Friday, October 15, 2010

A Moving Scene From The Series "Six Feet Under"--A Friday Journal

I want to share with my readers a personal anecdote: about how a few moments of an old TV drama helped me regain my perspective, allowed me to re-connect with a bygone era that I miss, reminded me that fiction (especially of the human kind) can illuminate one's own experience, and reaffirmed my admiration for the peaceful influence and profound, uncomplicated beauty of Joni Mitchell's music.

Several years ago, I watched the entire first season of HBO's dramatic series "Six Feet Under."  The series followed the members of the Fisher family, after the sudden accidental death of their patriarch, Nathaniel.  Sons Nate and David take over the family's independent funeral home business; widowed mother Ruth must reinvent herself as a single woman whose children no longer need her; and youngest daughter Claire navigates the dangers of adolescence and of life in a California public high school. 

They struggle to find meaning in their lives, surrounded by death, and by a gallery of troubled lovers, dangerous friends, greedy businessmen, grieving customers, and other unforgettable figures, past and present.

The series compelled me, and won my admiration, for creating some of the most interesting original characters ever conceived for television (or films, for that matter), and for keeping us close to them in extraordinary circumstances.  It spoke about what it meant to be a parent, a son, a daughter; what it meant to confront a fatal disease, a lost love, a lost parent; what it meant to build a life as a gay man, or re-build a life as a single mature woman, or cut through the crap of adolescence, or see humanity's absurdity with clarity, even forgiveness.

(After 9/11,  I cancelled all but the most basic cable service, in protest against the banality that continued on the air after the 24-hour disaster coverage ended, and regular programming returned.  As a result, I also lost some good programming, like "Six Feet Under".)

We recently got hold of the entire five seasons on DVD, and have begun watching them in earnest, several nights a week.  We are in the home stretch of Season Two.

The final scene of Episode 7, Season Two, surprised me with its matter-of-fact poignancy, its images packed with meaning and emotion.  It played thus:

Daughter Claire goes to Topanga Canyon to visit her mother Ruth's sister Sarah, who is a free spirit.  A group of old hippies spends the night in New-Age revelry, awakening a feeling of freedom in Claire.  Sarah gives Claire a gift of a cassette tape of "Sarah's Songs", and on it is the original recording of "Woodstock" by Joni Mitchell.....

Claire brings the tape home.  She and her mother, as usual, have little to say to one another.  Ruth finds the tape and puts it on; and as Claire looks on, touched and amazed, her mother, standing alone in the middle of the kitchen, sings the plaintive lyrics perfectly along with Joni....and the music plays on over the end credits.....

...And Claire, like the rest of us, understands that Ruth, this repressed and tragic figure of a mother, was young once, was a free spirit, and sacrificed it all by the choices she made...but the spirit is still there, just waiting to be touched and released.

Take five..and enjoy the song and video....


  1. This was a really beautiful series at the beginning - it's almost a shame you missed it at the time although at least you have it now.

    Frances Conroy gives an absolutely stunning performance throughout as Ruth, always worth watching.

  2. I wonder if you have reservations about the later seasons... I can't wait to see them and share my impressions with you.

    Frances Conroy gives a really interesting interpretation of what Mark calls a difficult character. I am warming to her a lot as the series progresses.

    Thank you for checking in!!

  3. thank you Tom. Listening to Joni Mitchell gave me chills--her voice is almost 'haunting' in its beauty. The song reminds me of a time when people were more inclined to speak of their quest for meaning. I'm glad I was a child during that time--I think listening to those songs while I was impressionable and reading books during that time period helped to create a side of me that also hungers for the spiritual and deeper meanings of life. Thank you for the blessing of sharing Joni on here.

  4. I just watched this episode and was wondering if someone was as moved as I was but this lovely,delicate and sad scene. Thank yiu for sharing your thoughts