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Classic Television Rundown: Six Feet Under, Season Two, Episode Three: "The Plan"

Six Feet Under
Season Two, Episode Three: "The Plan"
Written by Kate Robin
Directed by Rose Troche
Eileen: This room has a lot of pain in it.
One of the aspects of Six Feet Under that makes it such a compelling show (and, in Brigitte's opinion, one of the best shows to ever grace the airways...which I agree with, to a point) is the way that individual episodes can stand alone from the rest of the series. In "The Plan", Mare Winningham(*) guest stars as Eileen, the wife of the Death of the Week who also happens to be a little bit psychic. It is a very guest-starry type of role that might otherwise appear on a procedural-type series one would expect from The Ghost Whisperer or Medium. In between all the procedural-type stuff, we get an episode that just seems to kind of float out there, with some quick glimpses into the types of plot twists that will (in my humble opinion) eventually become crutches that the writers lean on a bit too heavily.

(*)St. Elmo's Fire, baby!!!!!!!

More on that later. First off, the episode opens with David doing some research on AVM and asking Nate more questions about it, following up on Nate's revelation of his condition to David. The scene exists, I think, to give some continuity to the next episode, but Nate's AVM revelation is otherwise not dealt with too heavily in this episode.

In Ruth news, Ruth attends the previously-referred-to "Plan" seminar. In some respect, it seems like the hippie-dippy seminar Ruth attends is a way to get Ruth involved in something outside of what's going on in the main plot. Which, in itself is a little bit aggravating. On the other hand, Ruth has, to this point, always existed on a different plot strand than Nate, David, and Claire (in some respect, Claire and Ruth are both kind of "just there." Fortunately, Frances Conroy is a delight to watch, and when she goes berserk after humbly trying to use all the wacky mumbo-jumbo in her daily life, it is one of the more memorable scenes of the series:
"You want me to complain? All right, then. Fuck this. Fuck you. Fuck all of you with your sniveling self-pity. And fuck all your lousy parents. Fuck my lousy parents while we're at it. Fuck my selfish bohemian sister and her fucking bliss. Fuck my legless grandmother. Fuck my dead husband. And my lousy children with their nasty little secrets. And fuck you, Robbie, for dragging me to this terrible place and not letting me have a Snickers bar. I'm going to get something to eat!"
Claire and Ruth, as you may remember in season one's "An Open Book", have more of an open, sweet relationship than Ruth does with her other kids, which results in Claire being slightly more gentle-yet-firm to Ruth about how ridiculous her class is. Slightly more problematic than this, though, is Claire's ongoing relationship with the effed-up Gabe. After Claire eventually is entrapped by the guidance counselor into talking to a detective about Gabe's whereabouts, Claire is asked by Gabe to give him a ride. On said ride, in the middle of the night, Gabe pulls a gun on a motorist next to them, and Claire eventually (and melodramatically) pulls the gun away from Gabe, points it back at him, and tells him to get out of the car.

Now, I get what the purpose of this is: having Claire stand up for herself and wiping Gabe clean from her life. Buuuuut, something this TV-esque feels unnatural next to the context of the rest of the series. It reminds me a bit of the Friday Night Lights plot twist at the beginning of season two that also feels very unnatural compared to the rest of the series (albeit, not nearly as unnatural.) (**)

(**)SPOILER ALERT: It also seems to be the first hint at the other types of Misery Porn plots that will envelope the series in later episodes.

David, who, after his first fantastic episode, was slightly under-served in "Out, Out Brief Candle" (although I could just be saying that because he is by far my fave character on the show), gets a bit more meat to chew on this week. After playing racquetball with Keith (good reference to the first few episodes of the series, beeteedubs!) for the first time, Keith tells David in passing that his new boyfriend Eddie is a decent guy but isn't much interested in Keith's family. Cue our first glimpse into Keith's family life: his sister Carla is a deadbeat mom, whose precocious daughter(***) Taylor is mostly taken care of by Keith's in-denial mother. Natch, the wheels in David's mind start spinning, since David's a stand-up guy who, ostensibly, enjoys child care and is a generally nice fella. So, we are introduced to a potential "in" for David to get back with Keith. Hopefully, David's presumed eventual reunion with Keith isn't done cheaply and quickly, because there should be some struggle there. (Spoiler: OK, obvs they get back together. But I honestly don't remember why or how they do. So hopefully it is in a way that makes sense and isn't just an easy path.)

(***)One of the rare instances where the entry of a precocious child is not a debilitating distraction, mostly because Taylor is so adorably sassy yet tragically neglected.

What to do with Brenda and Nate? Well, Brenda, perhaps finding life a little harder to take now with her dear psycho brother Billy back in treatment, grasps for some kind of intellectual stimulation, especially in light of the grating dinner party she and Nate hosted last week. So she starts attending some college courses which, as she finds out, aren't what she's looking for. When the professor starts talking about how his book is a great book that she should definitely read and takes issue with the fact that she's diverging from his viewpoint, she decides to step the eff outta class and leave. Bam. After that, she lets herself get hit on by a sleazy dude at a bar and gives out a fake name. Yaba-haba.

Meanwhile, the psychic Eileen has a major effect on Nate who, after asking Eileen about whether or not she can sense Nathaniel's presence in the room (she can't), digs a bit deeper into his spiritual side. Which results in this conversation at the restaurant:
Brenda: How was your day?
Nate Jr: It was weird. Buried that psycho woman's husband and she was still talking to the guy.
Brenda: Oh, that's sad.
Nate Jr: Not for her. I mean, she really believed he was there.
Brenda: Well, she has to say that. She claims she's a psychic.
Nate Jr: You don't think that's possible? What about you saying that things happen that leave marks? People, and places, and time?
Brenda: That's physics. Energy affecting matter. Talking to dead people is delusional.
Nate Jr: So you definitely don't believe in any life after death, then?
Brenda: I think people live on through the people they love. And the things they do with their lives, if they manage to do things with their lives.
Nate Jr: But that's it. That's it. That's all there is. There's nothing more, like, bigger?
Brenda: Just energy.
Nate Jr: That there's no plan(****)?
Brenda: There's definitely no plan. Just survival.


A conversation like the one above beautifully demonstrates the show's mission statement of exploring life, death, spirituality, and non-spirituality just beautifully(*****). I am interested to see where Nate's newly found and/or renewed spiritualism, Brenda's athiesm, Brenda's personal troubles, and Nate and Brenda's relationship, take the series.

(*****)Writer Kate Robin should get mad props. In addition to this episode, she wrote the beautifully written season one penultimate episode "A Private Life" and one of my favorite episodes of the series, "All Alone". Thank you, Alan Ball, for letting your writers' individual styles shine through in scenes like this.

I realized today that I tend to grade episodes higher when the final scene makes me cry a little bit and lower when the final scene just kind of ties up some plot strands. "The Plan" is a "tie up plot strands" ending, with Claire talking to Keith about Gabe and asking him for some real life police help. I'm not totally thrilled about this turn of events, but I tend to get more bored by stuff that happens that doesn't involve the show's modus operandi and/or Richard Jenkins (who, by the way, I didn't even mention yet, has a small but as-always fantastic role in this episode). So, after writing this recap/review and digging deeper into the key scenes of the episode, I am hereby bumping the grade up one notch higher than I originally graded it. You're welcome, Six Feet Under.

Grade: B+

Memorable Quotes and Trivia
  • "I am used to it, Dad. It's been six months." -Nate Jr. "Seven. Not that you're counting." -Nathaniel. Yes, the Memory Ghosts often talk in ways the living do, as Brenda made reference to Nate's faux pas in remembering how long the two of them had been dating.
  • The Plan teacher is played by Alice Krige, who, aside from being The Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact, also appeared in a bunch of season two episodes of Deadwood (which, i am totally excited about getting on Blu-Ray in the mail later today!)
  • Grant Show plays Scott Axelrod, the sleazy business man who hits on Brenda in the bar. Like most actors working today, he had a guest role on Beverly Hills 90210 in the second season. (Also having guest roles: Peter Krause, as a college Republican (oh the irony!) and, you guessed it, also Alice Krige.
  • This was director Rose Troche's only episode she directed for the series. She went on to be an executive producer / frequent director of Showtime's The L Word. More recently, she directed a couple of episodes of Law & Order, before it was sadly put down to make more room for Law & Order: More Stuff Like The CSI Stuff Taking Place In Los Angeles Instead Of New York And Putting A Bunch Of New York Actors Out Of Work.
More spoilery trivia
  • Eileen, when being questioned by Nate about feeling his dad's presence in the room, mentions that she senses a baby in the near future. While the "joke" embedded in the scene is that Rico comes in shortly after that with baby in tow, obviously we will find later in the season that Nate is the father of a baby (an adorable one!) And not with the mother we assume it will be. We'll dig into Lily Taylor's character Lisa next week. Meanwhile, this is one of the rare instances in the series where a touch of the "truly" spiritual comes across, although obviously only if the viewer knows what is going to happen in future episodes.

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