Yes, I said I wouldn't write about individual episodes and instead do season posts, starting with season two, but the premiere for the season was just such an imaginative and particularly strong episode that I couldn't not write about it.
2x01 In The Game
It's the first episode of the second season, which is why it has somewhat of a fresh feel to it, even though I'm not entirely sure why, as the episode does pick up storylines from the first season and is not entirely constructing new storylines. The season starts off with a B-movie actress, beautifully played by Alexandra Holden, who takes an overdose of cocaine and dies in a bathroom stall. I liked how the opening death once again plays with our expectations and starts off with a slasher movie scene, which is quickly followed by the real opening death. I felt like there were a lot of clever transitions between individual scenes during the episode, as if it was Alan Ball's particular choice not to be restless and to turn a scene and the narrative upside down to avoid predictability.
The overall theme of the episode is probably appearance and reality. After watching the episode I really had the impression that it's a commentary on how things deceive you on the surface, when there's quite the gigantic abyss hidden beneath the surface. It starts with the opening death, when we expect a character to die, but as it turns out we only meet a fictional character, as the first scene of the season is a fictional movie scene within the show. We find out that the character is actually an actress named Becki and she looks happy, as she tells herself that she is on the verge to break out as an actress, but then we get to know the darkness behind her beautiful appearance, when she is snorting cocaine in the bathroom and dieing a very sad and undignified death. Her sad existence doesn't even stop with her death, as her ashes are being snorted by her cocaine addicted actor friends, as if her life wasn't worth anything. That's really not a way to leave this world behind. "A well lived life is all that anyone of us can really hope for", said Nate in the season one finale, which is true and Becki sadly was one of the people who didn't get to live a well-lived life.
For the regular characters of the show, there's also an abyss underneath the surface. Brenda and Nate might have ended last season on a strong note as a couple, but the events with her brother have scarred Brenda and she continues to push Nate away. Nate usually called her on that during the last season, now however he is occupied with his own worries. After being diagnosed with a serious illness, Nate is confronted even more with death than ever before. I think it was a clever decision to give Nate AVM. He's the character who is the most scared of death, which is why being confronted with his own mortality in such a way is terrifying him. It provides great drama and enriches the show by making it a much more personal and intimate look at death and mortality, since it's not just a guest star who is affected. Nate can't open up to Brenda, as she is not only pushing him away, but also making everything about herself and due to his own fears he is not able to reach out to her and point out her behavior towards him, which is why there already is a growing distance between them, which can only get worse. Claire and Gabe are in a similiar place in their relationship, as Gabe has turned to drugs again, which makes him behave erratically. It's as if Gabe has accepted that he is a screw-up, which is why he has just stopped trying. Claire knows that something is up with him, but since Gabe is not really honest with her and hiding his personal demons behind his appearance, she is not aware of just how broken and messed up he really is.
I loved Nate's dream sequence in which Life & Death are portrayed as an odd Yin & Yang couple. I'm a fan of all things surreal and I like profound meanings hidden in a confusing and playful context. The meaning of Nate's dream is probably obvious, but that doesn't change that it was a very fascinating and compelling scene to watch. There is no life without death, we all are playing the game and all we can hope for is that our souls are eternal.
I also liked Brenda's house-cleaning montage set to PJ Harvey's "One Time Too Many". I think Six Feet Under does a great job of portraying the reality of life and the loneliness of every individual. It's something that I've particularly noticed with Alan Ball's work: Scenes of daily life and routines are not forgotten and there are a lot of scenes of people who are alone in a room and doing regular things. But when the show does these scenes, they are not random. They have a meaning within the episodes and work with the overall structure and narrative of the show. Speaking of the soundtrack, there were four soungs of the first soundtrack of the show featured in the episode, which leads me to believe that the soundtrack must have been released during the time the season premiered.
David and Ruth meanwhile provide most of the humor of the episode, which is not meant to say that they're not dealing with their own serious problems, but it's a bit lighter than what Nate, Brenda and Claire go through. David is still dealing with his feelings for Keith and trying to get out in the dating world. He realizes just how cruel the dating world can be, when a man who he met tells him that he doesn't want another date, because there are no sparks. Again, an experience that I can relate to, because the same thing happened to me, therefore I could really relate to David's frustration and the awkwardness of the scene. I guess, I'm so David Fisher. I wouldn't hang around Keith so much though, as I wouldn't be able to stand meetings with my ex and his new boyfriend. David apparently feels the same way, but Keith of course takes it the wrong way, when David asks him if they could spend some time without Eddie.
Ruth tries to follow the advice of a self-help book for parents of gay children by organizing a family dinner for David. I think it's a hilarious commentary on how self-help books might not be the real answer with their well-meant and pushy tipps of how to deal with things that you are not quite comfortable with. It also provides us with another infamous Fisher dinner experience, when Nate takes one of David's hidden ecstasy pills from last season by accident and shows up high for dinner, which gave Peter Krause also the opportunity to be broad and silly in an episode which offered more heavy material for him to work with and it looked like he really enjoyed playing Nate high on ecstasy. It's also nice that the writers have not forgotten about loose story threads of last season and included the missing ecstasy pill on screen rather than off screen. Nikolai's prayers ("Lord have mercy!") were also a memorable comedic high, no pun intended.
Frederico has little to do, but his scenes are still important scenes for him as a character. He brings the funeral of the actress to the Fisher funeral home and takes on more responsibilities in general. He is directly dealing with the funeral arrangements at the beginning, when he takes over for David. His frustration with being treated like a lackey continues, when he asks Nate to drive Becky's body to the crematorium to help him out, which Nate refuses to do, as a result of his fear of death. Just when Nate was getting more comfortable with dealing with death, he's back to square one and has difficulties dealing with the business, which once again shows that it really wasn't the best decision for him to go into this business. But back to Rico, at the end he has a fight with his sister-in-law, when he finds out that his wife had been borrowing money from her sister. For Rico, who's a rather traditional and old-fashioned guy, it's quite a breach of his honor that he apparently is not able to provide for his family on its own and Angelica is not shy about rubbing it into his face. Rico is dealing with relatable issues and one can understand him as a character much better with all the pressure on him as a caregiver and the lack of appreciation in sight. We also get to know more about Frederico's outlook on life, when he says that people who don't value their life don't deserve better. In some ways he was right, but at the same it was also a very cruel thing to say.
Overall, it was an outstanding episode and watching an episode like this just underlines how amateurish and clumsy "The Big C" really is, because that one hour provided more humor, drama and insight in dealing with mortality and death, while still developing complex and interesting characters, which "The Big C" is all aiming for, but never reaching its proximity.