Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Six Feet Under: Hold My Hand

This is one of the very few shows that could and should improve you as a person. Throughout this episode, myriad tiny cruelties were inflicted on loved ones. No one intended to hurt their loved ones, but horrible things were said and horrible silences were felt when comfort was needed. If each person had taken just a moment’s thought before speaking, everyone could have lived the happy loving lives made possible by their relationships. Wonderfully, of course, Six Feet Under didn’t blame anyone for their actions; the actions and their portents were simply shown. It’s sad to see how an idle comment tossed off in a second’s reverie can devastate someone’s hopes, and while the inevitability of these situations in close relationships is depressing, it’s redeeming enough to see the existence of hope in so many relationships.

The cruelty was either hot or cold. David and Keith’s argument after being turned down for adoption was the hot stuff. David angrily concludes his opening salvo, ‘You fucked up and it cost us everything’. Keith’s cool stoicism in response infuriates David even more, as David knows from experience that such restraint is just the flip side of cold fury. Keith knows that David is only really angry at himself, but that doesn’t make it any easier for him when he’s also upset. When David accuses him of not caring, Keith tries to comfort him by reminding him that surrogacy is still an option. And so David continues his tirade, ‘You never wanted to adopt in the first place. You know what? Fuck the surrogate. You can meet her yourself. I don’t want any part of it’. Keith glowers, knowing that David would still have yelled whether he had said anything else or nothing. There’s no suggestion that David doesn’t love him or that it’s the end of their relationship, and so they soldier on with Keith knowing that David will every so often use his calmness against him and David knowing that Keith will always sit in silent judgement of him.

Added heat came from Claire and Ruth. Claire’s evisceration of her mother’s life was brutal, especially given Ruth’s day.

The cold cruelty came from George, Ruth, Nate and Brenda. George offers to help Ruth, but she just sighs back, ‘So you say, but then you come back from the grocery empty handed’. After the meal, when George tried to sidle up to her for some peaceful intimacy, Ruth callously rejected his genuine warmth. The closest she can come to affection is telling George that him hiding uneaten food in his pockets is ‘nothing’ after his sincere apologies. Saddest of all, she asks, ‘Do I need to check the closets?’ She manages to confine her coldest gestures to when she’s alone (pouring herself the red wine and resting her head on the sink), but she must know that if George ever saw that he would be heartbroken.

Meanwhile, Nate fails to muster any enthusiasm for Brenda’s attempts to forge some family time. ‘I’ll do my best’ is as excited as he can get. At the family dinner, he also shrugs off Brenda’s forced heartiness. One disagreeable note was Brenda imagining Nate’s criticism. In an episode so rich in unspoken subtlety, another mournful gaze at her plate would have been more effective.

I don’t know whether I’m becoming more squeamish in my old age, but I’m finding the tension leading to the opening death less bearable than I remember from the early episodes. Having only recently seen The Test Dream, I squirmed when I saw the mother move from her son to attend to the frying pan. Well, nothing visually excoriating happened, but it was an introduction to the world of small cruelties. And one big cruelty. Given that she knew what she was inflicting on young George, did his mother really have to say, ‘God, sometimes you’re so stupid’?

Not that the episode didn’t have moments of more or less unqualified joy. Billy and Claire’s plans for a future in Europe beautifully captured the idealistic freedom of that age and temperament, particularly Billy seducing her with Spanish towns, while Rico always livens up proceedings. A highlight was Rico’s unnerved hesitation at being told, ‘Oh my god, you’re the cutest goddamn little fucker!’ during sex. Also, ‘Doesn’t this remind you of a movie? Two divorced people meet at singles night…’ ‘No’. Seeing the dejected Rico as Vanessa blithely passed off a relationship with a hockey player as ‘just sex’ and then sauntered over to a new man put all this levity in sharp relief. These youthful relationships convey so much promise, offsetting the stagnant malignancy afflicting all the established relationships.

Buy now:
Six Feet Under: Complete HBO Season 5

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