Saturday, November 13, 2010

Rushing Toward the End: Six Feet Under Concludes With The Fifth Season!

The Good: Excellent Character Development, Wonderful Acting, Mood
The Bad: Disturbing story direction, Terrible pacing toward the series' end.
The Basics: As Nate and Brenda's lives together deteriorate, David and Keith start a family, Ruth strikes out on her own, and Claire takes a leap in this final season.

When The West Wing went off that air, one of the on-line magazines listed the ten greatest series finale's of all time (they cheated, quite humiliatingly, with number one) and it was absolutely no surprise to me that the series finale for Six Feet Under, "Everyone's Waiting" was on the list. Usually, such collections of opinions are skewed heavily toward more current productions, but "Everyone's Waiting" was one of the very few series finale's listed from the last decade. But it deserved to be there. And viewers of Six Feet Under - The Complete Fifth Season are likely to see exactly why and enjoy it.

The final season of Six Feet Under picks up where the prior season left off, though a few months later. Nate and Brenda marry, George returns from the mental hospital which complicates Ruth's life, David struggles with his assault while he and Keith create their family, Claire struggles to follow up her success in art and Federico explores life as a soon-to-be-single man. Such synopsis of the lives of the Fishers (and Diaz) are simplistic and nothing holds together. Soon after taking in two foster children, David and Keith find their lives complicated by old wounds and new troubles. Nate and Brenda soon lose their connection and their chemistry. George's mental health frustrates Ruth into pushing him away and Claire comes to realize perhaps she's not cut out for any of it. The bright spot soon turns out to be Federico's life, which stops its downward spiral long enough to make things interesting. And, of course, all of these incidents happen against a backdrop of death and embalming fluid.

As Six Feet Under is heavily character-driven, here is how season five finds the principle characters:

Nate Fisher - Having resolved the death of his first wife, Nate marries Brenda but soon seems to lose interest in her. Questioning his life and direction, Nate begins to simply give up,

David - Despite his cathartic confrontation with his assailant at the end of last season, David begins to experience stress, which causes him to hallucinate his attacker. He takes shelter in his love for Keith and tries to be more outgoing by taking in two foster children with him,

Ruth - Frustrated by George's mental illness and all the care that entails, Ruth does her best to escape, but finds largely that others aren't ready to make such big, terrible leaps in their lives,

Claire - Dating Billy now, Claire attempts to explore her art and ultimately finds herself working at an improbable place,

Federico Diaz - Living with the Fishers gives Federico some additional perspective, though he continues to pine for his wife, Vanessa, who has refused any reconciliation with him,

Vanessa - Trying to be strong without Federico, Vanessa experiences the weird side of single parenthood and ultimately must choose between raising her children alone or learning to love and trust again,

Keith - Happily involved with David, Keith soon begins to feel a pull from working as a professional bodyguard and experiencing fear of harming his new children because of his own history of family violence,

George - Weak and befuddled, his daughter Maggie shows up to aid Ruth, but much of his strength and charm are gone and he must learn to figure out how to resolve all of his own issues,

and Brenda - Working as a therapist now, she finds herself in a loveless marriage to Nate, pregnant and uncertain about her future.

First, the bad. The fifth season of Six Feet Under deals quite clearly with consequences for some characters, like George's mental breakdown and David's prior assault, but completely neglects other, disturbing developments from the prior season. For example, in the season finale of season four, Claire starts using cocaine. That entire aspect of her character is wiped away by the beginning of this season. I'm not saying that's an entirely bad thing - I hated that character twist for Claire - but it's a weird, loose end that it troubling for its failure to be addressed. But how the chemistry and interest between Nate and Brenda fell away is almost inexplicable. This is a major plot and character development and it's never truly explored.

As well, there's a sense that late in the fifth season, the producers got word that Six Feet Under would not have a sixth season. That sense comes from the very rushed quality to an inordinate number of character and plot threads in the last four or five episodes. There's less care with making things real and instead, things just get done. A good example is how a frustrated Keith sends David away for fear that he might harm the children, but David returns home almost instantly.

But the show takes some daring turns. There are some important death's this season and they aren't conveniently timed for a television audience. They happen, sometimes abruptly. And that works wonderfully in the context of this series.

Which leads us to the acting. Once again, Michael C. Hall does a phenomenal job of playing David and Matthew St. Patrick is finally given enough of a role to illustrate his acting chops in a way we always knew he was capable at. St. Patrick succeeds in eclipsing Hall in several scenes, for the first time in the series. Frances Conroy and James Cromwell do well with what they are given, but Conroy is given what we've seen her do all along and Cromwell is asked to pull the same routine over and over again. Lauren Ambrose does well as Claire and her talent comes out in such a way that it comes to make perfect sense that she would close the series.

Rachel Griffiths and Peter Krause deserve some serious credit for their portrayals of Brenda and Nate. Without any defined incident or explanation, the viewers come to clearly see that the chemistry and love in the relationship between Nate and Brenda is gone, deader than the corpse at the beginning of any given episode. The only way we truly understand the extent of it is through their acting. They clue us in immediately that there is trouble, even if we don't know what it is.

Peter Krause, however, manages to return to his own. Unlike the prior season that underused Krause as Nate, season five makes it much more his story once again. Krause gives performances that range from elated to indifferent, enthusiastic to sublime. He moves this season.

Who will enjoy this DVD set? Honestly, it's best viewed by people who have at the very least seen season four, though it's a fairly heavily serialized series, so it will be most appreciated by those who have seen all four prior seasons. Anyone who likes dark, moody dramas, though will find something to like here. This season is fairly unrelenting in the discontent between Nate and Brenda and that level of discord is likely to turn off many viewers. The usual people who don't enjoy strong language or situations dealing with death or dark humor are unlikely to find this set a worthy investment as well.

I, on the other hand, find it to be the capping of a quality series, even if it does rush to that end with an awkward pace and fury we don't understand. And, best of all, the series finale is a very true and real finale. May Six Feet Under truly rest in peace.

For other memorable final seasons, please check out my reviews of:
Lost - Season 6
Star Trek - Season 3


For other television reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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