On ''Six Feet Under,'' Brenda is left out as the Fishers bury their lost family member and unearth their own pain

”Six Feet Under”: Burying Nate, unearthing pain

With only two episodes remaining on Six Feet Under, I’ve come to terms with the fact that, in some ways, I view the Fisher clan much as I do my own family. No matter how angry they make me, I know deep down I’ll always love every last one of ’em.

Fortunately for me, though, my own family’s not nearly as self-absorbed as the Fishers. Take tonight’s episode, for example. Even as I reached for the Kleenex watching the family mourn the loss of its eldest son, I could also feel an undercurrent of irritation gurgling right underneath the lump in my throat.

Yes, Ruth lost a son, and David lost a brother, but both seemed oblivious to the fact that Nate left behind a very pregnant, somewhat unbalanced wife, as well as a toddler daughter whose own biological mother died only a year or so before. You’d think that in between David’s panic attacks and Ruth’s bouts of self-flagellation for having been out of town when her son fell ill, one of them might have uttered a few words of concern about little Maya’s uniquely sad predicament. Or walked up to Brenda and given her a desperately needed hug. Heck, I’d have settled for Ruth giving Nate’s sobbing mistress Maggie her walking papers before they hit the cemetery.

Yet the maddening beauty of this soon-to-conclude series is the way it makes my emotions zag just when I thought they were about to zig. Seeing Ruth view Nate’s body in the Fisher & Diaz basement and then quietly help wash her deceased son’s hair was a moment of pure TV heartbreak. Minutes later came another twist, with Ruth reverting back to comic-relief mode. ”God is an a–hole,” she howled to Father Jack when he failed to recognize that Nate’s death revolved around her failure to buy a cell phone.

Interestingly enough, the Fisher who’s spent most of the last two seasons in a prolonged navel gaze is the one who handled Nate’s death with the greatest maturity (if you set aside her dress-code violation). It was Claire who kept asking how she could help the family in a time of crisis. It was Claire who leapt forward to help Rico, David, and George as they struggled to place the body in the ground. It was Claire who refused to lash out as a means of concealing pain. (Anyone who doubts that Lauren Ambrose is one of the best actresses of her generation should watch her subtle body language in this episode, which conveyed a budding inner strength in the midst of pure grief.)

It feels good to reconnect with Claire now that she’s shed some of her art-school pretensions (and started dating a Kelly Clarkson-listening, dark-suit-wearing Republican!), and it’s similarly hard to stay mad at David. I mean, think about the emotional progress his character has made over the show’s five seasons. Journeying from self-loathing, closeted workaholic to committed, conflicted, yet potentially happy family man, David has slowly surpassed his petulant man-child of a brother to become the series’ soulful center. But I guess that’s what made it all the more shocking this week to see him temporarily revert to David 1.0, the snappish, judgmental robot shutting out real human connection. His scathing observation to Claire during the funeral service — ”You could’ve dressed” — may have been true, but it was also unnecessarily harsh. After all, would Nate have objected to jeans at his ”green funeral”?

Still, David’s branch of the Fisher family is the one I worry the least about. I know Six Feet Under‘s writers would never betray us loyal viewers with some kind of pat, Hollywood finale (complete with the nontraditional family dancing to ”Walkin’ on Sunshine”), but seeing David get a bowl of alphabet soup and a smooth-jazz mix tape from his sons while Keith brawled with his boss off camera over their secret sex video, well, that’s the kind of twisted happy ending I could learn to live with.

What might constitute a fairy-tale conclusion for Brenda, however, is another matter. I know some Six Feet Under fans will say that Brenda’s scolding Maya for wetting her pants and leaving Maya at Ruth’s in the middle of the night is evidence she’s not fit to raise the quiet child, but I’d be the first to disagree. If this pregnant woman needs a few days to grieve the husband who unexpectedly cheated on her, then promised on his deathbed to leave her, shouldn’t she get exactly that? Especially when she needs a clear head to figure out a game plan for raising two children alone? As her daft mother so bluntly put it when Brenda tried telling Maya her father was dead, ”Save this conversation for a time you’re less insane with grief.”

Fortunately, I think Brenda’s strong enough now that she’ll fight to keep the little girl who calls her ”Mommy.” She certainly showed her lioness side to ferret-y Maggie with one of the season’s most delicious putdowns: ”What is this, some kind of Quaker thing? You f— someone’s husband to death and then you bring them a quiche?”

Along with that fighting spirit, though, Brenda will also need to find a way to forgive the late Nate Fisher. She may have been right when she noted that ”all he ever wanted was someone who could make him feel like he was a better man than he actually was,” but if she’s going to raise the two children he brought into this world, she’ll have to find a way to reconnect with the reasons she loved him in the first place. Good thing, as all of us Six Feet Under addicts know, forgiving those errant Fishers is sometimes easier than you’d think.

What do you think? Did Rico’s eulogy get you choked up, and how will he and Vanessa secure their future? Would you have liked to get slightly juicier storylines for Bettina and Sarah? Was George’s outreach a way to honor Nate or, rather, to get back in Ruth’s good graces? And what would constitute a happy ending when Six Feet Under wraps in two weeks?

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