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Classic Television Rundown: Six Feet Under, Season Two, Episode Five: "The Invisible Woman"

Six Feet Under
Season Two, Episode Five: "The Invisible Woman"
Written by Bruce Eric Kaplan
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa
Ruth: Get up!
I am starting this recap in a slightly crabby TV mood, so what I write about the fifth episode of season two of Six Feet Under might be written with that mindset. So, bear with me.

Specifically, I'm a little crabby about the fact that my favorite new show of 2011, Lights Out on FX, was cancelled last week. Lights Out is a wonderful example of the (creative) success a show that has a heavily serialized method of storytelling. The story revolves around Patrick "Lights" Leary's comeback to his heavyweight boxing career, which is mostly prompted by his need to start bringing in income. The life he and his family led has become unsustainable, and the big financial home run swings he took didn't pay off as well as he hoped. The collapse of the economy brought him to the point where he got back into the boxing ring. It's a wonderful example of a show that is, ostensibly, about boxing, but is really about more: the way Americans get behind on their savings plans, live beyond their means, and then feel entitled to return things back to their unsustainable lifestyles. Of course, it can also be enjoyed on a purely visceral level, reveling in the Rocky-style boxing comeback story. Whatever way you slice it, Lights Out is high quality dramatic television.

What Lights Out didn't do, which may have hurt its commercial success, is tell stories on a highly procedural level. Now, this isn't to say that shows that tell stories on procedural levels and serial levels cannot be creatively succesful. One of my favorite shows on TV is also on FX and balances the procedural with serial absolutely beautifully, Justified. And, as I have documented in this series of posts on Six Feet Under, it is a show that balances individual episode stories with overarching serialized plots (in some examples, like the series-to-date high point "The Room" succeeding mostly as an individual episode that didn't advance the serial plot too much). Granted, a talky boxing drama on a network that, demographics-wise, skews young male, is a tough commercial sell, and its total viewership never grew over 800,000 viewers, so one cannot blame FX too much for ending the series prematurely (along with the similarly critically acclaimed FX buddy cop drama Terriers). Still, it stings a little bit to see a show that is so good get axed.

Which is a long way of getting to my point: this episode of Six Feet Under is, structurally, a lot like "The Room": an episode that mostly explores one character by way of the Death of the Week. In this case, the focus is (mostly) on Ruth. When a woman named Emily Previn dies alone at home, it causes Ruth to do a deep level of self-examination. Ruth has dreams where she wakes herself up from the funk that she is in.

As a result, Ruth takes the lead in planning Previn's funeral. Since Previn didn't have any close friends or family to help her, Ruth becomes heavily involved in the planning of her funeral, and asks the rest of her family to attend it with her. Though the episode itself doesn't provide too much dream-like context into Ruth's head the way the show often does with Nate or David, Ruth's quiet grief over her disconnection with her family in the wake of her husband's death is at once tragic and in another way, touching.

The other "invisible woman" in the episode is Brenda, who, in her post-Billy funk, decides to start writing a novel, one which Nate encourages her to write and add him as a "thinly-veiled" character. Naturally, Brenda's writing quickly devolves into a mental "nothing you do is original" pity party, so she calls the prostitute massage client she befriended in the last episode and meets her for lunch. Brenda learns, though, that prostitution is "just a way to pay the bills" and, after serving as a "watcher" at one of the prostitute's afternoon rendezvous, decided to instinctively propose to Nate, ostensibly because she made as rash of a decision to do so as she did to start writing her book, stop writing, look into a career of prostitution, and end that, all in the same day.

David continues dating, this time befriending a charming, down-to-earth lawyer named Ben Cooper (played by Party Down and Parks and Recreation's Adam Scott!) and making a genuine connection, which of course is ruined by the fact that he quickly decided to kiss Keith after a particularly tough day that Keith had with his adorable-and-somehow-not-totally-grating-despite-being-extremely-precocious niece Taylor. Claire also learned about how her pseudo-friend Parker hired someone to take the SAT exam for her, while also learning that her borderline creepy guidance counselor is, indeed, full-on creeptastic. Yowza.

Coming off of her wacky / slightly irritating "The Plan" classes, Ruth comes to the realization that her self-actualizing movement is empty, as she finds herself alone, grasping to the memories of a family that still exists but has evolved. One thing episodes like this do well is demonstrate the feelings of our main characters without coming out and banging us over the head too much.

As it is, "The Invisible Woman" is a solid, mostly procedural episode of Six Feet Under that doesn't rise to the levels of "The Room" but works well by itself (except for that whole Brenda Proposing To Nate thing, which will become bigger as the season goes on.) And, it's probably the kind of episode where casual viewers could come in and start watching the show and know all they need to know and the show could build ratings that way and continue to exist unlike a show like Lights Out that builds upon itself and tells a long-form single story with a lot of different layers and now I'm just getting myself worked up again so I better end this Rundown right about ... now. Sigh.

Grade: B

Memorable quotes and trivia
  • David mentions the song that Emily Previn chose for her funeral, "And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going", is from the (then just stage) musical Dreamgirls and then starts singing it. What a guy.
  • Bruce Eric Kaplan also wrote "The New Person" from season one, aka my least favorite episode of that first season, which also was mostly procedural, but was a lot wackier. Happily, this episode wasn't as wacky as the aforementioned.
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