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Classic Television Rundown: Six Feet Under, Season Two, Episode Six: "In Place of Anger"

Six Feet Under
Season Two, Episode Six: "In Place of Anger"
Written by Christian Taylor
Directed by Michael Engler
Nate: You know, I keep thinking it's going to get easier, but it just doesn't.
David: No it doesn't. It just gets more familiar.
The fact that the above quote-of-the-week really has no relation to the rest of this episode speaks volumes about the crazy shifts in quality within a season (or, in this case, an episode) of Six Feet Under. Writer Christian Taylor, he who wrote the most beautiful overall episode of the series to date, season one's "The Room", threw this exchange in between Nate and David when they were discussing the Death of the Week, but their week's intake was not even really the main Nate'n'Davey story of the week. Instead, we were subjected to yet another Krohener-wants-to-buy-Fischer'n'Sons plot, where the exact same notes were played out that happened in the first few episodes of the series! Worse yet was the entry of the previously-referred-to sister of Ruth named Sarah, played by TV vet Patricia Clarkson, who came in at first to stir things up in a way not dissimilar to when Illiana Douglas showed up in "The New Person" to shake the Fishers' out of their stifled, dysfunctional ways. And yet, like what happens frequently, the episode shook itself out of its stale rhythms and surprised me, yet again, with a gorgeous second half.

First, the bad. As described above, the Death of the Week dug up yet another Krohener-wants-to-buy-out-Fisher-and-Sons story, this time leading the new Krohener rep Mitzi to take the boys on a plane ride to some sort of weird funeral industry corporate headquarters pool house (cuz, those exist?) Mitzi lubes Nate & David up with some frozen drinks, David tells Nate they "might as well enjoy it", David gets precariously close to deciding he wants out of the funeral business, Nate tells Mitzi to fuck off, yada yada yada. Look, I get it, SFU: the family business is still very important to the Fisher family and their identity, and yet the burdens of dealing with death on an everyday basis can be daunting. Plus, blah blah blah, corporate America is bad, blah blah blah. It is just frustrating that this particular storyline that was an obvious weak link from the start of the series and had a very good opportunity to go away in the season finale of season one is still hanging around. Yargh.

Furthermore, Patricia Clarkson's entrance to the series smacks of Deus Ex GuestStarIa, in which a well-known guest actor/actress comes in, shakes things up for the main characters, and pushes them down a different path than they would have gone had they not run into the Guest Star. Nothing against Clarkson, who acts the hell out of her part in all respects and is a fantastic addition to any show, but her character Sarah, Ruth's distant, total-opposite-from-Ruth-in-all-respects sister, starts out as what seems to be a writer's convenience(*).

(*)That she comes in and immediately praises Claire for her as-of-now-never-mentioned talent in art also smacks of the annoying television trope of "Character Is An Artist And We Need To Show You The Art The Character Creates That Is So Genius." The last few episodes of the new season of Parenthood did that with Sarah Braverman and her play about the Braverman family, and, as AV Club writer Carrie Raisler & I discussed via Twitter, is totally unnecessary. As Carrie said, "The funny thing is how easy it would be to write around. It's like they WANT to write those scenes." Truth.

And yet, like what always seems to happen on this show, the episode gradually hits a turning point from lamefest to genuinely wonderful television, hinging on what they tend to do well: write and act a family dinner scene. Nikolai comes by for dinner (a dinner which, by the way, is one where Nate & Brenda announce they are engaged) and awkwardness ensues, where Sarah flirts with Nikolai, Ruth gets upset about the Nate & Brenda engagement, and they drink too much vodka. Like Parenthood, this show seems to succeed when it throws all of its characters into a room together and just lets them bounce off each other. Unlike that show, where, as the weird Lars Von Trier's Antichrist fox would say "Chaos Reigns", awkwardness and tension reigns supreme in the Fisher family.

As expected, Brenda's engagement doesn't really seem to get her out of her funk, as she has a dream about Nate literally smothering her with a pillow, followed by her f'realzies giving one of her massage clients a happy ending, followed by her very carefully washing her hands (ew.) The expanding Nate & Brenda relationship bubble is expanding ever-so-much, and it is one of the great sources of tension at this point in season two. David, meanwhile, gets honest with Ben (played by Adam Scott! Yes!) and tells him he's in love with someone else (Keith, duhhh!) It's maybe the first honest emotional thing that David has done all season, and while Ben feels stilted (and why wouldn't he? He's freakin' Adam Scott, and nobody jilts Adam Scott, not even Michael C. Hall!), it seems to be a good choice for David.

And, hey, Sarah's character, like what happens so frequently on the show, turns out to have an added layer of sadness that makes her instantly a richer, more likable character. Ruth and Sarah's argument-cum-understanding-of-each-other is another one of those great scenes, like the one in last season's "Knock, Knock" with Nate and Traci, where a total stock character is broken down into a human. This leads to another gut-punching final scene with Ruth and Claire opening up Claire's old box of stuff she had when she was a little kid. Yet another tear-jerking final scene.

Sure, other shows demonstrate an ability to make characters human without making them cartoons first, but God bless Alan Ball, if that's the only way he can get a show to make a character human, then go with your strong suit. Now, if only he would do that with, oh, any of the characters on True Blood.

Grade: B (or, C first half, A- second half)

Memorable quotes & random thoughts
  • Hey! It's Harriet Sansom Harris as the wife of the Death of the Week guy, aka Bebe from Frasier. The fact that she played so non-crazy through the first 45 minutes of the episode was somewhat disconcerting to me, since she plays crazy so well on Frasier (and that Guthrie performance of The Glass Menagerie where Brigitte & I saw her) but, lest you think otherwise, she pulls out a fine goin'-crazy scene near the end. Phew. Thanks for using your actors' strengths, SFU.
  • Claire is chatting with people online with the AOL Instant Messenger sound a sign that she is using AOL Instant Messenger. Anybody else think it's weird that people born between 1982-1985 may forever be the only people to ever experience chatting with their friends on their computers in high school using AOL Instant Messenger? Technology, man.
  • "You're the only thing in my life that works." -Brenda, to Nate. Yikes, that bubble is growing.
  • "It's all hard, Ruth. We just made different choices." -Sarah, in that great scene near the end.
  • "Is there any more vodka left?" -David, punctuating that dinner scene.

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  1. Blogger chris | 9:22 PM |  

    Oh man, so when I first started realizing how awesome Patricia Clarkson was a few years ago, I couldn't shake this feeling that I remembered not liking her or a character she played in something for some reason. This may have been it. Thx Qualler for putting that baby to bed for me!

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