Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Review of Six Feet Under

Hey everyone, Dana here. Last week, I did a review of Green Day's documentary, ¡Cuatro! This review will be a TV review! It's something I haven't done in a while, so I figured I'd do something fun. I may be a little late with the time period the show took place in when it was on the air, but I can't help writing about something that I loved the moment I saw it. Yes, the show ended nearly 9 years ago, but the amount of talent and fantastic story writing needs to be addressed. Tonight, I'm going to be reviewing my favorite television show of all time, Six Feet Under.

Let me begin with a brief background premise of the series. In 2001, Alan Ball created and executively produced a drama/dark comedy television series for HBO known as Six Feet Under after the death of his sister in a tragic car accident. 
The show revolves around the members of the Fisher family, who run their family owned funeral home in Los AngelesCalifornia. The pilot of Six Feet Under begins on Christmas Eve with the death of funeral director/business owner Nathaniel Fisher, father of Nate, David and Claire, and the husband of Ruth Fisher. After his death, he leaves the family business to Nate and David, forcing Nate to become a funeral director, the one thing he never wanted to be. 




The HBO drama stars Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Lauren Ambrose, Frances Conroy, Freddy Rodriguez, Mathew St. Patrick and Rachel Griffiths as the ensemble cast.
Peter Krause portrays Nate Fisher, the eldest son who co-runs the Fisher Funeral Home after moving to L.A from Seattle in the wake of Nathaniel Sr.'s death (portrayed by Richard Jenkins). Michael C. Hall portrays David Fisher, the second eldest son who is homosexual and also co-runs the funeral home with Nate. Lauren Ambrose portrays Claire Fisher, the youngest child and only daughter of Nathaniel and Ruth who strives to be an artist. Frances Conroy portrays Ruth Fisher, the Fisher family matriarch. Freddy Rodriguez portrays Federico Diaz, mortician at the funeral home and later becomes co-owner of the funeral home at the close of Season 2. Mathew St. Patrick portrays Keith Charles, David’s long term boyfriend. Rachel Griffiths portrays Brenda Chenowith, Nate’s on and off/long term girlfriend.

All of the episodes begin with a death that ranges from suicide, a car accident or a heart attack to cancer, a drug over dose, or a physical conflict. That particular death sets the tone for each episode, which allows the characters to reflect on their own problems in a way that is embellished by the particular death and its aftermath. If someone was depressed and committed suicide, the characters  reflect on how they dealt with their hardships and how they manage to cope with whatever tragedy they're faced with. I observed that most of the themes in the show discuss levels of various interpersonal relationships, infidelity, sexuality, and religion. Dark humor plays a major role in these episodes, used as comic-relief for the intense scenes revolving around the specific deaths.

What really interested me about this show is the internal dialogue the ensemble cast has with deceased people; including Nathaniel Sr, and the bodies of whoever is being embalmed in the basement. They talk to the deceased characters as internal dialogue and express it as external, which is one of the coolest elements I have ever seen in any television series I've watched. Usually when a character dies, he/she is never seen again, or that character is only seen in flashbacks and nothing more.

Another element that really impressed me was the amount of research they had before writing and directing each episode. Real life funeral directors have watched Six Feet Under, and they all believe that Alan Ball and the other producers and writers have the idea of a funeral business completely spot on. Whether it's the process of embalming the body or the type of viewing they use depending on what religion the deceased believed in, every detail was accurate and spot on. If the deceased was Jewish, they made sure that no flowers were on set, the casket was simple and closed, and the body is buried within 24 hours of death because that's what the Jewish religion believes in. If the deceased was Buddhist, they made sure a Buddha was present and there were monks performing ceremonial chants during the funeral. Throughout Six Feet Under's run on the air, there was no controversy regarding any episode made. That, ladies and gentleman, is the perfect example of well-rounded research.

Although all of the episodes are unique and have various themes, ideologies and messages, there is one episode in particular that was pretty out there. I loved almost every last episode ever made, but the fifth episode of the fourth season, “That’s My Dog,” was somewhat intense, but not very good in regards to storytelling.

SPOILER ALERT: If you are currently watching Six Feet Under and have not seen this episode, stop reading right now and do not read this until after you've watched this episode.

Okay, so the episode begins with the death of a woman named Anne Marie Thornton who slipped in the shower and broke her neck. The first portion of the episode begins almost like every other episode in the fourth season: Claire is at art school; receiving critiques on her self portraits that she presented in lecture. Ruth is dealing with drama between her new husband, George Sibley, and his estranged son who was sending them feces in the mail shortly after they got married. Nate is preparing to get involved in a bereavement group after the death of his wife, Lisa Kimmel, in the previous season. He is currently coping with living as a single father and taking care of Maya, his daughter with Lisa. Keith is getting ready to tour the country as a security guard to a young and famous pop artist named Celeste. Rico is spending time with a stripper named Sophia instead of his wife, Vanessa. Brenda goes out to lunch with her mother, Margaret, 
and discusses her career in becoming a shrink, something she vowed to never be. Everything in this episode appears to be normal, or so we think.

After David and Rico discuss the funeral arrangements with the deceased woman’s husband, David takes the white body van to pick up Mrs. Thornton's body. On the way back to the funeral home, David picks up a hitchhiker who claims that “his car broke down” and needs to get some gasoline at the gas station. Thinking that he is a Good Samaritan by performing a random act of kindness to a complete stranger who appears to be a normal person, David ultimately finds out that this “hitchhiker” named Jake is actually a sociopath who ends up carjacking his van and terrorizes him to the point where he literally begs for his life.  Not only was David hijacked by a sociopath, but the entire episode was hijacked by this plot. The viewers have no idea what is going on with the other characters during this entire hijacking experience. The plots that involve Nate, Claire, Rico, Keith, Brenda, Ruth and George are completely dropped, and they are no longer seen until the following episode, "Terror Starts At Home." Talk about hijacking in a literal sense, that's pretty clever.

After David takes Jake to the  gas station, he implores David to take him to an ATM so he can pay him back for being so nice to him.  However, as soon as they get out of the van, Jake punches David in the face, holds him down at gunpoint and forces him to withdraw all of the money from his bank account from a random ATM at a convenience store so they can purchase crack cocaine from drug dealers in a remote neighborhood. Obviously, Jake is into hardcore drugs and promises David that he will leave him alone after they take some together. Afterwards, Jake forces David to dump Mrs. Thornton's decomposing body on the side of the road because of the foul odor emanating from its body due to the lack of preservation. At one point, David attempts to escape by temporarily knocking Jake unconscious, but fails to escape. Since he tried to escape, Jake didn't show any mercy.  Throughout the rest of the episode, Jake tortures David by pathologically lying to him, beating the life out of him, tying him up in the back of the van like a prisoner, forcing him to smoke crack cocaine, drenching him with gasoline, and forcing David to beg for his life while putting a gun into his mouth. David’s life flashes before his eyes as Jake drives away with the van, abandoning him in the dark alley way with cuts and bruises, and ends up walking the streets of Los Angeles alone in the dark, until a police car finally finds him as the screen fades to white.

From what I saw in this episode, Jake wasn't just a sociopath; he literally took a significant portion of David's life and mutilated it. When Jake dumped Anne Marie Thornton’s body onto the street, it’s like Jake also dumped David’s profession onto the street because being a funeral director was a significant part of life. Since David is gay, it’s possible that he was being “punished” for his sexuality because he fantasized about Jake before he was terrorized. Jake constantly called David a "faggot" multiple times throughout the episode, so he either assumed he was gay, or was an actual homophobe. I felt that the psychological and physical abuse was almost sadistic; I felt it was torture built on the thin line between David’s vulnerability and his anxieties about his sexuality. In essence, David is an extremely selfless person and is easily manipulated, so I can see why David would be anxious about his sexuality because people are homophobic and commit hate crimes against homosexuals, as seen in the twelfth episode of the first season, "A Private Life."

I do have some praise for this episode, though. I must say, Michael C. Hall had an Emmy award winning performance with his acting abilities. I could not imagine any other actor who could put himself in the place of someone who was psychologically and mentally abused; it truly was a powerful performance as a victim of physical and emotional violence. When he was “begging for his life,” he had tears in his eyes and panic in his voice. He truly put himself in the place of a victim of domestic violence. When I first saw this episode many years ago, I had trouble sleeping that night. I can’t even imagine how Hall felt after shooting that episode because he was there; living it. However, I was probably sixteen or seventeen when I first saw this episode, so I didn't really think about the plotholes in this episode.

Since this was the fourth or fifth time I've seen this episode, I do have a decent amount of criticism for what I saw this time. There were were many instances where David could have easily escaped from this hostage situation. When Jake went outside the van to get away from the foul odor emanating from Mrs. Thornton's decomposing body, David could have just drove away and left Jake in the street. I even said "God damn it, David, why didn't you just drive away?!?" when Jake got out of the van first. After David was able to break free from being tied up in the back of the van, Jake was temporarily unconscious, David should have ran to whatever building was open and called either the cops or someone home so they could find him and get him away from Jake. Instead, he ran across the street and hid behind a car. It kind of frustrated me because any normal person would literally run for his life no matter what. The only thing I can give him is that if he was in a state of panic, he was not thinking logically. He was too preoccupied with pleasing the predator and giving him what he wanted instead of getting himself out of that situation. 

If there is any other criticism I have for this episode, it's the fact that David appeared to have forgotten that there was a non-preserved body in the van that produces foul odors if they're not embalmed as soon as possible. Instead of taking Mrs. Thornton's body directly back to the funeral home, he got side-tracked with Jake in the van. In a previous episode, he berated Nate for not taking a body directly back to the funeral home when he grabbed a bite to eat with Brenda. So, why did he forget about that? To answer my own question, Keith just left town and wasn't coming back for a couple of months, and he was lonely. Perhaps his loneliness took over his funeral director mindset and replaced it with wanting to be loved and wanted. 

Six Feet Under will forever be one of my “Top 10” favorite television shows of all time, albeit no longer on the air. Even though the series ended after five seasons and 63 episodes, it ended on a high note, rather than “jumping the shark” and having it go down in infamy like many other hit television shows in the past. The final episode of Six Feet Under was universally acclaimed as the one of the greatest series finales in the history of television. I could not agree more.

If you are a fan of Six Feet Under, I hope you enjoyed this review and I would love to read your responses to what you thought about this episode or this blog post. If not, thank you so much for reading and feel free to comment what you think of this as well. Have a good night, everyone. 

2 comments:

  1. I love the show, and this episode was written, and performed well, but there were just way too many times to count that David could have escaped, even in a panicked state of mind. great review! :)

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  2. Thank you for reading and commenting, Brendan. =]
    I remember you saying "drive away..." when Jake got out of the van, and when he didn't, you sighed in frustration!
    The next episode is so funny, I hope you like the next one!

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