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Classic Television Rundown: Six Feet Under, Season Two, Episode Eight: "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"

Six Feet Under
Season Two, Episode Eight: "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"
Written by Scott Buck
Directed by Alan Taylor

Marilyn: Jesse always said you gotta live every day like you might die tomorrow. Cuz you know what?
Nate Jr: You just might.
As much as the early episodes of Six Feet Under were defined by the death of Nathaniel, the show seemed to get away from that early focus as season one wound up and found new death-related life in Nate's AVM. But the season highpoint "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" brought us back to that memorable pilot in a big way.

Nathaniel has certainly loomed large in the series, but until this episode, our only glimpse of the true, non-memory-distorted version of him was in the opening scene of the pilot. However, Christmas Day brought each of our characters back to their last memory of Nathaniel before he passed away, which meant we see non-Memory Ghost Nathaniel for the first (and only?) time of the series. Nate remembers a time on Thanksgiving where he, Claire, and Nathaniel share a moment on their front step, David remembers that Christmas morning when he was working on a body, Claire recalls heading over to Gabe's house instead of going with her dad to the airport(*), and even Federico remembers the Christmas Eve when Nathaniel sent him home to be with his family. Of course, Ruth has the most heartbreaking, sad memory when washing the dish that held some veggies that Nathaniel gnoshed on before heading out on his drive that fateful Christmas morning.

(*)An eerie detail here, as obviously what happened that morning would have been an even bigger tragedy, likely killing Claire as well if she decided to go with him.

This anniversary set off a between-the-lines examination of how Nathaniel's death has altered the lives of all of the main characters. Based on the flashback, David has clearly become a more balanced, more assertive man, more comfortable in his sexuality and able to step out of his father's big shadow. Nate, for better or worse, is less of a slacker than he was that last Thanksgiving.

Others connected to Nathaniel aren't doing as well. Rico's flashback was a reminder why he feels so compelled to stay with the Fisher & Sons business -- Nathaniel treated him extremely well. It also seems to explain why Rico is such a jerk to the brothers -- for all the talk they heard about Nathaniel being a larger-than-life guy, clearly people thought of him that way because of the way he treated them. Ruth's episode arc was a reminder of how lonely her life has gotten, despite her relative unhappiness in her marriage with Nathaniel. Clearly, her former normalcy with Nathaniel would be preferable to Nikolai coming onto her way too strong at the flower shop and then showing up at Christmas dinner extremely high on Percocet. If Nate and David are in some ways doing better in their life in the past year and Ruth and Rico worse, Claire seems to be somewhere in the middle, having invited the fairly straight-forward standup guy Toby over for Christmas dinner. But he chastises her on her extreme cantankerousness and ends up abandoning her, before digging into an online conversation with Billy.

Billy! Yes, in addition to being just a great feelings-check on all of our characters as the series does so well, this week's episode was chock full of big plot pieces moving. The last time we saw Billy was in the season finale of season one, having checked into a mental institution. Brenda's dark sexual journey of season two clearly is closely tied to Billy's role in her life, so his re-introduction is a surprising slap in the face(**). Taylor's mom / Keith's sister returned home from drug rehab, setting in some big fireworks to come. Rico told Vanessa about her cousin's homosexuality, which ultimately got back to his wife, causing him to stop by Rico's house to punch him in the face. Oh, and Nate finally had a seizure in front of Brenda, causing him to give her at least a flavor of his AVM. The seizure, of course, was mid-makeup sex after a particularly explosive fight related to her casual revelation that Claire and Billy had been talking to each other online.

(**)Bravo, HBO marketing department, for not revealing that surprise. The next episode preview had no hint of Billy's return. Take notes, NBC.

All of this was set to the backdrop of the funeral of a biker who died fearlessly in a motorcycle accident. As the episode went on, the biker gang's cavalier attitude on life, and their celebration of life at the funeral home, was a stark difference to the Fishers and their stifling fear of death. It made the closing scene, coming after Nate's seizure, all the more appropriate: Nate strapping into the motorcycle the mama biker left for Nate set to "Don't Fear the Reaper". It was a great cap to a great episode, perhaps the series' best since "The Room".

Grade: A

Random trivia
  • Writer Scott Buck made his SFU debut with this episode. He goes on to write six more episodes of the show. Currently he is writing more dialogue for Michael C. Hall on Dexter.
  • The excellent direction was done by veteran HBO director Alan Taylor. This man has directed episodes of pretty much every series on HBO ever, including two of the very best Sopranos episodes near the end of its run, meaning he could easily fit into HBO's acting purgatory theory.
  • Hey! The AV Club is covering Six Feet Under now! Check it out. It is written by John Teti, who is a very nice fella.
  • A nice touch: the biker who died was on his way to the mall to be Santa Claus; later in the episode, Claire and Toby were at the mall and walked by the closed Santa display. #ContinuityFTW.
  • That pilot episode discussed earlier premiered ten years ago June 3. Happy 10th birthday, Six Feet Under pilot.
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