Christmas comes to the Fisher clan. This stocking stuffer of a holiday episode gives Nancy Miller good reason to be jolly
Jeremy Sisto, Joanna Cassidy, ...

Christmas comes to the Fisher clan

Sure, it’s unfortunate that the hog-riding Santa (Jesse Ray Johnson, 1944-2001) got mowed down mid-Ho by an oncoming truck (including comical flourish with rolling helmet and stunned children), but his loss was our gain. This Christmas episode with the dysfunctional Fisher family (airing in April, naturally) was a welcome gift that included new flashbacks to each character’s last memory of their dead father.

In the emotionally complex holiday spirit of Nate and Co., thought it was time to size up each member of the Fisher clan to see whether or not they got — or will get — the gifts they truly deserve.

DAVID Last Christmas, David (Michael C. Hall) regretfully chose a jaundiced corpse over spending a few moments with his father. This year, he’s fared far better, including his recent reunion with Keith (Mathew St.Patrick). A year ago, it was unfathomable that this character would now be glibly broadcasting to his family: ”Yes, Keith and I are having healthy, affection-based sex on a regular basis. Twice a day sometimes.” (In a wonderfully surreal moment in this episode, David gives a sidelong glance at Keith at the dinner table and the buff cop is suddenly glowing beatifically, halo and all.) Still, with the stress of caring for Taylor and the arrival of her drug-addled mother, can these two make it through the New Year?

CLAIRE Last Christmas, as we find out through her flashback, Claire (Lauren Ambrose) turned down the fateful drive with her father to get high on crystal meth with her no-good boyfriend Gabe. Aaaaah, so she’s been carting a sleigh-sized amount of guilt about her father’s death, which certainly contributes to her Scrooge-like attitude. But her new beau Toby isn’t having any it, and he tells her after Christmas dinner that her knee-jerk negativism isn’t cool. Claire’s aunt said much the same thing a few weeks ago, so here’s hoping that the smart teen gets the message and begins looking inside herself for answers instead of just lashing out.

RUTH She just wants to be loved — is that so wrong? (True, her last goodbye to her husband was with a carrot stick instead of a kiss.) While Ruth never gets her ”It’s a Wonderful Life” Christmas moment, she does get credit for trying to pull the family together over the holidays. And she gets penance points for playing nursemaid to her boss/boyfriend Nikolai, who had both his legs broken in an apparent robbery (or was he visited by the florist-controlling Russian mob?) Expect more travails in the new year for this gentle spirit who’s determined to build herself a new foundation AND bring her prickly clan together.

NATE Through Nate’s flashback, we get a better sense of why the Fisher kids have mixed feelings about their father: ”I guess we have a lot to be thankful for,” Nate says to his dad, poorly hiding the post-dinner joint he and Claire just smoked. ”Either that or we’ve lowered our expectations so much we’ve given up on anything better than this,” answers Nathaniel Sr. before lapsing into a raspy laugh.

Old Nate Sr’s got a point. A point made sweeter by Marilyn, the biker betty widow who encourages Nate, as the rabbi did last week, to live each day as if it were his last. Given his unpredictable brain condition and Marilyn’s impromptu gift — her dead husband’s custom motorcycle ? it’s looking increasingly as if each day COULD be Nate’s last. Let’s hope he can hang on for at least one more Christmas.

BRENDA Brenda (Rachel Griffiths) deserves a boulder-sized lump of coal this year. With the ta-daa! her mother gives her at the Christmas party, you can say she just got the first installment.

But first, Nate produces the family heirloom ring in honor of their one-year anniversary (with a rather unceremonious, ”It’s my grandmother’s. It didn’t cost me anything”). Brenda responds with an uncharacteristic display of emotion: open arms and a quivering lower lip. Could it be that she is going to be faithful to her ”semi-literate f— machine” or is it guilty crocodile tears from letting an anonymous George Michael lookalike browse under her skirt while Christmas shopping the day before?

At her mother’s (Joanna Cassidy) soireé, Brenda is surprsied by an unfortunate stalking stuffer, her crazy brother Billy. Fresh from the asylum, he’s been sprung to keep lonely Mom company. (Why are the mothers on this show so desperate?) Though he isn’t wielding a knife at his sister this time around, his abrupt return needles Brenda. ”I’ve been a nursemaid more than enough for one lifetime!” she cries to Nate in the elevator after an abysmal evening. Nate tries to console her, saying that perhaps Billy has gotten better. That is, until he finds out Billy’s been e-mailing his 16-year-old sister.

And finally (finally!) Nate gives Brenda the truth about his condition, as he had a near-seizure during sex and didn’t seem to have much of a choice. Her reaction was supportive, which means it’s suspect. But perhaps now that her brother is ”cured,” Brenda can take up Nate as her new cause?

What lies in store for ”Six Feet Under”’s new year?

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