On ''Six Feet Under,'' Nate pulls out of his funk long enough to go to a Quaker meeting, sleep with Maggie, and collapse on her floor
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Peter Krause, Six Feet Under
Credit: Six Feet Under: John P. Johnson/HBO

”Six Feet Under”: Another near-death experience

Well, how do you like that? It looks like Nate just might be getting to that ”place of peace” sooner than he expected, what with his cries of ”Numb arm! Numb arm!” and subsequent scary collapse on Maggie’s living-room floor — not to mention the complete absence of coming attractions for next week’s episode (a nifty move by HBO to keep us all in high suspense for the next seven days).

The funny thing is, though, as vital as Nate has been to Six Feet Under throughout its five seasons — I’d argue he’s the series’ central character — is there anyone out there who’d be all that sad to see him reach his final destination? Especially after his completely unforgivable decision to sleep with, as his pregnant wife so eloquently put it, ”that sappy little ferret, Maggie.” Or the way he repeatedly referred to his unborn daughter with the kind of detachment you’d expect in a discussion about, oh, which type of can opener you ought to buy in the kitchen aisle at the local Target.

Seriously, even if you don’t think Nate deserves to pay the ultimate price for his indiscretions (the urge to cheat, after all, seems to be imprinted in the Fisher genes), he’s the Six Feet Under character who’d most benefit from a near-death experience (to bookend the one he had during brain surgery at the beginning of season 3). Think about it: Nate spends so much time bemoaning his fate, whining about how ”f—ing terrifying” life is, criticizing everyone around him, that he has no appreciation for (or perspective about) being graced with a healthy toddler, a wife who sticks with him despite his grating personality, a steady job, and a pretty fabulous home. At the bare minimum, the guy could try to crack a smile every now and then.

Meanwhile, the other members of the Fisher clan are all somewhat miraculously in bloom, none more so than David and Keith. I know some EW.com readers have complained that the portrayal of their foster care of Anthony and Durrell has skipped over the long, intense training and supervision that foster parents undergo, but it’s television. And I, for one, am willing to suspend my disbelief if it means getting more moments like the family’s darkly comic, then utterly moving, plastic-utensil dinner. Two simple lines, first Keith’s ”We’ll go all kinds of places,” and then David’s beaming ”Yes, we will,” — handled adroitly by Mathew St. Patrick and Michael C. Hall — proved the show’s best couple might also be its best parents. Sure, they’ve got a grade-schooler who’s illegally taking SUVs out for joyrides, but with a little more time and patience, they’ll have that knife-wielding, foul-mouthed Durrell in fine form, I just know it.

Claire, too, seems to be finally having an epiphany, recognizing the emptiness of the art-school drama-queen persona she’d adopted for so long, and trying to return to being the witty, self-effacing young woman that Six Feet Under fans knew and loved during the series’ first two seasons. As great as her scenes of workplace drudgery (complete with picking up ”regular soy pomegranate blueberry tea lattes” and ”reduced-fat wholesome morning muffins” for her coworkers) have been in the last few weeks, they’ve also enlivened all of Claire’s non-office scenes as well. Nowhere was this more evident than in her interactions with Olivier, Jimmy, and the insufferable Russell at the LAC Arts show; given time away from her classmates’ self-absorption (how’d you like Russell’s priceless ”my work has gone to amazing places since I got hit by a car”?), Claire can finally see things for what they are. Sometimes a seven-foot lollipop is just a seven-foot lollipop. Sometimes it’s a ridiculous phallic symbol. But in neither case is it a brilliant work of art. Sure, Claire’s office romance with Ted — um, making out in the supply closet? really? — is probably headed for disaster, but at least the youngest of the Fishers isn’t acting like a Debbie Downer.

For that matter, neither are Ruth, Federico, or Vanessa. Sure, the matriarch of the Fisher clan is a codependent mess who cuts her own hair (badly), but compared with flushing potato salad down the toilet and obsessing over her soon-to-be-ex-husband’s latest relationship, Ruth’s giddy seduction of Hiram, complete with the line ”I was thinking we could take it upstairs to the bedroom,” marks a big leap forward. On the other hand, Rico and Vanessa are only taking baby steps toward reconciliation, but their quiet confessions over a plate of salty pasta ranked a close second to the plastic utensils in terms of emotional resonance. As glad as I am to know Vanessa still loves Rico, I’m even happier that the writers refuse to easily wipe away the pain and resentment she’s still experiencing after his indiscretion. Sure, the Diazes’ plotline isn’t as showy as Nate and Brenda’s, but it also feels a lot more real — and compelling.

Maybe I’m just tired of seeing Nate and Brenda treading water, but Nate’s death would open up scads of dramatic possibilities for Brenda, suddenly widowed, pregnant, and left to raise her stepdaughter while trying to embark on her new career as a therapist. (I have to add I think she’ll be pretty good at her job, especially after that knowing observation to Nate that ”it’s 8:30 a.m. and you’ve already talked to Maggie,” plus her sharp theory that Nate was suddenly embracing the Quaker religion as a way to distance himself from her.)

With all apologies to his fans, Nate’s character — like his story line — has passed the expiration date. I mean, I seriously wanted to cheer when Jackie told Brenda to ”please shut the f— up” after Brenda started complaining about Nate’s behavior. And in a way, I wonder if Jackie was channeling the feelings of Six Feet Under‘s writing staff. By sabotaging his and Brenda’s relationship yet again, Nate been painted into a dramatic corner. And it seems to me there’s no place for him to go but six feet under.

Do you think Nate is actually dead? And more important, should he be dead? If not, is there another character you’d rather see getting a visit from the Grim Reaper? Finally, how come Nate and David are muy clueless about attracting Latino customers? They are supposed to be in Los Angeles, not some deserted region of Middle Earth, right?

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