Six Feet Deep

WARNING: Massive spoil­ers ahead.

An old girl­friend intro­duced me to Six Feet Under more than a decade ago, but it turned into such a grind that I man­aged to fin­ish the series only last week. There’s a lot of com­plex drama with­out sta­bil­ity to bal­ance it out, a lot more ten­sion than res­o­lu­tion. One of the most com­mon themes is char­ac­ters seek­ing hap­pi­ness in all the wrong places, just to escape the depress­ing real­ity of their lives, and usu­ally end­ing up worse for it.

Ruth, George, and Maggie

For your infor­ma­tion, Miss High-and-Mighty, this is life. People have crises. They push each other’s but­tons. They inflict pain on one another. And once in a fuck­ing blue moon, they bring out the best in each other. But mostly, they bring out the worst.”

It wasn’t easy to get through five sea­sons of peo­ple mak­ing ter­ri­ble deci­sions in their rela­tion­ships, and watch­ing those deci­sions haunt them later.

Nate was writ­ten as the cen­tral char­ac­ter, but I’d already had enough of him halfway through. He refused to go to ther­apy when asked by his wife, and ended up cheat­ing sev­eral times over the course of the series; some fairly defin­ing steps, in my book. It was only at the very end that he seemed to learn a way to behave in his rela­tion­ships that wasn’t com­pletely self­ish or self-destructive1, and by then, he was already respon­si­ble for two more chil­dren with dif­fer­ent peo­ple. It took him 40 years to sort of get his shit together. Personal growth may be a life­long jour­ney, but his process ended up caus­ing a lot of unnec­es­sary heartache and wreck­age along the way.

The only char­ac­ters I ended up root­ing for were David2 and Keith. Which made Keith’s mur­der extremely upset­ting, cause it was such a sur­pris­ing and sense­less death, and dealt with so chill­ingly in 13 sec­onds. Perhaps it was a way to show how lit­tle sense there is to be found in the world. Or maybe it was a way to include the image of a young Keith appear­ing to David before he passes away…a beau­ti­ful detail that shows us he was truly David’s one.

David and Keith

When some­one sees you as you really are and wants to be with you, that’s powerful.”

Amidst all the depress­ing themes, there were often pro­found insights into the human con­di­tion that kept me com­ing back.

I’m still glad to have expe­ri­enced the series. It was a way for me to remain at a care­ful dis­tance from toxic peo­ple while still learn­ing from and about them. I enjoyed the writ­ing in par­tic­u­lar3, but I sim­ply didn’t feel good watch­ing it. Each episode left me with a deeper appre­ci­a­tion of how uncon­trol­lable and messy life is, but also heavy and sad.

That’s why I couldn’t han­dle watch­ing it alone. I needed com­pany to help me deal with the things I felt, and finally found the right per­son in Heather4. I doubt I’ll be able to go through it again; I’m cer­tainly not averse to mor­bid top­ics or dif­fi­cult emo­tions, but too many things in this show reminded me of a world I’ve been try­ing to leave behind.

  1. Brenda didn’t make it easy for him cause she had a habit of start­ing argu­ments or sab­o­tag­ing the rela­tion­ship in some way, but he’d con­sis­tently make things worse by react­ing the same way, instead of de-escalating. []
  2. And he regressed sig­nif­i­cantly enough in the last sea­son that this became a chal­lenge. []
  3. The fact that Claire ends up with Ted — some­one who’s polit­i­cally oppo­site from her, but sta­ble, respon­si­ble, and emo­tion­ally sup­port­ive (unlike all the artists she was with before) — is such a great explo­ration of the way odd cou­ples can form. []
  4. The show also cov­ers huge range of sig­nif­i­cant rela­tion­ship issues and mile­stones — from infi­delity to mis­car­riage to the loss of a life­long part­ner — and it was like hav­ing a text­book of extreme sit­u­a­tions to fig­ure out our posi­tions. []

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