Well, it ain't Brenda and Nate, that's for sure, says Caroline Kepnes

By Caroline Kepnes
Updated August 14, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Lauren Ambrose, Six Feet Under
Credit: Six Feet Under: Larry Watson

Who’s the best couple on ”Six Feet Under”?

More and more, HBO’s ”Six Feet Under” seems to be about people figuring themselves out. Let’s begin with mother dearest, Ruth. Every week, she starts at repressed square one, and by the end of the episode — whether it’s by dancing the hora with Nickolai or perfecting the art of flower arrangement, as in this Sunday’s installment — she’s let her oh-so-symbolic hair down. Because she’s lost her husband and the life they shared, she needs to become her own person, and she’s intent on figuring out how to do that.

This evolution renders our fragile Ms. Fisher susceptible to every bump in the road, and makes her trials sympathetic. This week, for instance, when she became defensive with the flower-arranging teacher –and self-proclaimed poster girl for St. John’s Wort — at the Learning Anex (played wonderfully by Mary Gross), it seemed like understandable jealousy. The teacher was, in Ruth’s eyes, Ruth — only better. And while this pattern of growth is being repeated week after week, I don’t find it repetitious. For one thing, I understand Ruth’s goal: to become less of a control freak. And for another, it’s true to the process of human development — the hair comes down, goes back up, comes down a bit MORE, and so on.

But while I revel in Ruth’s road to ”well adjustment”ville, I’m getting impatient with David’s ”go crazy/duck away in shame” cycle. Who is he, anyway? Would David, fastidious as he is, really have random, unprotected sex in a Vegas parking garage with an $80 a shot boy toy? I understand that he’s in the throes of his belated adolescence, but, hey, he isn’t a teenager anymore! And regardless of the phase he’s in, I want to know some basic facts. Is he an uptight guy trying desperately to escape his fate? Or is he a closeted wild man who was constrained by growing up in a funeral home with an unappreciative father? I need to know about the core of his personality before I can care about the constant flux between his lifestyles.

In contrast, when it comes to Claire and Gabe, I’m very much there. Their relationship has a momentum as specific and charged as Ruth’s commitment to flower arranging. I understand the stakes for each of them, and it’s because no matter what the catastrophe, they always seem to be reacting to each other — not to the latest crisis. Love is pull between two people, and you really see that with Claire and Gabe. She knew that he would want an Egg McMuffin, and she got it for him without his asking. And it rang true when he complained that it was cold, because clearly, in his despairing condition, he’s reluctant to let someone in. As Claire said in last week’s episode, this is the first time she’s ever felt needed. Her gratitude at having a place to go, at being the only one on earth who knows to get him an Egg McMuffin is, to me, the real deal.

For the above reasons, I think that Claire and Gabe have surpassed Nate and Brenda as ”the couple you care about.” I see no similar pull between Nate and Brenda. I can’t figure out what she’s privy to about him that no one else is, and vice versa. Sure, Nate knows all about her psycho brother ”Billy McVeigh,” but that’s in part because of the way Billy constantly pushes himself in. Their whole gallivanting in Vegas bit was amusing, but it felt like filler; without an external catalyst, this couple would have nothing to do but la-de-da around. What’s their private joke, their version of an Egg McMuffin? I know that Gabe wanted to die last week; I could hear it in his voice on Claire’s machine. But I don’t know what Nate wants out of life because he exists in an imposed Siamese twin-ish pairing with Brenda.

So writers, please, oh please, cut your losses and let Nate out of this relationship. They’ll never be ”the couple” of the show, so why stifle one key character for the sake of an unconvincing relationship? Death would almost be a kinder fate.

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