Exquisite Corpses

'Six Feet Under' Comes to Life

Even if it didn't have anything else going for it, Six Feet Under has the juiciest, most complex female roles on TV. And unlike Sex in the City's femmes, these women don't have to swap outfits with every scene—Ruth wore identical ankle socks for two years straight. This season, two of the female characters come into spectacular relief—in both senses of the word. While Nate and David appear faded and anxious, unable to find their bearings, redheaded mother-daughter duo Ruth and Claire (Lauren Ambrose) spring to life. No longer do they look like wax dummies left out in the heat too long; now both women glow euphorically, each with the help of an accomplice. In Ruth's case, the angel sent to mess with her coupon-clipping life is Bettina (Kathy Bates), a friend who introduces her to the pleasures of massage and shoplifting. During Ruth's first-ever massage, she makes gasping and squeaking noises as if pleasure is being forced out of her body—one of the series' most grotesque and affecting moments thus far.

Meanwhile, Claire is having a parallel epiphany at art school, as her creepy Eurotrash professor and a gorgeously geeky fellow student shower her with adoration (whether for her talent or her body remains to be seen). You can understand why: Her skin is absurdly luminous and her features in constant motion, clashing thoughts skittering across them. Aside from giving her a chance to blossom, Claire's enrollment in art school allows the writers to weave the show's obsession with light and painterliness into the plot itself.

The pleasures of massage and shoplifting
photo: Annie Chia
The pleasures of massage and shoplifting

Details

Six Feet Under
Sundays at 9 p.m. (repeated Wednesdays at 9 pm)
HBO

Although the Fisher family continues to deal with corpses in every episode, death has become the subtlest element of Six Feet Under—a constant, unremarked presence. The real theme of the series might be that old Bob Dylan line, "He not busy being born is busy dying."

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