On ''Six Feet Under,'' the family faces its loss: David lets fear jeopardize his relationship with his boys, while Claire flips out and Ruth and Brenda fight over Maya
Michael C. Hall, Six Feet Under
Credit: Six Feet Under: John P. Johnson

”Six Feet Under”: Aftershocks of Nate’s death

Fellow Six Feet Under fanatics, help me out. I just watched the penultimate episode of this brilliant, complicated series, and I’m feeling a little bit cranky. Is it because I know that next week’s series finale, even at an expanded 75 minutes, will never be enough to sate my appetite for the peculiarly morbid charms of the House of Fisher? Is it because on three separate occasions tonight, my cable-service provider interrupted the show for about 15 seconds to warn me of severe thunderstorms over New Jersey? Or is it because, as moving and splendidly acted as tonight’s episode was, a couple of key plot points didn’t ring entirely true?

It could be any of the above, really. I mean, in my mind, Six Feet Under has so many stories left to tell, so many conflicts to resolve, that I know I’m going to be dealing with abandonment issues when I turn on my TV at 9 p.m., on Sunday, August 28, and find that the only place for the Fishers’ story lines to play out will be on the daydream channel in my head. Tell me I won’t be the only one mailing tersely written one-sentence postcards to series creator Alan Ball for the next six months: ”Are Keith and David going to make it as a couple?” ”If Vanessa has a future in the funeral business, does it mean she’ll end up dressing as dourly as Ruth?” ”Whose home is Maggie going to wreck next?”

Yet as much as I crave resolution (and something resembling happy, or at least not unhappy, endings) for these beloved characters, I also know that I’d never forgive Ball for wrapping up the lives of Ruth, George, David, Keith, Claire, Rico, Vanessa, Brenda, and little Maya with neat little bows and big Hollywood smiles. Take Ruth, for example. Even as we saw her taking tentative steps toward healing tonight — finding the joy in putting Maya to bed, allowing herself to grin when George admitted to joining an online pediatrics group — we also know she’s the human equivalent of Reader’s Digest — that is to say, she’ll always have issues. Watching her prickly exchange with Brenda in the pediatrician’s office was a classic Six Feet Under moment, with Ruth using her irritation at being kept waiting by the doctor as a substitute for her irritation at Brenda’s tardiness. Better still, the moment Brenda took the conversation from passive-aggressive to outright aggressive — ”I’m not sure I care what you think, Ruth” — Mama Fisher fled the scene, leaving Brenda in a deliciously awkward face-to-face with George, perhaps the only non-Chenowith on the series who doesn’t get flustered by the mere idea of direct eye contact with Nate’s raw nerve of a widow.

I’ve got to hand it to Rachel Griffiths for making Brenda all at once a fierce lioness, a devastated victim, and an amusing shrew: ”How is this any of your business, George?” she seethes with complete disdain. ”Any.” And yet seeing her expression as Brenda’s water broke prematurely in Ruth’s kitchen actually made me gasp. (That baby had better be okay; I just worry Nate’s creepy comment about Brenda’s upbringing — ”You were grown wrong, like one of those square watermelons they cultivate in Japan” — might have been some kind of terrifying foreshadowing.)

And while I’m handing out the acting accolades, can we tip our hats to Justina Machado and Freddy Rodriguez? Their less distraught characters may not bring them the showy scenes their cast mates get each week, but watching them chow down fast food during late-night real estate reconnaissance was a thing of comic beauty. If there’s a Six Feet spin-off to be had, let it focus on a spin-off funeral home: Diaz & Diaz, perhaps — with wacky Illeana Douglas as the first full-time hire.

Too bad local thunderstorm threats prompted my cable company to cut into such a delightful scene. Don’t meteorologists know there are only two episodes of Six Feet Under left? Ever. Unless there’s a perfect storm convening directly over my apartment, the warnings can wait till 10 p.m., people!

Still, I don’t think a case of scenus interruptus is entirely to blame for the cloud over my head, as both Keith’s and Claire’s story arcs — and Brenda’s incestuous dream — all left me wishing the show’s writing staff had raised the bar just an inch or two higher. In Claire’s case, what set off her weeks-long drug and alcohol bender? At the end of last episode’s burial, the youngest Fisher had seemingly begun to turn a corner. Stepping up to help put Nate’s body in the ground, teaching David there was no wrong way to grieve, Claire’s character showed believable growth: We always knew a decent human being was lurking inside her, and the family tragedy brought that person to the surface. That’s why Claire’s sudden hideousness this week — hurling water and cruel insults at Ted, berating the grieving family of a war veteran for their ”Support Our Troops” bumper sticker — seemed too sudden and too severe, especially given the fact that we saw no evidence that anything or anyone had been a catalyst for reversing Claire’s healthy mourning process. That said, her showdown with Kirsten in the ladies’ room (”I am wicked pissed. You are gonna be so fired.”) was a needed burst of hilarity in a particularly harrowing episode.

Much like Claire’s backward momentum, David’s sudden careening off the edge of reason wasn’t quite believable either, considering he ended last week’s episode finally accepting the smooth-jazz and hot-soup ministrations of his adorable sons. Sure, since he’s a Fisher, David’s neuroses are so deeply ingrained that not even Rockwell-esque moments like that can erase them. But on the other hand, we also know David’s decision to bring Anthony and Durrell into his home was one borne out of intense love: Are we really supposed to believe that this inherently good man, who is well aware of the devastating circumstances of his boys’ early childhood, is suddenly going to turn so creepy that the boys don’t want to be left alone with him? I wanted to feel something for David this week as he drove himself to panic over news of a local child’s murder, but each time he came on screen, the only emotion I could muster was incredulousness. Wouldn’t it have been better if the writers ditched the red-hooded figure and let Michael C. Hall flesh out the smaller and subtler devastations of losing a cherished sibling? How do you help with math homework or pack school lunches when your heart is broken? How do you put on a mask for your kids when they’re too young to fully understand Daddy’s depression?

Nonetheless, David’s sibling issues have nothing on Brenda’s. While I’ve got to hand it to Ball & Co. for boldly going where few TV brother-sister acts have gone before — albeit in dream sequence — I’d be lying if I didn’t admit their overly long, touchy-feely interplay had me ready to chunder. On a night when I lost valuable seconds of my beloved funeral-home series, seeing Brenda manhandle Billy’s member was one moment that had me praying for a weather warning.

What do you think? Was this a worthy second-to-last episode? And in subjects we didn’t have time to delve into: Were you surprised by Maggie’s fury against George? Can you believe Claire’s green hearse has gone to the great auto shop in the sky?

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