On ''Six Feet Under,'' Ruth's husband problems and David's daddy issues are promising, but too many plot lines have been exhumed from past seasons
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Lauren Ambrose, Six Feet Under
Credit: Six Feet Under: John P. Johnson

”Six Feet Under”: Return of the dead plots

Six Feet Under is a polarizing show, its plot lines dark and difficult, its humor ribald and occasionally off-putting, its characters flawed and at times infuriating. Yet the qualities that make the series a grim task for some are the exact reasons I’ve never missed an episode. And, as I like to argue whenever I defend Six Feet Under to detractors, at least it’s never boring or predictable.

That’s why I’m close to alarm after viewing the second episode of Six Feet‘s fifth and final season. Two major story arcs got recycled from previous seasons, and several others were handled without an ounce of dramatic flair — decisions that seem to me more a product of lazy writing than a genuine desire to show characters grappling with recurring demons.

My vote for most unacceptable plot twist is the repetition of the Billy-as-psychopath routine. Half the episode seemed to be devoted to telegraphing his inevitable mental breakdown (how many times must we endure the mention of his artist’s block, accompanied by Jeremy Sisto’s patented Krazee-Eyez Killa look?), so Billy’s eventual Lithium flushing lacked any surprise or emotional resonance.

Here’s a few key questions the show’s writers should’ve asked themselves: Self-involved as Billy’s artsy pals may be, wouldn’t they have been aware of, and slightly sensitive to, his fairly recent mental collapse and hospitalization? Wouldn’t his story be more interesting if he did something surprising and, say, stuck with his meds, leaving Nate, David, and even Claire feeling a little guilty for judging him on his past sins? Even more important, can Billy’s character stand on his own? If he weren’t involved romantically with Claire, would we really care about him?

Claire’s romance with Billy places her in an all-too-familiar situation: Once again, she’s paired off with an unstable goon. After placing so much emphasis on her tribulations with Gabe, then Russell, then Jimmy, then Edie, and now Billy, how about letting our girl grapple with some nonromantic dilemmas? Claire’s commercially driven decision to return to collage making at the expense of her artistic vision was a promising start in a new direction, and even though everyone on the show seems to have forgotten the incident, I swear I could still see Ruth’s handprint on Claire’s suddenly slender cheek. So how about letting the guys in white jackets pay a visit to Billy — and giving the talented Lauren Ambrose a chance at earning herself another Emmy nomination?

Okay, okay, I know I’m complaining a lot, but I have to ask one more nagging question: What’s the deal with Brenda’s Escape from the Free Clinic — without so much as having seen a single patient? Certainly, from a dramatic standpoint, a messed-up Brenda is a good Brenda, and I’m not questioning that her raging insecurities might lead her to seek her deranged mother’s help in landing an easier internship opportunity. (Especially when it yielded the episode’s best line: ”I hate to let the fact that I’ve slept with half of Southern California’s psychiatric academia go to waste.”) Still, I can’t be the only person who realizes that there would be a far better emotional payoff seeing Brenda, say, break down during a harrowing session with a patient than having her get skittish after filing some paperwork and attending a staff meeting.

That’s why, as a Six Feet Under loyalist, I’m holding out hope that Brenda will return to the chaotic clinic, and that some of the episode’s more promising plot threads will get a little more emphasis in the coming weeks.

Ruth’s unabashed exasperation over George’s mental illness, for example, isn’t always easy to watch, but the moral dilemma she faces — whether or not to honor her wedding vows and take care of a frail man she’s not even certain she loves — is morbidly fascinating. Watching Ruth try to manipulate Maggie into taking over the caregiver role was the episode’s emotional high point, but I found a subtler interaction between the two women just as compelling — watching Maggie try to convince Ruth that ”the man you fell in love with is still in there,” even while said man was pathetically conked out and snoring on the couch in between them. Now that’s the twisted, touching, and hilarious Six Feet Under I know and love.

I’m also really liking Keith’s loopily normal, upbeat mood about his and David’s journey toward parenthood — and the way it’s sending David into an amusing spiral of neuroses. As always, the show’s best couple is also its funniest, debating whether Logan is too porn-star as a baby name and viewing Claire’s potential donation of her eggs for their surrogate child in wildly different ways. (Keith tossed off, ”I think it’s a great idea!” so casually he might have been discussing his choice of breakfast cereal.)

Not that I’m condoning the hackneyed, rotten, eggs-for-sale, Keith-in-overalls dream sequence. Hell, no. But just as I can imagine Lauren Ambrose insisting on a Claire puppet substitute so she wouldn’t have to be party to such banality, I’m going to politely step back and let someone else take a swing at that alarming scene on the message boards.

So what do you think? What did you make of the eggy fantasy scene? Do you think Ruth will stick it out with George? And, be honest, should Billy get the featured spot in next week’s opening death sequence?

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