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HBO presents
Six Feet Under: The Complete Second Season (2002)

Lisa: Ants. I'm being overrun by them. At first I tried setting a little food aside for them next to the back door. Then I tried coaxing them out with some citrus oil. And now I'm trying to reason with them.
Claire: At home, my dad used to squirt them with lighter fluid and torch them.

- Lili Taylor, Lauren Ambrose

Review By: Robert Edwards  
Published: July 05, 2004

Stars: Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Rachel Griffiths, Lauren Ambrose, Frances Conroy, Freddy Rodriguez, Mathew St. Patrick
Other Stars: Jeremy Sisto, Eric Balfour, Joel Brooks, Aysia Polk, Julie White, Patricia Clarkson, Joanna Cassidy
Director: Various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, nudity, sex, drug use)
Run Time: 12h:08m:10s
Release Date: July 06, 2004
UPC: 026359889226
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- AB-B C

DVD Review

I can't help it. Every time I hear the theme music from Six Feet Under, I get goose bumps. Maybe it's because the music is simultaneously haunting and mocking, or maybe it's because the music is accompanied by the best title sequence visuals of any TV series, ever. Or maybe it's because I know I'm in for an hour of great TV, one that will almost always interest and amuse me, sometimes surprise me with its audacity, and even occasionally bring tears to my eyes.

When Six Feet Under came to the small screen in 2001, it was an instant popular and critical success. In the first season, we're introduced to the Fishers, Nathaniel (Richard Jenkins) and his wife Ruth (Frances Conroy), who run a funeral parlor with their closeted gay son David (Michael C. Hall) and employee Rico (Freddy Rodriguez). Nathaniel is quickly dispatched to the great Funeral Parlor in the sky, leaving David and his brother Nate (Peter Krause) to take over the business. Their teenage sister Claire (Lauren Ambrose) gets involved with the shady Gabe (Eric Balfour), and Nate takes up with the sexually-promiscuous Brenda (Rachel Griffiths), whose artist brother Billy (Jeremy Sisto) has severe emotional problems.

Sound a bit soap opera-like? Well, yes, and in the hands of lesser writers it might have been, but the series was created by Alan Ball (who won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for American Beauty) and the writing is of a consistently high quality. Using the funeral home as a springboard, the writers can explore "big" themes like life and death and what it all means, without falling into melodrama and cliché. There's certainly enough dark humor and irony to lighten what might otherwise become a bit too serious, and the dramatic events are punctuated by surrealistic visions, often visits from the deceased Mr. Fisher, as the characters subconsciously attempt to work through problems and issues.

It's a complicated mix, and if it weren't for the excellence of performances, it would fall flat. All of the principals are excellent, especially Rachel Griffiths as Brenda, who's attempting to come to terms with a family history of mental issues, her own sexual desires, and how these factors play into her relationship with Nate. Michael C. Hall and Peter Krause do a great job as two very different brothers, who often end up facing similar problems. Frances Conroy is both touching and amusing as the perpetually put-upon Ruth, desperate for love and family togetherness, but frequently thwarted in her attempts. And who could better embody the 18-year-old Claire's teen angst than Lauren Ambrose, perpetually amazed by the weirdness of her world.

[Warning: There are spoilers in the following episode summaries.]



Episode 1: In the Game

Season 2 gets off to a terrific start with In the Game, written by series creator Alan Ball. For a moment or two, it looks like we're on the wrong channel, as a young girl gets attacked by a Leatherface lookalike brandishing a large cleaver, but it's just a film clip and setup for the first death. The young actress' friends, Rico's sister-in-law Angie (Melissa Marsala) and Brody (Shawn Hatosy), want a funeral on the cheap, and that's exactly what they get. Ruth is reading Now You Know: A Parent's Guide to Understanding Their Gay and Lesbian Children in an attempt to come to terms with David's homosexuality, and follows its advice to hold a family dinner, at which all three children, their various partners, and Ruth's boss/boyfriend Nikolai (Ed O'Ross) are all invited. David, meanwhile, is trying to come to terms with the end of his relationship with Keith (Mathew St. Patrick), and starts to look farther afield. For her part, Brenda's in a funk, but Nate's definitely in the game—both the funeral parlor game, and the much more serious game of life and potential death from his potentially deadly brain condition.

The highlight of this episode is the excruciatingly uncomfortable family dinner, which Nate has already termed a "freak fest," and indeed it is, not the least because he assumes that only aspirin is kept in an aspirin bottle. The dim-witted Brody's ridiculous eulogy song (and Claire's reaction to it) is hilarious, and Nate's bizarre hallucination in which Life and Death get way too intimate is simultaneously creepy and funny. Five coffins.



Episode 2: Out, Out Brief Candle

Brenda cooks up a storm to impress her ex-boyfriend Trevor and his family, but she and Nate aren't quite sure whether to be jealous of their nuclear family happiness or to scorn it. David's gaga over their new "casket wall," a rather gruesome retail display, but the cost may prevent him and Nate from lending Rico the $11,000 that he and his wife Vanessa need to buy their new house. Ruth accompanies her co-worker Robbie (Joel Brooks) to his graduation from "The Plan," an est-ish self help course that encourages people to become architects of their own lives, and is entranced. We're introduced to Keith's niece Taylor (Aysia Polk), as David accompanies him to what's supposed to be her birthday party. Gabriel's friend Andy (Tim Sharp) freaks out at school, and Claire learns some facts about Gabriel that she's been trying to dismiss for a long time. Episode 2 also introduces Mitzi Dalton Huntley (Julie White), South Western Regional Director for Kroehner Service International. Kroehner has been buying up funeral homes right and left, and Mitzi's next target is Fisher Brothers.

After an exciting season opener, Out Out, Brief Candle is a bit of a disappointment, with fewer high points. The bitchy, sexually aggressive Mitzi is amusingly predatory, and there's a nice bit as Nate repeatedly has visions of a deceased football player whom he'd rather ignore, but finally sees, echoing his coming to terms with the potentially deadly consequences of his AVM. Three coffins.



Episode 3: The Plan

Gabriel's shady activities continue to affect Claire, and she's dragged into her guidance counselor's office and grilled. Nate's getting a bit frustrated with Brenda, and isn't completely convinced that not having sex for weeks is part of the normal ebb and flow of a relationship, despite her assurances that it's perfectly normal, even though they've been together less than a year. The possibility of imminent death seems to be changing Nate's view of life, but once again Brenda's not going along. David learns more about Keith's niece Taylor, his sister Karla and the difficulties of their family situation. Gabriel contacts Claire, with disastrous results.

But the bulk of episode 3 is given over to poor put-upon Ruth and her growing self-actualization via The Plan. Not only is she starting to believe, but she's also unconsciously adopting Plan-Speak and its seemingly endless supply of architectural and building metaphors, with very funny results. By midway through the episode, it's as though she can't utter a single sentence that doesn't contain the words "architect," "foundation," or "renovation." The single funniest scene in the entire episode is Ruth's expletive-laden rant as she tells everyone at a Plan meeting to go to hell, but with unexpected results. Four coffins.



Episode 4 : Driving Mr. Mossback

The titular Mr. Mossback has just died in Seattle, but his daughter won't allow the body to be flown back to Fisher Sons in L.A. because her father had a fear of flying! This gives Nate an excuse to visit his old stomping grounds and stay with his friend Lisa (Lili Taylor, wonderful as usual), and he decides to take Claire along for a bit of brother-sister bonding. Lisa's an amusing character, all Earth Mother/New Age-ish, who talks to the ants infesting her home in a bid to get them to amscray (after leaving food outside the door for them didn't help). Claire learns more about Nate and Lisa's history, and learns to stay away from tofu meatloaf. Meanwhile, we get the first hints of Brenda's sexual journey, and meet her psycho-babble-talking mom, Margaret (Joanna Cassidy). Margaret and husband Bernard (Robert Foxworth) have an incredibly complicated set of rules to govern infidelity within their marriage, and it seems that he's crossed the line. Ruth's trying to put her new blueprint into action, and Keith asks David to pick up Taylor from school.

Things take a serious turn in Driving Mr. Mossback. It does have its funny moments, mostly in the character of Lisa, and Taylor's interactions with David, but the humor of the previous episodes is attenuated. Director Michael Cuesta livens things up visually, with off-kilter angles and non-obvious framing, and this episode is more visually interesting than the first three. Three coffins.



Episode 5: The Invisible Woman

Relationships take center stage in episode 5—relationships with friends, lovers, family, and whether we even want to relate at all. A woman who pre-arranged her funeral with Fisher Brothers has accidentally died, so the Fishers are in charge of tracking down her friends and relatives. But she's led a solitary life, and her lack of connections is the catalyst for Ruth to ponder her closeness to her own children. Brenda meets up with her massage client Melissa (the late Kellie Waymire), whom she's learned is a prostitute, and not only expresses her feelings about Nate to Melissa, but helps her out with a job. Maybe it's her feelings of guilt that compel Brenda to later propose to Nate. Claire's preparing for her SATs, but when she finds out her "parody of herself" friend Parker (Marina Black) is cheating on them, it puts their friendship in question. Things are going well with David's new friend, but Keith gets carried away on the job and looks to David for consolation.

The Invisible Woman is another fairly somber episode, without much of the gallows humor that makes Six Feet Under so much fun. Director Jeremy Podeswa uses long shots and slow zooms in to isolate the characters and emphasize their isolation, but also overlaps dialog from one scene to the next to bring them together. Two coffins.



Episode 6: In Place of Anger

Things are cooking again in Episode 6. Mitzi Dalton Huntley is up to her old tricks, trying to buy up Fisher Brothers, so she whisks David and Nathan away on a plane trip to Palm Springs to try to seduce them—in business terms, of course. Brenda and Nate decide to announce their engagement at a big family dinner, but at the same time, Brenda starts to distance herself from Nate both psychologically and sexually. Ruth's rebuilding her rickety infrastructure by trying to contact family members with whom she's lost contact, and it pays off in the person of her sister Sarah (the wonderful Patricia Clarkson), whom she hasn't seen in 20 years. Sarah's the bohemian artistic type, the complete opposite of homemaker Ruth, and Ruth quickly grows jealous of how rapidly Sarah and Claire bond. In fact, Sarah's everything Ruth isn't—but before the episode is over, some sobering truths about her will be revealed.

This is a great episode, full of humor but with some genuinely touching moments. Mitzi is as always a hoot, and Sarah's the sort of person you wish you knew in real life, but probably don't. Contrasted with the poignancy of Sarah's revelations, and more revelations about the man who dies at the beginning of the show, this episode strikes a great balance between comedy and pathos, and gets everything just about right. Five coffins.



Episode 7: Back to the Garden

It's mid-season doldrums time, with an episode that isn't particularly inspired, despite the bizarre opening death. Claire spends the weekend at Sarah's, ignoring Ruth's telling her not to go, where she meets Toby (Stark Sands), and spends most of her time mocking the drug-fulled 'Howl' weekend that Sarah has arranged. Ruth has dinner with Robbie, and now it's her turn to realize how ridiculous Plan-speak really is. Brenda's mom Margaret has left her husband and moved into a new condo, but that doesn't mean that she and Brenda are on good terms, and Brenda herself continues to find new and improved outlets for her ever-diverging sexual interests. Rico's getting more and more suspicious that his cousin Ramon and his wife are fooling around, so he makes a little surprise visit during lunch, but gets more than he bargained for.

Every season has its low points, and Back to the Garden is unfortunately one of them. It's neither visually interesting, nor particularly engrossing in terms of narrative. The usual Six Feet Under humor is conspicuously absent, and Brenda's visit and Rico's little surprise are the best things here. Joni Mitchell may have wanted us to "Go back to the Garden," but this garden has fallen a bit fallow. Two coffins.



Episode 8: It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Far be it from me to reveal the details of the death that open this episode, but let's just say that it involves a Santa on a motorcycle, a truck, and some kids who are probably going to have nightmares for a very long time. Yes, it's Christmas time, and super-matriarch Ruth is naturally planning a big family celebration, and unsurprisingly annoyed at the lack of Christmas spirit that her family is showing. But she gets a chance to fulfill her mothering instincts when her boyfriend Nikolai's flower shop is broken in to, and both his legs broken, under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Lucky Ruth will have him as a houseguest for his two-month recovery, and Brenda's perpetually-soused mom will have her own guest—Brenda's crazy brother Billy, as Brenda and Nate discover on Christmas Eve. Rico hasn't been able to keep his secret about Ramon from Vanessa, and it's Vanessa's turn to talk during her own Christmas get-together.

Another top episode, which combines pathos and humor to striking effect. It's been a year since Ruth's husband died, and usual wish-fulfillment visions are replaced by the characters' memories of him, which are both tender and affecting. And Nate learns a thing or two about joie de vivre from the biker Santa's wife and friends, who celebrate the happiness of a life lived with gusto, rather than mourn his untimely death. Five coffins.



Episode 9: Someone Else's Eyes

It's Billy's turn at center stage, as he simultaneously gets closer to Claire and distances himself from Brenda. It seems it's Brenda's fault that she's always supported him, always been there for him, and that he never learned to deal with the world on his own. But he still needs Claire to take some nude pictures of him, because as he says, you have to be seen through someone else's eyes. Meanwhile, the convalescing Nikolai is driving everyone crazy with his incessant demands, and Brenda continues her sexual explorations. Nate's having some doubts about marrying her, and gets a big surprise when he unexpectedly bumps into his old girlfriend Lisa. Keith lays down the law with his sister Karla, and she agrees to out-patient rehab for her drug problems, but we're led to believe that it won't quite work out.

Appropriately for an episode that deals with vision, there a striking lighting effects throughout, both in interiors and exteriors. Some of the interior shots are quite lovely, with large areas of dimness broken by pools of bright light. The topic of vision is carried further, in the plot and dialogue, and this episode is one of the more thematically consistent ones. Four coffins.



Episode 10: The Secret

There are any number of secrets in this episode, and apparently one is that the secret to a healthy relationship is not to live together, or even attempt it. David moves into Keith's, but before long they're bickering and arguing about who's treating whom like a doormat. Ruth is angry when Nikolai moves out a week early, and wants him to leave his bachelor pad and move in permanently, but he doesn't take the bait. Claire's art project—pictures of dead people as they lie in their coffins in the funeral home—doesn't impress her teacher, and David and Nate are even less thrilled with it. Karla is involved in an accident, but Taylor can't keep the secret from David. Attempting to counter her growing sexual wanderings, Brenda attempts therapy, which goes nowhere, but she takes other positive steps. In one of the creepiest visions of the entire series, Nate sees his aborted daughter, then more and more kids, one of whom says, "I know the secret to everything, but you'll never know because you killed us."

Not a bad episode, but not a great one either. Some of the visuals, such as a Buddhist funeral, are fairly striking, and some of the plot developments are interesting, but this is not the best that the Six Feet Under team can do. Three coffins.



Episode 11: The Liar and the Whore

Ruth apparently thinks that the way to everyone's heart is through their stomachs, and it must be true, as she spends a tender moment with Claire. The trouble is, Claire and her newly-reconciled friend Parker have ingested some magic mushrooms that Aunt Sarah sent her, and her feelings are accompanied by a burst of creative energy that Claire will later regret. Nate gets an unpleasant surprise in the form of a $500,000 emotional distress suit, filed by the wife of someone they buried, and what's worse, her legal fees are being paid by a certain Kroehner Corporation. Brenda has some visions of the past that may help to explain her sexual addiction, and Keith's parents want to take Taylor back to San Diego to live with them. Nate meets a young man with pancreatic cancer and makes a commitment to him, and also an attractive rabbi, Ari (Molly Parker). And in an unusual twist, the death at the beginning of the episode takes on a personal cast, as the dead woman has been referred from the nursing home that Rico's wife works at, and her death looks suspicious.

Things pick up again in episode 11, with great drama (the legal suit) and humor (Claire's psychedelic mushroom-induced gift). Brenda's visions of herself as a girl at her parents' sex party is quite haunting, and the removal of a certain foreign object from the deceased woman's mouth is gruesome and disturbing. Five coffins.



Episode 12: I'll Take You

The opening death resonates particularly strongly in I'll Take You, as it's of an elderly lady who Rico used to help out. She's left him all her money, much to the anger of her overbearing son. Rico takes several trips down memory lane, recalling his father's death and how he first became acquainted with Fisher and Sons. A visit to an art school makes Claire feel right at home with all the other misfits who study there, but her enthusiasm in tempered when she discovers that her guidance counselor Gary (David Noroña) has been fired. Keith and David have decided to become Taylor's guardians, so they hurriedly "de-gay" their apartment in preparation for the social worker's visit. Ruth finally realizes that Nikolai is just being nice to her out of gratitude, and takes definitive steps. Billy and Claire grow closer, as do Ruth and Lisa, but Nate and Brenda tear each other apart when he discovers her sexual escapades.

Another strong episode, if not quite as good as the previous. It's good to see a little more attention paid to Rico, whose character has been underwritten in most of season two. And there's one particularly amusing bit when Keith and David realize that their preparations for the social worker's visit were all in vain. Four coffins.



Episode 13: The Last Time

If it's an episode written or (in this case) directed by Alan Ball, you know you're in for some weirdness, and The Last Time doesn't disappoint. Claire has a bizarre vision of her interview for Lac-Arts, but the real thing is almost as bad, as she breaks down and cries. Fisher and Sons gets a surprise inspection, and can't afford the $38,000 to get the plumbing fixed, since Ruth has paid off Nikolai's debts. But there's someone else who has some extra cash, and Rico finally realizes his dream to become a partner—but only a 25% partner—in the business. Nate visits his doctor, and finds out that his AVM is causing bleeding in his brain, and needs to be operated on immediately. Paralysis and even death are possible outcomes, so he must ironically do his own pre-need funeral arrangements, and reconcile with those around him.

It wouldn't be the last episode of the season without some sort of cliff-hanger, and The Last Time certainly provides that in the potential death of a main character, even if we have our suspicions as to the result. In an episode that's filled with careful camera placement and interesting movement, the two major fantasy sequences—Claire's interview and Nate's vision as his anesthesia takes effect—are especially striking, and two of the best sequences of all of Six Feet Under. Although it's a bit somber, this is a great episode, and a fitting finish to Season 2. Five coffins.



Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The image is crisp and fairly detailed, with good color, although colors are a bit under-saturated in a few of the episodes. Skins tones are usually accurate. The major problem with the image is the black level, which varies from reasonably acceptable to quite bad, and with the contrast, which is often too low. The result is a distressingly washed-out image, and HBO could have done far better.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, French, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1-channel Dolby track is good, with a wide dynamic range that lets the music shine. Surprisingly, there isn't much directionality, and it's not really much of an improvement on the 2.0 non-surround track. The Spanish and French dubs are both reasonable, although for some reason the Spanish voices are much louder in the mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 78 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Documentaries
5 Feature/Episode commentaries by Rodrigo Garcia, Dan Attias, Alan Poul, Jill Soloway, Alan Ball
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
5 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Limited edition trading card
  2. Previous season recap, Previously On and Next On segments
  3. Episode summaries
Extras Review: The 20m:36s Anatomy of a Working Stuff: Life as a Dead Body is an interesting look at the process of creating the extremely life-like head and body replicas used in the series. Todd Masters of MastersFX takes us through the entire process, from the initial body casts up to the final hair insertion. The basic techniques may be familiar to many viewers or special effects buffs, so perhaps the main interest here is how everything from the script to concern for the actors affects the decision process.

Rodrigo Garcia's commentary for In the Game isn't very good. He does make some valid points about the complexity of the series and how it mixes comedy and tragedy, and that it works on multiple levels, but he's mostly content to compliment the actors and Alan Ball, which quickly grows tiresome. I don't know how many times he mentions that some bit of acting was invented by the actor, rather than himself, but in any case it was far too many. The gaps in his commentary grow longer as the episode progresses, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Dan Attias' commentary for Back to the Garden isn't much better. He does make a few interesting comments about the framing and camerawork, but 95% of the time he lapses into descriptions of what's happening on the screen and rather obvious interpretations of the characters' motivations.

Executive producer and first-time director Alan Poul contributes a commentary for The Secret. He doesn't feel obligated to speak continuously, so there's less unnecessary plot description, and more comments about the series as a whole and the characters' development throughout it. He talks about the overriding principle of his episode, his disagreements with the other producers over some shots, the difficulty of shooting the Thai Buddhist funeral, and even indulges in a bit of self-criticism.

Writer Jill Soloway starts her commentary for I'll Take You in a, well, interesting fashion, by insulting her listeners and telling them that if they have the time to spend with her track, they should get a life. She's not that far off the mark, although she does make some interesting comments about the writing process, how usage of names and props in the episode led to some unexpected real-life events, and the difficulties of getting the ethnic details correct. At about the 40 minute mark, she says, "Are you really still listening to my voice track? If you wanna leave, you can." I was sorely tempted, and non-Six Feet Under fanatics may wish to take her advice.

The last in a series of disappointing commentaries is contributed by series creator Alan Ball, who also directed the season closer The Last Time. Long stretches of his track are silent, although he makes the usual comments about how good the actors and the writing are. The most striking thing about his remarks is that he talks about the characters almost as if they were real people. And be forewarned, if you haven't seen season 3, there are several spoilers here.

There's a brief recap of the previous season, and each episode also comes with a text summary and Previously On and Next On segments. The packaging is rather nice, with a fold-out that holds the individual discs in an attractively designed cardboard box. Last, and certainly least, you get a "Limited Edition Trading Card," which is sure to make you the most popular kid on the playground.

Extras Grade: C

 

Final Comments

The second season of Six Feet Under brings us more interesting characters, surprising plot lines, dark humor and excellent performances. Although the transfers are a bit weak, and the extras disappointing, this is must-see TV.

 


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