.

That's not to say that the sitcom elements don't work in this episode. In fact, I laughed more in this episode than I did in any other episode of the year, and I laughed heartily and sincerely. When Angela tried to find out what David was upset about, she revealed a little too much about her dating life: "I had an ex who wanted to pee on me. I wasn't grossed out. i just thought it was kind of silly. But that's me."

The main thrust of the episode, really, was to learn a little more about the Chenowith family and, in particular, Billy and his bipolar disorder. When the Fisher family gets together with the Chenowith's at Billy's art opening, Brenda's psychiatrist(**) who wrote "Charlotte: Light and Dark" shows up and makes her feel bad and upsets Billy at the same time. We also learn that Billy may have attempted suicide a long time ago.

(**)Compared to other HBO shows that prominently feature psychiatrists, like The Sopranos or In Treatment or even the short-lived Tell Me You Love Me, psychiatrists in the Six Feet Under universe seem to be some of the worst people on the planet.

Claire, in the aftermath of Gabe's tragedy, starts spending more time with him him. Aside from being a douche in earlier episodes, he starts off a little sweet to her. They hold hands and it makes me feel nice. But, predictibly, Gabe starts pushing Claire away and starts being a jerk.

David, as usual, has the strongest material of the episode, attempting to re-kindle things with Keith, culminating in a heartbreaking scene where Keith gets away from David's attempts. Ruth, howeer, had some of the weakest material of the season, inadvertently getting into a fight with two women who previously dated Nikoli. The women felt a lot like leftover characters from True Blood; that is, overly hammy and not very realistic.

The episode ends twofold: one, with Margaret Chenowith revealing to Brenda that Billy did not, in fact, attempt suicide (enter "twist" hand-motion) but was sent to a mental instituation to receive electroshock treatment and, in fact, should also be sent there to get some more. What could have been a potentially overdramatic moment is lightened by the fact that David calls Nate, present for the dramatic conversation, at the same time, to tell him that he just fired Angela(***). Two, Claire realizes that Gabe told her he was going to visit his dad when, at the end, his mom reveals to her that (duh-duh-duh!) Gabe's dad has been dead for over ten years. So, it ends on a cliffhanger that feels very false, one with voiceover of Gabe's voice message that reminds the viewer that this is why Claire is frantic(****).

(***)That said, one could actually understand Margaret's motivation for putting Billy in an instituation in trying to protect the family. The dichotomoy between Brenda's anger at her mom and Nate's conversation with Nate is, alright, pretty funny.

(****)The same type of flashback narrative device that notoriously angered David Simon in the first episode of The Wire.

Angela's appearance did also generate two more plot development: her casual reveal to Ruth that David is gay, and Nate's re-hiring of Rico from Gallardi. It is a little frustrating to learn that many of these plot machinations were caused by one straight-out-of-a-sitcom character. But at this point, spending time with the characters is enough to get me some goodwill in an episode that mostly spun its wheels.

Grade: B

Memorable Quotes and Trivia

  • "All she told the police was that he was boring." "Sick part is I understand it. Sometimes I'm boring." "I am, too." -Nate and David on the opening patient's death. I laughed.
  • "I guess I could live with the panic attack guy." -David, on thinking of who to hire after firing Angela.
  • "Hahahaha! Look! It's your son pissing against a wall!" -Nikolai, in the episode (and the season's) most uproariously hilarious line. See, I can't be too mad because this was funny. And the episode-long joke of Billy's art of Nate pissing on a wall, and Nate's predictible indignation was all funny.
  • "It was Angela." "It was DEFINITELY Angela!" -David and Nate, pinning the blame on Angela as a reason to fire her when Ruth finds some broken glass.
  • "Thank you. I had the best time at this funny restaurant having you yell at me in the bathroom." -Ruth, to the True Blood-ish ladies.
  • "I don't wanna be friends. I wanna fuck. Can't we just have sex? It doesn't have to mean anything." -David, to Keith
  • "I don't know what's so wrong with a spontaneous brunch. I think it's nice." -Margarat.
  • "No one's ever needed me." "I need you." -Claire and Nate, in one of the first scenes of them bonding. As much as Nate acts like an a-hole around other people, his bond with Claire is, throughout the series, sincere and sweet. It makes us realize that deep down, Nate's not such a bad guy, for real.
  • "You know what? I love you and I need you. And it's okay for you to need me too. I want you to need me." -Nate, to Brenda, after his freakout about the piss photos and after being nice to Claire. Brenda smiles and says "I'm doing the best I can." If this episode had just a few more beautiful scenes like this one, it would be looking more at a B+ than a B.
Episode in its whole:
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6

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  1. Blogger qualler | 1:50 PM |  

    Sorry Unspar, but I had to delete your comment on the account of it being extra-spoilery, even if nobody is actually reading. And I'll tackle your concerns as the series goes on, so don't worry.

    At this point, I am pretty much searching for anything that makes him redeemable. I truly thing every person is redeemable, and I see redeemable qualities in Nate. His behavior in the first season is occasionally aggravating, though.

  2. Blogger Unspar! | 4:19 PM |  

    Haha, no problem. I thought it might be a little troublesome to spoil the entire series.

    You make an interesting point here, though. I see redeemable qualities in him too, but I think he's more marked and defined by being an a-hole. It sounds like you think those underlying redemptive qualities are his defining characteristics. It's an important contrast in perspectives on the human race in general even, and I'd never actually considered it like that before.

    Personally, I think, for whatever good a person or a character has in them, they can't redeem themselves. Which would be a bleak view if not for the fact that we're redeemed by One greater than us. It's like we're stuck in a hole, and we can't climb out, so we need someone to rescue us. (And no one in Six Feet Under seems to want a rescue--they all seem to want to find a way to climb out of the hole, and as they keep failing to get out, they keep getting more and more frustrated with everyone around them.)

    To end on a positive note, though, I am really enjoying your recaps. This is a great feature. I think I've reached the point where I'm more interested in pop culture commentary than pop culture itself, so I'm totally digging this.

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