Six Feet Under Season Two
Starring: Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Mathew St. Patrick, Freddy Rodríguez, Rachel Griffiths
Series Creator: Alan Ball
I better review season two before I finish season four, which will probably be very soon. The challenge is making sure the seasons don’t blend together in my head.
Season one was about introducing us to the characters of the show and building them up following the death of Nathaniel Sr (Richard Jenkins). Season two seemed to be about tearing them back down. This, of course, is the way to sustain drama in a character-driven series, and will be a continuing theme of this series. But this season it was quite jarring, and at times made it more difficult to enjoy.
Luckily, not all the characters went through the ringer. Since David (Michael C. Hall) went through it in season one, he was able to spend most of season two building himself back up. It was good to see, but it did make him less interesting than he was in the first season (when his story was the most interesting). Ah, television. You sometimes have to give us what we need, not what we want. That said, David wasn’t exactly boring, but rather passed the spotlight on to other characters.
After spending a lot of season one dealing with the grief of losing her husband and the guilt of having an affair when he was alive, Ruth Fisher (Frances Conroy) found her strength in the beginning of the season, refusing to serve as a doormat to her kids. Conroy is an absolute joy in the role, bringing a spark to an otherwise often dour ensemble. In this season, she starts developing into one of my favourite characters.
Surprisingly, I think my favourite character of the season ended up being Claire (Lauren Ambrose). While I liked Claire in season one, and appreciated Ambrose’s work, I did feel her storylines were usually the weak link of several episodes. In season two, she shook herself free from her terrible relationship with Gabe (Eric Balfour), and started developing much better as a result. Among the many things this series does right is the way it is able to portray Claire’s teenage life in what is essentially an adult drama. That they are able to craft a convincing portrayal of a high school student as well as they portray the older Ruth Fisher speaks volumes of the talent of the writing staff. Their ability to blend in her storylines with everyone else speaks even more.
Unfortunately, while things went reasonably well for David, Ruth, and Claire, the rest of the cast didn’t fare so well. Rico (Freddy Rodríguez) spent most of the season feeling unappreciated both by his employers and his family. Keith (Mathew St. Patrick) went from being one of the most enjoyable characters in season one to become nearly intolerable by the end of season two. I’ll admit, of all the main cast, he was the one most in need of a little tarnish, as he practically walked around with a halo in the first season. I’m guessing the show didn’t want to take too many chances with a gay, black character and erred on the side of caution in the first season. Unfortunately, they went a little too far the other way this season, nearly draining any sympathy one might have for him and his troubles as he continued to be a pill for the second half of the season.
Nate (Peter Krause) and Brenda (Rachel Griffiths) were probably worse, as their relationship devolved throughout the season. Brenda obviously isn’t coping well with the fallout of institutionalizing her brother Billy (Jeremy Sisto) and Nate is trying to deal with his medical condition without telling Brenda about it. The result being the two are a barely-functioning couple, and when their respective damage starts affecting them more (along with Nate’s situation with old friend Lisa, played by Lili Taylor) the two become really unhappy people. Nate is no longer his laid-back self, snapping at Rico, Claire, and his mother while disengaging from everything.
And Brenda? Well, Brenda’s fucked up. Griffiths does what she can to keep Brenda sympathetic, and the show certainly provides enough reasons why she ends up acting the way she does, but there were times this season when I kinda hated Brenda. Still, it’s a tough storyline to give a character without coming off as exploitative, and for the most part, the series succeeds in not doing so. But, as with many things this season, it wasn’t easy to watch.
While this season was at times difficult to watch, and less enjoyable than the first season, it was still excellent television. It’s a balance that TV shows have to find, to be able to have complicated characters and drama while still giving your audience a reason to invite you into their homes every week. This is an area where HBO’s shortened seasons pay off; with a 13 episode season, the misery never dragged on so long that watching the season felt like a drag (in fact, we watched it in just over a week, pretty much forsaking all other forms of entertainment to do so… a pattern that has continued through to season four and will probably continue until the series finale). The acting, writing, and direction all continue to be top notch, and the episodes, while less fun, are no less engrossing.