In the previous episode, it seemed that a lot of hurt could have been avoided with just a little thought. In this episode, the arguments were unavoidable. For their own reasons, the characters were feeling broken down and tired. When you’re that down and living closely with another person, normal functions are under pressure and collapse.
To prelude the first of the two big arguments, Brenda passive aggressively left her positive pregnancy test in the bathroom for Nate to find. Worrying in the mirror about losing his youth, Nate didn’t notice. Brenda asked whether he had noticed anything in there, and after a rueful comment about ageing he understood. However, he isn’t suitably enthusiastic for Brenda’s tastes so she sarcastically thanks him and stomps off. Now, normally Nate might have noticed the test, or picked up the hints from Brenda earlier, or been genuinely more exuberant. On the occasion of his 40th birthday, though, his thoughts were elsewhere and he didn’t have the energy to think about Brenda first and foremost. For her part, Brenda had her own worries and insecurities and so wasn’t able to convey any infectious joy. Instead, she tested Nate for her own reassurance.
Soundtracking their subsequent fight to Rebellion (Lies) was sublime. Anyone familiar with the song would have strongly attached to it whatever emotions they were going through when they first fell in love with it. Anyone unfamiliar with it – well, frankly, anyone unfamiliar with it has no business in pop culture.
Anyway, it was a good fight. Their exhaustion of their language into fierce swearing mirrored their emotional exhaustion, as neither had the energy left to refrain from hurting the other. Deep down, this was more or less what they thought of each other. However, base emotions aren’t always the most important emotions in relationships and people like them can normally rely on their mental faculties to love each other. A lack of space in which to devote your time to yourself, of course, makes it a struggle to vent your base feelings in other ways so that you have calmed energy left over to devote to your partner. Encapsulating it so perfectly, their postscript was, ‘Don’t be such a jerk.’ ‘Fuck off’.
The second big argument belonged to Ruth and George. Ruth’s composure is slowly being ground down by the loss of all that her former freedom had promised, while George has been made to feel a burden by Ruth’s continual exasperation. Presaging Ruth’s capitulation to the pressures, Claire had reminded her that her family, who she loved, was a lot less interested in her than George, who she was struggling to love. After Nate brilliantly flatly said no to giving a speech, Ruth attempted one. Claire’s aside, ‘Here we go’ prompted Ruth to scream, ‘This is not about you!’ The way Ruth instantly regained her dignity contrasted sharply with the dignity she felt she was losing as George’s nurse. At the same time, George and Billy had reinforced each other’s belief that their expectations were not unreasonable.
As we see Ruth and George later argue out their future in the bedroom, loyalties are divided. On the one hand, we’ve been with Ruth for four years and seen that she is loving and deserving of love (up until this season, perhaps more so than any other character). On the other hand, so far George hasn’t seemed as much a problem as Ruth makes clear to him that he is. Neither should be treated as they are, but there seems little alternative as they have both lost so much of who they want to be.
Aside from these two tour de force emotional maelstroms, some of the others were having their own problems in a more light-hearted manner. Six Feet Under has always excelled at throwing its cast together, and Nate’s party was no exception. Apart from the usual treat of seeing the characters in new contexts, the high point was certainly the fevered debate as to the meaning of and solution to the bird in the kitchen. Even Ruth slipped from misery for a moment (‘What kind of plan is that, to let a sick bird run wild in the house pooping?’).
David emasculating Keith for being so subservient before Roger was not exactly comedic, but there was humour in the portrayal of this tic of relationships and Keith’s good-tempered acceptance of David’s needless criticism. It’s depressing enough to be weighed down by work without having a loved one constantly bitch that you should stand up for yourself and not let yourself be pushed around. This little portrait neatly culminated with Roger doing David a big favour, and Keith not revelling in this too much.
On the subject of emasculating, elsewhere Rico continued to be disquieted during sex. As he warned Vanessa not to be too loud lest they wake their kids she casually replied, ‘They sleep through it now’. I’m a big fan of economy with words, and that is economy with words.
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