But David's confrontation with a ghost was a highlight, says Caroline Kepnes

By Caroline Kepnes
August 21, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Six Feet Under: Larry Watson
  • TV Show

”Six Feet Under” has a sappy finale

There are two kinds of dramatic characters: those who make things happen and those who go, ”Hey! What just happened to me?” The finale of HBO’s ”Six Feet Under” offered an uneven mix of both active types (David, taking a stand; Ruth, making a play for Nikolai) and passive (Nate and Brenda, battered by traffic and clichéd writing). No surprise, then, to find it’s far more exciting to watch the active characters deal with the consequences of their deeds than it is to watch Nate go, ”Oh s—! I’ve got a bum brain?”

Take David, for example. No, he didn’t decide to be gay. But he did decide to change his life; and because we’ve watched him grow from a self-loathing, Internet-addicted playboy to an outspoken gay activist, we can care about the obstacles he faces, like the church’s war against a clergyman who broke the rules by marrying a gay couple. When the recently closeted David, a deacon, spoke up in favor of the union, he also confronted (literally) the ghost of a bloody, taunting gay-bashing victim that has been haunting him.

David’s newfound courage really puts Brenda and Nate’s self-indulgent squabbling into perspective. When the comely couple lit into each other with all the rhythm and rage of ”The Fight” — the fight that precedes a breakup — I was revved up for these characters. I could see where Nate was frustrated with the ”psycho” stuff, and I sympathized with Brenda, who channeled her frustration with her brother Billy into barbs at Nate. The duo was finally traversing some emotionally risky turf –Is no relationship better than a string of bad relationships? Does Nate care about anything except his well-toned body? — and then, boom, that ridiculous car accident! Like cartoon characters who get blown up, and then miraculously healed in the next frame, Brenda and Nate went from ”On the Verge of a Breakup” to ”Gonna Get Married” right after the crash. Hello? I don’t believe it.

Meanwhile, Nate’s newly discovered illness (some lurking plot point in his brain, it appears) carries the same sort of easy-way-out pallor. The whole ”becoming a better man through a potentially terminal illness” thing is only slightly more original than ”they lived happily ever after.” There he was at work, only hours after his diagnosis, offering condolences to the bereaved. Where were the signs of his being suddenly forced to face his own own mortality?

I notice this all the more because Billy — though, in a medicated, tearless stupor — seemed sincerely sick. Note the difference in their ailing-boy speeches: ”I’m so lost. I wish that I could get out. I don’t think I ever will.” Whereas Nate’s pat answer to Tracy’s question about the meaning of life: (”People die to make life seem important” ) seemed like something off of a grim Hallmark card. It’s tiring to see things just happening to Nate, whether it’s Brenda, her poor driving, or his own weird brain cells. Give him a choice to make — rather than conditions and confessions to gape at.

Maybe Nate could learn a thing or two from the go-getter girls, who offered a welcome distraction from the head-trauma drama. If they were superheroes, Claire would be Claire-voyant — because her dreams clued her in to Gabe’s dangerous doings. And Ruth would be Mrs. Fisher-Woman — because she demonstrated expertise in the art of reeling in the good ones (Nikolai the florist) and throwing back the bad ones (Hiram). Is it too much to ask that one of them, or anyone on this show, has a cure for Nate’s ailment — or at the very least, can prevent him from gazing fondly at his extended family and ending this show on an uncharacteristically sappy note? Let’s hope THAT ailment, sappiness, doesn’t infect Season Two.