Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Sweetness of the Leaving: Six Feet Under Season Five and Thoughts on the Series

(this is my loooong overdue post on the end of Six Feet Under which I finished watching in January. As time has put distance between me and my viewing of the show, I think I appreciate it even more than I did after I first stopped watching, especially since I'm so BLAH on everything right now)

If something ends well it can change your whole perspective on that thing and that's how I feel about Six Feet Under. And I don't just mean the final few minutes that I was well and good spoiled for long before I ever started watching this show, but the entire fifth season was a fitting conclusion to this story. I think the second and fifth seasons are my favorite and it's no surprise since they are sort of mirrors to each other.

I've put off writing this because Six Feet Under isn't the kind of show you can casually watch for fun. It's a show that forces you to engage with it and its ideas which is why I had to stop watching it sometimes. Death and mortality are really heavy topics and hard to think about all the time. I also think the show has a fairly grim view on reality and life--every single main character cheats on their significant other and they all make mistakes--the sames ones again and again. In fact, once I finished watching I went looking for writing on the show and The AV Club does some recaps each summer. They are only through season two, but this stood out to me as absolutely true and why the show is so hard to watch in one fell swoop:

The show’s grimmest quality might not be the constant death but rather its frequent observation that in life, people struggle mightily to effect even the slightest change in themselves. And then they die.

I may sound a bit negative myself, but I don't mean to. Six Feet Under is a tremendous artistic and cultural achievement. But I'm also not going to pretend it's something that it's not-it IS a hard show to watch, it does not soften the harder more unpleasant edges of humanity and it deals with death in all its unpleasant reality on a very consistent basis. I also found this review that I agree with so much, that the show could tend to be overly gloomy and sometimes miss that what made it truly special were the lighter moments:

Because it was first and foremost a show about death, I think Alan Ball et al. assumed that people were tuning in because of all the darkness. But I think the true beauty of the show was its weird hopefulness in the face of all that darkness. What kept me so attached to the show were those little glimmers

Anyway a few brief thoughts on the final season.

*I like how in the first episode Brenda lost her baby and the final episode started with her giving birth. The circle of life. But just to make sure we really got it, I thought Brenda giving birth and then showing everyone's deaths in the final episode was beautiful--and not in a way that was cheesy, you know?

*I like how this season mirrored the second season in so many ways. Nate and his AVM was a big theme as well as everyone facing Nate's death. Nate escaped death in the second season only to have it take him in the final season. His feelings about death and mortality were always at the forefront of everything. Nate and Brenda trying to make their relationship work and failing again. (this time with added failed marriage!) Nate having a baby with one woman when he secretly wanted another. Nate seeking out a new kind of spirituality (still unsure of how I feel about the show's overall handling of people and communities of faith, but oh well) Claire being unsure about what she wants to do with her life. David and Keith trying to figure out how to make their relationship work...what they needed to be a family. Ruth and her failed relationships. I don't know the two seasons complete each other in a way that makes the third and fourth almost seem like filler.

*The thing I liked so much about this season, though, was that it was the final season which meant that these huge conflicts within the characters actually led to resolution. I felt kind of sad that Nate had none, that he died without ever really resolving his problems, but he died thinking he was going to be happy and also lol that's life a lot of people die in the middle. But it was pretty cool how the finale had the characters embracing new ideas of what their lives could be while also saying goodbye to the past.

*I thought the Ruth and George story line was interesting...sort of. I really had conflicted feelings about it. But I liked that they managed to stay friends. I cried when she went over to his apartment and he confronted her about knowing what was going on because it was just such...I don't know a real moment.

*Chris Messina is so cute! I thought he and Claire were really cute together, too. So I'm happy they eventually found each other again!

*I liked how David ended up embracing his birthright and modernizing the business!

General Series Thoughts

*I watched a couple of the features after I finished watching which were interesting. Apparently, while it was on, the show really brought the subject of death into the forefront of cultural conversation. (I do not remember this happening, but oh well) They had a lot of interviews with funeral directors who said the show really nailed a lot of the stuff they had to deal with as well.

*There was a also a lot of stuff about how Brenda was the first female character of her kind, just so well drawn and complicated and sexy and owning her sexuality but not in a male-gazey sort of way which I thought was interesting.

*I cried a lot when I watched this show. I think despite it's somewhat persistent gloominess, the relationships felt true to life in a way they often don't on TV. I guess a lot of soap operas have these huge dramatic plots where people do things to one another and I think, wow I could never forgive that. But on Six Feet Under, these dramatic relationship twists are either really deeply rooted in the character in an ongoing way or they do destroy their relationships. When death happens, like Nate's death, it's treated as this huge ripping apart of their lives, raw and ugly and devastating. I think due to story constraints on TV you can't always take time for that. It can end up being sanitized and sentimentalized, but they didn't do that on a show all about death. Anyway I got off track, but what I meant to say is sometimes that's all it takes for me--to feel a moment on TV like it's real life and I think this show achieved that.

*I'm definitely wearing rose colored glass writing this so much after the fact, because I remember immediately after I had more issues with their male mental illness preoccupation and problems with writing the other woman, etc. But I can't even be bothered to think about those things now.

*so many familiar faces had little roles on this show! Skylar from Breaking Bad! Bay from Switched at Birth! Ben from Parks and Rec! That evil queen on Once Upon a Time! It was fun to see them all. On the negative side I feel sort of bad for the cast--for many of them it seems this was the role of a lifetime and they haven't had much other good stuff.

*the soundtrack is kind of great? Like I'll never be able to hear "All Apologies" again without thinking of Six Feet Under and I think that's really something.

Overall I'm really glad I finally watched this show. I think it will stay with me for a long time to come. It's the kind of show that is interesting and relevant and the writing is layered and complex. This is the kind of show that gives you something to think about and talk about from many different angles and I really really like that.


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