Tag Archives: Death

I Just Watched the Complete Series of Six Feet Under and All I Got was This Lousy Sense of Existential Dread

11 Sep
Six Feet Under starring Rachel Griffiths, Peter Krause, Michael C.Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Freddy Rodriguez, Mathew St. Patrick, Justina Machado, Jeremy Sisto and James Cromwell

Six Feet Under: starring Rachel Griffiths, Peter Krause, Michael C.Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Freddy Rodriguez, Mathew St. Patrick, Justina Machado, Jeremy Sisto and James Cromwell.

I am not a traditional television binge watcher, but it took me a little over a month to watch all 63 episodes of the 2001-2005 HBO series Six Feet Under, and today, I can say that I am finished with the series.  The show, which follows the Fisher family, a multigenerational clam operating a funeral home in Los Angeles.  The show opens with the death of its patriarch, the mysterious Nathaniel Fisher, whose life remains somewhat of a mystery to his three children Nate (Peter Krause), David (Michael C. Hall) and Claire (Lauren Ambrose).  To me, the show was a bit dated and filled with references to things that no one speaks about now – Sarah McLachlan, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and old cellphones, but if you can move past that bit of weird frozen-in-time feeling, you will make it through the series.

One of the things that I believe makes the series very difficult to watch is the low likability of several of the main characters.  We often see some members of the Fisher family and their surrounding characters acting in very selfish and narrow-minded ways.  Rico (Freddy Rodriguez) is one of the characters who only continued to build in his self-righteous and self-preserving ways.  I will never understand why Rico continued his employ and later partnership with David and Nate – he always seemed ready to fight with nearly everyone.  Rico’s character also provides moral conflict when the supposedly upstanding religious father and husband begins an affair with Sophia, a stripper who apparently gives him the best BJ ever, placing his marriage in jeopardy.  This storyline eventually becomes so stale that there is no way audience can continue to support Rico, and his character essentially becomes tarnished for the remainder of the series.

The major theme of the series of course is death, and each episode of the series begins with a death that demonstrates the delicate nature of life and the possibility that death is always nearby and a very real possibility.  Of course, from the pilot opening with the death of Nathaniel Fisher (Richard Jenkins), and the final episode of the series imagining the future deaths of the major characters of the show, the series stays true to its theme.  Despite this strength, the series is marred by a parade of selfish, over-bearing characters who are concerned with nothing but themselves.  Perhaps this is the aspect of the show that is truest to life, as learning that most people are selfish by nature is a part of reality.

Nate Fisher (Peter Krause) is a character who never quite gets over the fact that there is little more to life than getting older, working a job that you probably don’t really care for, and having difficulties in personal relationships.  He is consistently selfish in his interactions with his longtime on-again/off-again girlfriend Brenda Chenowith (Rachel Griffiths), which leads me to believe that Nate is actually the unbalanced person in that relationship, and not the long-suffering Brenda.  A good portion of Nate’s storyline finds him struggling with the idea of death, especially when he learns that he has a medical condition known as AVM, an abnormal connection between arteries and veins in the brain.  This will become important again later in the series.

Brenda, often portrayed as the “crazy one” on the series (alongside her brother), was formerly the subject of a psychology book studying her odd behavior as a child (Charlotte Light and Dark), is thoroughly damaged by her wealthy psychiatrist parents who were openly sexual in front of her and her brother Billy.  Billy Chenowith (Jeremy Sisto) is Brenda’ s bipolar artist brother who has a relationship with Claire early in the series and again once more later on.  Billy, seemingly forever unstable, later confesses to Brenda that he is in love with her – one of the few moments in the series that caused me to audibly gasp out loud.

Out of the more impressive performances in the series, Frances Conroy as Ruth Fisher, the widowed matriarch, is followed on a near-endless series of romantic mishaps and frustrations.  It is interesting to see an older woman struggling to not only reconcile the death of her husband, but to also seek love in unlikely places.  We think that Ruth finds true happiness and love with George Sibley (James Cromwell), but we see how that relationship has its own flaws.  Ruth’s experiences serve as a mirror of reality for viewers, teaching them that although life is ultimately good, it is filled with endless challenges and surprises.  My favorite character on the show is David Fisher (Michael C. Hall), Nate’s initially closeted brother and the heir apparent of the Fisher and Sons funeral home.  This is the most genuine performance on the series, with David confronting nearly every fear and personal problem possible.  His tumultuous relationship with Keith (Matthew St. Patrick) is a major focus of the show, in addition to the couple’s struggles to have a child.  For a television show produced in the early aughts, this is groundbreaking writing and focus on a committed homosexual couple, which was really never seen before.  Michael C. Hall, who later went on to play Dexter Morgan on Showtime’s series about a moral serial killer, is a national treasure as far as I’m concerned.  There is, however, a very long storyline involving an incident in which David was held at gunpoint by a crazed stranger that continues to drag on far too long.

Overall, the series is a great precursor to Alan Ball’s later work, which of course includes another familiar HBO series, True Blood.   The subject matter of Six Feet Under is daring for the time in which it aired, bringing death, humanity, and sexuality to the forefront of paid cable television.  This is one of the original series that established HBO as a powerhouse, as it originally aired on Sundays, following The Sopranos.

My biggest criticism of the series is perhaps not a valid criticism at all, but I truly was annoyed by several characters on a regular basis.  The biggest offender of this was the character of Nate Fisher, Jr., who is also the protagonist of the series.  In his relationship with Brenda, I found him to be insufferably selfish, and when he later marries Lisa out of obligation (i.e., pregnancy), he becomes even more unbearably obnoxious.  I suppose the goal of Nate’s character was to show us that life really does not have to be something amazing that we imagine in our heads – it can simply be what we have, and our obligation is to enjoy it as best we can.  Nate’s narcissistic worldview that he was worth more than being a funeral director and worth more than being with Brenda was hard to watch.  If you make it to season five, some of Nate’s actions will leave you very upset, including a fateful scene in which Nate crosses the line.

If you can bear the thought of watching a show with the primary theme of death, Six Feet Under is worth watching.  However, be prepared to wallow in thoughts of death and dying for far too long during your day.  This series successfully explores the classic question of existentialism: what does it all mean?

On Depression: It’s Not a Choice

26 Oct

Depression is not a choice.  One of the few people with whom I shared my diagnosis of major depressive disorder told me, “that’s no way to live your life.”  I have no choice in this matter.  As little as I know about my family history, depression runs on both sides, and I am yet another unwitting victim to the cycle of depression and the continued denial of mental illness.  Having depression does not mean that I am always sad and upset.  It does not mean that I am broken.  It does not mean that I am a bad person.  What it means to me is that my world runs over with great possibilities of succumbing to darkness, and that I will recurrently enter that abyss on my own. Depression is a feeling that is difficult to describe.  Perhaps the best way to describe my depression is a feeling of infinite emptiness and an almost tangible hopelessness.   It is also one of the most isolating illnesses.  You are alone in your head.  Your internal thought processes are broken, and you feel as though the cycle will never be broken.  No amount of love or concern from others will fix it.  You walk alone.

I first started feeling sad on a regular basis when I was in middle school.  At least six years of being mercilessly teased in school finally caught up with me.  Simply thinking of some of the names I was called and the things that were done to me sends a shock of pain though my body.   At the age of thirteen, I told my parents that I wanted to kill myself.  They took me to a therapist, who in turn told my mother that I was simply too smart for my own good.  The problem would get worse a few years later.

My second major episode of depression came following the end of a long romantic relationship.  I thought that I would be with him forever, as silly as that now sounds.  I can still hear some of the cruel things he said when it was over.  The last time I saw him, he held a scrapbook of our pictures in his hand: “if I give you this, you’ll never get over me,” he said.   Little did he know, that was not the problem.  The problem was internal rumination, and the inability to brush off cruel words, another symptom of depression.   I did get over him, but it took a long time.  A long time filled with crying fits, a thirty pound weight loss, and a year of being almost continuously drunk.

The third major episode began with the death of my on-again and off again boyfriend and best friend, Dave.  Since his death, my mind has been in a fog.  I have started caring less about other friendships.  I now know what death does to those who are left behind.  It changes a person, from the inside out.  Despite his deep flaws, he was the most emotionally supportive person in my life.  And now I am here without him, more broken than I ever was when he was alive.

When my depression is at its absolute worst, I feel as though I want to die, but then I suddenly think that I do not want to die, and my mind duels with itself in a devilish dance.

I want people to call me to ask to spend time with me, but then I realize that they will not want to spend time with me.  Hardly anyone can stand me due to my depression, my dark mark.  It does not make me fun to be around.  It makes my narcissistic traits bubble to the surface, as there is something inherently narcissistic about being wrapped up in one’s own depression.  How I wish I could make it all go away.

Despite these horrid feelings that ebb and flow within my cortex, I manage to make it every day.  I function – perhaps almost too well – and I go to work, I freelance for extra money, I manage to get onstage to do comedy at least five days a week, I piece together a full-length screenplay that is moving slowly but surely.  I will not give up.  I will not go gentle into that good night.

The stigma against depression remains thick in this world, and especially in the United States.  A bootstrap mentality pervades this land, and no one wants to hear about feelings – those messy, unknown things.  A conversation on mental illness seems so far away at this point and time, and for those of us struggling with the realities of what it is to be human, to face your frailty on a daily basis, the problem persists.

If you know someone who is struggling with depression, please check in on them regularly.  It will mean everything in the world to them.


Everyone is a Self-Absorbed Asshat

8 Aug

In the wake of the death of my best friend, I’ve learned a very valuable lesson about people.  Every person, it seems, is a self-absorbed asshat.  What is wrong with people these days? Why won’t they talk to each other anymore instead of staring at their phones and/or pretending that they are super important and “OMG it’s my birthday next week” and blah blah blah.

This is not a good time for me. In fact, I may venture to say that this is the worst time of my life. The person I loved the most in the entire world, the person to whom I told all of my secrets, hopes, and dreams, is dead.  There is no nice way of saying it.  Dave died.  Sometimes when I think about it, the entire world feels as though it is going to fall away from under my feet.  At other times, I shrug, and simply forget for a few moments.  Nothing will change what happened, but I feel that the most pressing thing to result from Dave’s death is my realization that everyone else in the world is completely selfish.

Never in my life have I screamed for help so loudly, yet no one hears me.  I am literally standing on a precipice of life or death. The first thing I thought about this morning was how nice it would be to be with Dave again.  Then I became intensely sad while reading about people’s apparently happy lives on Facebook.  People are going on trips and “loving life” and looking forward to their birthdays.  But what about the trips I had planned with Dave? What about his 36th birthday, a day that will never come? It’s no matter, because no one will read this.  And if they do, no one who thinks they will want to do anything will actually do anything.  They’ll just go back to reading their Kindles and pretending to text someone who isn’t there.

What are my dreams? A best friend who will listen to me when things are this horrible.  Someone like Dave, who was always there for me when I needed him. Everything is so hopeless now. Everything is so empty. Nothing has meaning anymore.  I feel so empty inside.

I am unsure of whether I’ll survive this test of my strength. I’ve been weakened to the point of exhaustion.  Nothing seems worth anything, no one seems worthy.  It is hard to be this lonely, this hopeless.