Six Feet Under: Season 4
Occasionally a television series that manages to survive to the forth season slips a little. After all, even the most inventive and creative team of writers, directors and actors may find that every season cannot live up to the previous ones. That’s not to say that the forth season of Six Feet Under presented on DVD is bad, it just lacks some of the elements that may the show such and original. Going through the forth season on DVD it occurred to me that what missed the mark is the various story arcs fell to the level of a night time soap opera. Gone where the quirky stories based on a dysfunctional family set amidst the backdrop of a funeral home degraded in this season to a series of almost mundane, forced themes. Nate (Peter Krause) is discovering that although his job is to help the bereaved he is having a lot of difficulty in dealing with the death of his wife Lisa (Lili Taylor). Fisher clan matriarch Ruth (Frances Conroy) is now remarried to George Sibley (James Cromwell), a university professor and David (Michael C. Hall) is now out of the closet sufficiently so that his partner Keith (Mathew St. Patrick) actually spends the night in the Fisher home with David. Claire (Lauren Ambrose) is angst filled over her recent abortion and looking for anything that will stimulate her deadened imagination and help her create her art. Add to this the breakup of the marriage between now full partner Federico (Freddy Rodríguez) and his wife Vanessa (Justina Machado) and you have soap mode fully engaged.
The writers did not completely forsake the wonderful weirdness that holds this series together, in the very first episode of the season Nate is faced with a dilemma; Lisa’s family wanted her remains to be interred in the family mausoleum while Nate knew that it was Lisa’s wish to be buried without a coffin directly in the earth. The solution that Nate devises is classic, old school Six Feet Under, unfortunately, this was the first season episode and the quirks where not maintained for this season. One of the more contrived plot lines involves Claire. At an arty party she meets Edie (Mena Suvari), a lesbian musician that has an eye on Claire. Claire responds by becoming a temporary lesbian and when she finds herself unable to climax with Edie decides to go back to men much to the disappointment and chagrin of Edie. Meanwhile in the other messed up family, the Rodriguez’s, Federico has taken to helping a stripper he met at a club. This only serves to drive more of a wedge between him and his estranged wife. The soap opera plots does get some supernatural interaction when Lisa appears to Nate warning him to stop seeing Brenda (Rachel Griffiths) and find someone more suitable to mothering Maya. Just because you are killed off in this series it’s no reason for the actor to stop showing up for filming.
What detracted from this season was the numerous intersecting stories where all too predictable. Where the previous season had what on the surface seemed to be themes well explored by other shows the writers usually found some novel twist to keep the audience off balance. Here, the viewers are almost able to write the resolutions themselves. There is just too much angst to go around this time out. I felt that the characters where almost cartoons of what was established in the first three seasons.
To their credit, the cast continued to d their absolute best with what they had to work with. Peter Krause plays Nate as a man inundated with the problems of life. Fortunately, his Arterio-Venous Malformation seemed to have been abated but the emotional drain on the man was overpowering. Left with a young daughter he wants to regain his footing for her sake. Krause continues to portray Nate as a sensitive, caring individual human being that is just in over his head. Michael C. Hall is an incredible actor who continues to let his character of David grow as a person. In one thread towards the end of the season David is kidnapped and molested leaving emotional scars on the character. Mathew St. Patrick plays well of this situation as David’s partner, torn between the loss of his job as a police officer, settling for one as a security guard for the rich, and truly a man in love. As always Lauren Ambrose is a delight to watch. She gives the audience a Claire that almost everyone can identify with. She is a young woman at the verge of adulthood, unsure of every aspect of her future. One of the most professional actors in this troupe is Frances Conroy. She has a command of the screen second to none. As Ruth she is the perfect juxtaposition to daughter Claire, an older woman, widowed, children grown, seeking a new grasp on life and happiness. Guest star Mena Suvari has a history with the series creator Allan Ball, having worked with him on his best known opus, ‘American Beauty’. Unfortunately, her character of Edie was too much out of the box of standard characters. Edie was too one dimensional for an actress like Suvari to do too much with. It must be difficult for an actor to fit into to an ensemble cast that has been working together so closely for years but James Cromwell manages well. While he does not have the quirky appeal that Kathy Bates had in the previous season this excellent actor brings much to an otherwise routine plot line. At least the actors kept up even if the writers had an off season.
HBO does pay attention to presenting their series on DVD. The technical specifications here are top notch. The Dolby 5.1 audio has excellent separation of the channels including some nice effects delegated to the rear speakers. The musical queues are rich and full but never overwhelm the dialogue. The anamorphic video has a well balanced palette with true to life colors and no artifacts. A few select episodes have a commentary track but this is mostly the ‘how well we did this’ variety, nothing really noteworthy. For the true devotee of the series this is a must have since it does set the stage for the current season five. If you are new to the series it would be better to get season one to get the true feel of the story. The good news is season five seems to be more on track so all is not lost for this imaginative series.