Six Feet Under Season Three
Starring: Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Mathew St. Patrick, Freddy Rodríguez, Rachel Griffiths
Series Creator: Alan Ball
When writing about later seasons of a show, I generally run into two difficulties: one, it’s almost impossible to talk about what’s new about a season without spoiling what happened in the seasons before it, and two, it can get repetitive talking about the same characters, actors and themes for several seasons.
I’ve decided to not try and continue to speak in vagaries and just go ahead and talk about what has already happened in the first two seasons of this show, so if you haven’t seen those seasons and want to remain spoiler-free, you might as well stop reading this review now (but, feel free to skip to the end to see how it scored if you’re still wondering if checking out this show is the thing for you).
As for the second problem, the series was nice enough to introduce several new reoccurring characters to the series that factored significantly into the story, giving me something new to write about. The biggest new edition to the cast is Lily Taylor, introduced in season two as Lisa, an old Seattle friend of Nate’s (Peter Krause), who moved to Los Angeles after getting pregnant by Nate during his visit to Seattle. By the end of season two, she gave birth to their daughter Maya (Brenna and Bronwyn Tosh, twins who play one of the cutest children on TV ever), to the delight of new grandma Ruth (Frances Conroy) and uneasiness of Nate.
Following his brain surgery, Nate quickly decided to marry Lisa so they could raise Maya together, making her a part of the Fisher family from the first episode of the season. Taylor appears in every episode this season as a special guest star, playing a significant role in the defining storyline of the season: her relationship with Nate. When she first appeared in season two (receiving an Emmy nomination in the process), I liked Lisa. She was a bit strange with her hippie ideas, but she seemed to be a much better match for Nate than Brenda (Rachel Griffiths), which isn’t saying much, I know, and seemed like just the sort of person Nate needed in his life.
Guess I was wrong. Almost from the start, the cracks in their relationship are obvious, with the rest of the season featuring Nate and Lisa miserably trying to live with each other, with Nate constantly accommodating Lisa while simultaneously checking out of the relationship and Lisa increasingly becoming neurotic and pushy. But, just when I thought I’d had enough with her, the show made Lisa sympathetic, revealing that her insecurities weren’t exactly unfounded, thus making her behaviour more understandable. Then the show made us all feel bad for all the bad things we may have thought or said about her. And, seemingly impossibly, made Nate that much more miserable. It wasn’t easy to watch, but this show never is.
My favourite new character was easily Rainn Wilson‘s Arthur Martin, brought into Fisher & Diaz (Rico became partner at the end of season two) as an apprentice for the cost of room and board. Wilson’s Arthur is basically a more pleasant, and more strange (if you can believe it), version of his Dwight Schrute character from The Office, but not played for laughs. Which isn’t to say he doesn’t get his fair share of laughs on this show. His early interactions with Ruth were a delight, and a nice change of pace from all the Nate and Lisa drama.
Other guest stars in prominent reoccurring roles this season include Kathy Bates as Bettina, who strikes up a friendship with Ruth when they meet while trying to help Ruth’s sister Sarah (Patricia Clarkson) detox. Bates earned an Emmy nomination for the role, and had previously directed three episodes of the show (and would direct two more in this season). Ben Foster played Russell Corwin, Claire’s (Lauren Ambrose) art school classmate and boyfriend. It’s a bit of a thankless role, as Russell is designed to become a bit of an artsy douche, but I thought Foster handled it well. James Cromwell comes along later in the season as Ruth’s latest love interest, George Sibley.
Often when a series turns to this many guest stars, its a sign that the show is past its prime and trying to distract the audience with easily advertised guest appearances. This isn’t the case here, as each character plays a key part in the development of the main cast, and none distract from them. Season three was very much focused on relationships, specifically, the relationships the Fisher clan have with those outside the family. Seeing Ruth interact with Arthur, Bettina, and George showed different sides of her personality that we don’t always see with her children (oh, and can I add that absolutely LOVE Ruth Fisher? Cause I do. She was my favourite this season). Moving Nate away from Brenda (who wasn’t around for the first few episodes of the season, and for the most part had her own stories away from the Fishers throughout) showed that he has his own issues that have nothing to do with her (and thus she cannot be blamed for them). Claire’s new life in art school showed more of her movement toward independence, suggesting that she might be able to move past the gloom of her family from time to time (while never truly escaping it).
The season ended on a difficult note, with a story that was as intense at it was upsetting. Peter Krause did an excellent job with Nate’s struggles, essentially playing a drowning man in a constant state of worry and disbelief. You feel for him and understand why he behaves the way he does, while still wishing he wouldn’t and sympathizing with those who are forced to deal with him. It’s a tough balance, pushing characters to their limits while still giving the audience enough to make them care what happens to these characters, but one this show does well.
The show manages because of the work it put into crafting characters of such depth, characters who are essentially good, but terribly flawed. That’s why we still care about David (Michael C. Hall) and Keith’s (Mathew St. Patrick) relationship troubles throughout the season, even though there are parts of the season when you don’t think David should put up with him anymore. It’s why I shouted through the TV at Rico (Freddy Rodríguez) when he made a terrible decision in the season finale. And it’s why a show that can be difficult to watch because of the stress it puts its characters through is also truly addicting. Because I care about these characters, and wish them well even when things don’t seem like they’re going to turn out that way.