August 14, 2005

"Six Feet Under" – the penultimate episode.

Tonight's episode was intense, but mostly a bridge to the final episode. All the characters got shaken around. Next week we'll see where they end up.

I didn't intentionally set out to make death the theme of the day on the blog. The "dood" page turned up in the Amsterdam Notebook... and then there was that walk in the cemetery...

IN THE COMMENTS: A discussion of Clare's anti-war rant. Should we be mad at the writers or not? Read the first two comments, which contain no signficant spoilers.


XWL said...

This is lenghty and semi-ranty, but I can't find the edits so I'm posting it as is, and I think there is a point in here somewhere (delete if you must Prof. Althouse, it won't be taken personally, suggest changes for repost if you like).

Sorry for going political in this comment section, but I find it interesting that the most self involved, shallow, and mean-spirited seeming characters also show the greatest symptoms of Bush Derangement Syndrome.

Clare is a horror in this episode, and her anti-war/SUV rant was so wrongly timed and incoherent that you almost have to wonder if the writer of this episode is actually trying to engender sympathy for the other side of the argument (which I personally doubt).

The suicidal vet's sister's rant also was just a bitchy tirade that had nothing to do with her brother or her loss.

Also, the idea of the broken, suicidal, vet with multiple limbs missing has been a hoary old anti-war trope going back to at least World War I (the unfunny and increasingly irrelevant Doonesbury has been mining this territory lately), but given the intense media coverage of every negative act perfomed by a veteran that might be blamed on the war on terror I doubt that anything like what this episode showed has happened as a result of the current conflicts, or else a phalanx of mics would have been shoved infront of the sister's face as she loudly proclaims the horrors of her reality.

The polar opposite instead has been the most common media story about those recuperating at Walter Reed. The men and women serving in and near combat zones (many young, many not so young) accept the danger, and when injured find ways to adjust. The technology, treatment, and the available kinds of jobs today mean that someone like the veteran depicted this week still should have hope to be useful, and productive. This kind of 'where's the rest of me' lament isn't the automatic result of severe injuries anymore (or ever really, many have survived severe injuries and found a way to prosper afterwards).

Dramatic license is fine, but in my mind most of the deaths they have shown have been staged to illustrate a point indicating the particular fantasies of this show's creators and given the general tone of SFU, I assume that they believe that all those that join the military are likely to be broken by the experience rather than enriched, enlarged and rewarded for their sacrifices of time, personal freedom, and sometimes life and limb.

I hope I never use political disagreements to take these sacrifices for granted, cause even though many within the anti-war movement resist the notion that they are also anti-military, it's hard to interpret their rhetorical choices any other way. (and I believe that this week's death was squeezed in now cause Alan Ball knew that he was about to lose his current soapbox and he had a point to make about the military and 'Booosh's War for Oil')

Ann Althouse said...

Leroy: Thanks so much for your comment. I was tired when I wrote my post and had actually forgotten the material about the temporary characters (the "corpse of the week" and his family). You right, I hated the old stereotype of the bitter vet, which was also a stereotype about the disabled.

I'd like to post a transcription of Clare's rant, but I do think it's within her character. She's said a lot of overdone, youthfully political things on the show, and she's been matched up in the end with a quite sympathetic conservative. And she was not very sympathetic when she was ranting at the victim's mother.

Kathy Herrmann said...

Last night's show was intense but I thought at times out of context.

Take Clair's speechifying for example. I didn't see the arc between Nate's death and the Iraq War -- except that is, as a a vehicle to contrast Clair and Ted.

Also, I understood the sorrow at the death of a brother, but kind of felt that both Clair and David are over the top in their grief.

Brenda and Billy kind of shocked me. Maybe I haven't watched the show enough. I didn't realize Brenda shared Billy's incestuous desires.

And last, the obvious prediction...Rico and Vanessa will buy their own mortuary and Vanessa will join Rico in running it.

Blogolutionary said...

It's interesting that the writers felt simply having a soldier die from his injuries wasn't powerful enough, even though it's far more universal. Nope--the kid had to take his own life to make their vision of misery complete. By the way, isn't there a famous Senator and Bush critic who decided not to stab himself in the chest with a hypodermic after receiving similar injuries? Wonder how he felt watching this episode.

Alice H said...

I don't think the political intention of the episode (and the previous one with the restaurant scene) were to push a liberal agenda. (If that was the intention, they sure did a lousy job.)

The wounded soldier's 'loyal' sister's job should have been to help her brother find meaning in his life past his injuries - instead she writes him off as a waste of life by giving him the means to commit suicide. That's not the action of someone who is capable of thinking about the long-term consequences of their actions. It also shows a lack of bravery - it's easier to off her brother than to take the more responsible and courageous path of helping him cope with his depression and learn to live with his disabilities.

The writers, and Lauren Ambrose, did a good job of making Claire seem like a completely irrational, paranoid freak. She was practically frothing at the mouth, drunk and incoherent. She has no thoughts for anyone but herself, even attacking her brother's customers. She lashes out at Ted by attacking him for his political views instead of recognizing that Ted cares for her and is willing to stand by her even though he barely knows her.

I think it's possible that the injured soldier was a representation of each character who was affected by Nate's death. They each feel a huge part of themselves is missing, and how they will survive Nate's death is influenced by their personal choices and the support they receive from the people around them.

Alice H said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cat said...

Pardon me if anyone else said this already, but Clare ranting about SUV's?? She's driving a 70's edition CADILAC HEARSE! I mean, doesn't that model car get 7mpg?

Am I wrong?

Joan said...

(slight spoiler)

Not any more, Cat!

Ann Althouse said...

Spoilers are fine in the comments.

Ann Althouse said...

I mean in comments threads where people are prewarned, as here. Don't spoil other shows or spoil this one elsewhere.

XWL said...

I know that the people who have exhibited Bush Derangement Syndrome on the show have been jerks or crazed at the time of their statements (George during his Schizo fall-out shelter phase, Ruth's Sister while grieving her friend's death, Claire frequently either grieving or stoned).

However, I still assume Alan Ball's sympathies are illustrated by these rants, A frequent feint by PostModern types is to make their protagonists deeply flawed and to speak the truth at their weakest moments. In this way a writer can tell his/her version of the truth while still distancing themselves from the uncomfortable realities of the points they may be trying to make (T.C. Boyle, and DeLillo come to mind using that technique frequently).

I just get a strong misanthropic vibe from the whole enterprise and in Alan Ball's world all people are hypocritical, self-indulgent horrors with only the thinnest veneer of civility covering the rotting souls just beneath the skin (David's comments about his face coming off would seem to support this).

And despite all this I have enjoyed this show for most of its run, mainly cause of the quality of acting, and even as these people rot while still breathing, they have been fascinating to watch.