Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Season Away From Nate: Six Feet Under Season Four Diversifies The Show!

The Good: Excellent character development, Great acting, Decent plots
The Bad: Only 12 episodes, Claire's arc, The most horrible hour of television ever
The Basics: While Nate struggles with his new life as a single father, David struggles with post-traumatic stress and the other Fishers try to hold it together.

Six Feet Under is arguably one of the most original and daring shows that has graced television. It focused on the lives of a family of funeral home owners and workers and dealt regularly with mortality and facing the consequences of death. In its fourth season, Six Feet Under pushed the boundaries farther than before, most notably by giving more screentime and plot time to characters other than the main protagonist, Nate.

Opening the same night as the third season's finale, season four finds Nate beaten and broken following his wife's death. As he struggles to put his life together as a single parent, Ruth and her new husband, George, begin to settle in with one another. David and Keith find themselves back together and Claire continues going to school and dealing with the emotional consequences of her breakup with Russell. Rico's affair with the stripper, Angelica, progresses, despite his desire for it not to.

Things hardly stay peaceful for the Fishers: Ruth and George are harassed by someone sending excrement to them, Claire explores her sexuality with a performance artist named Edie, Keith becomes a bodyguard to a pop star, Brenda begins a serious relationship with a neighbor, Nate leaves the funeral home and Rico tries to balance two families. David, who quite possibly dominates the season, is assaulted and his trauma alters the lives of everyone working at Fisher & Diaz.

The fourth season, to get to the meat of it, has easily the most horrific hour of television ever. When I was in college, there was an episode of The X-Files entitled "Home," which I deemed the most horrible hour of television I had ever seen. It was unrelenting in its horror, graphic and disgusting. It was just plain icky. The fourth season of Six Feet Under has an episode that is as psychologically horrifying as "Home" was slasher horrifying. The episode is called "That's My Dog" and like "Home," I have promised myself that I will never watch that episode again so long as I live.

"That's My Dog" is an hour of David, poor David, being brutalized by a psychopath that David is simply trying to help. David is manipulated, beaten and repeatedly threatened and writing about it is upsetting me because it forces me to think about it. Save yourself some part of your humanity and skip over this episode; all that happens is David gets hurt very badly. Even though the rest of the season deals with the effects of his assault, there is nothing specific that needs to be seen in order to understand the episodes that come afterward. If you are someone who gets emotionally attached to television characters, especially good ones like David, heed my words: skip "That's My Dog."

And despite its horrific nature, that particular episode is very well done. That's what makes it even worse. The viewer, like David, is strung along until we realize that there is no good in his assailant.

Outside the David plot, the season is pretty similar to the other seasons: Claire does some growing up, Ruth becomes more comfortable outside the context of her marriage to Nathaniel Sr., and Nate seeks meaning to his life, especially now that he is a single parent.

But, as always, this is a show about characters and this is how season four finds the principles:

Nate - Traumatized by Lisa's death, he begins to see signs of Lisa everywhere and he struggles to figure out how and why she died. Unable to do that, he finds himself approaching Brenda for a familiar comfort,

Claire - She gets the short end of the stick this season as her character embarks on a somewhat witless exploration of her sexuality and her art and ends up just getting into drugs for no explainable reason,

Ruth - Adapting to marriage with George, Ruth worries that she might have bitten off more than she can handle, but finds ways to meddle and stay on top of things,

George - Slowly integrates into the mix, though his health soon begins to deteriorate and that raised all sorts of issues between him and Ruth,

Rico - Juggling a wife and a mistress, Rico soon shows signs of stress and an inability to deal with work and his life, leaving him very alone,

Brenda - Striking out on her own in L.A., Brenda becomes involved with her kind neighbor, but begins to experience the usual anxieties about relationships,

Keith - Once again involved with David, he finds life on the road as a bodyguard to be trying and when David needs help, he finds himself split,

and David - Just when things with Keith start to look like they are going well, David is assaulted and spends a lot of time broken and hurt, dealing with the effects of the stress of his attack.

While Claire gets the short end of the character draw this season, Lauren Ambrose does an excellent job of portraying her. She simply isn't given much to work with. Peter Krause is excellent as Nate and it's nice to see the season not revolve around him, though his issues bookend the season. Krause is intense and sad this season, working perfectly at appearing detached. Frances Conroy and James Cromwell are excellent as older newlyweds attempting to put life together together.

But the season hinges on Michael C. Hall, who plays David. He is awesome and his fear, ecstasy and ability to portray shattered sell his character perfectly. Hall is the man to watch this season and every minute he is on camera, the viewer is glued to him. This is not a fun twelve episodes for David and yet Hall owns the role and it's compelling to watch him.

Who will like the fourth season of Six Feet Under? Certainly anyone who enjoyed seasons one through three. As well, anyone who wants a macabre family drama will find something of interest here. This season is especially good for those who are going through tough times; watching the Fishers struggle makes our own struggles seem so much less grand by comparison.

Who will not enjoy this? Well, I can't think of how anyone would enjoy "That's My Dog," it's that heartwrenching. Outside that, it's a pretty accessible show for adults.

For other worthwhile television seasons, please check out my reviews of:
V - The Complete First Season
The West Wing
True Blood - Season 1


For other television series reviews, please be sure to check out my index page for an organized listing!

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

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