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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Six Feet Under: “The Eye Inside”

Illustration for article titled Six Feet Under: “The Eye Inside”

“The Eye Inside” (season three, episode three; originally aired 3/16/2003)

A young woman walks down the street late at night. A group of guys appear behind her and call after with rising aggression. “Slow down, bitch!” “We just wanna have a good time!” “You know it’s going to happen.” She quickens her pace and runs out into the road. The men tell her they’re just her friends. It’s true: They know her name, Callie. She stops and turns. She’s still scared, and now on top of that, she’s stunned—so much so that she doesn’t notice the car bearing down on her. These people are her friends? Callie Renee Mortimer, 1984-2003.

“They were all in a state of shock that a woman could be terrified by a group of men chasing her at night,” Callie’s sister says with anger during the intake meeting at Fisher & Diaz. And when one of Callie’s friends delivers a eulogy at Callie’s funeral, we see why they might have been shocked. The friend describes her as “brave, brazen, totally heroic.” He marvels that he “never even once saw her scared—before.” The people around Callie saw her fearless side and assumed she must be without fear.

The previous episode, “You Never Know,” posited that you can’t ever entirely know another person, and “The Eye Inside” gives us one reason why. We temper ourselves in the presence of others. We suppress parts of our personality, perhaps because we’re scared of showing them, or for the sake of harmony. There are plenty of reasons, and the Fishers are extraordinarily familiar with all of them. That self-temperance can be exhausting, though. In “The Eye Inside,” we see that all of the Fishers are realizing just how tiresome it can be.

For Claire, the thrill of casual sex is wearing off. She’s ready to stop pretending she doesn’t desire something more from Phil than booty calls on the regular. Claire and Phil’s first scene in this episode sums up their respective states of mind (or in Phil’s case, state of something other than his mind). Phil is in a post-orgasmic state of bliss: “That was a really great one!” Claire isn’t: “It was good.” (Phil thinks Claire had two mind-blowing climaxes; she says it was only one. They both overestimate.)

In the last episode, Claire claimed she was cool with Phil’s “we should sleep with whoever we want” idea because she was afraid to lose him, even if she had to share him. But Claire’s too smart to keep up that façade, and her first few classes with a new art professor, Olivier Castro-Staal, convince her to embrace her own worldview. Olivier praises Claire’s drawing—which depicts cemetery plots—despite the fact that Claire finds it “kind of obvious.” Olivier sniffs at her assessment: “You’re embarrassed by yourself. … You’re used to being a normal, pathetic human who only does what other people want.” (Only Olivier could make “human” sound like an insult.) The mercurial professor grabs another student’s drawing to drive home the point. “Who did you make this to please?” he asks the hapless artist. “Me? Your mother? Your boyfriend?”


Claire takes the lesson. Who is she trying to please with her unsatisfying hookups? Phil, the burnout crematory worker with groupies in every suburb of L.A.? Olivier changes her calculus—she chooses to be a little less embarrassed by herself and haltingly tells Phil she’s “not that into” the “seeing other people thing.”

For his part, Phil speaks to Claire like she’s a child. That’s a signature move for people in arrested development. Phil says he’s totally into monogamy when a relationship gets “really serious,” and Claire quite reasonably asks when he thinks that might be. “I don’t know,” he says. But he says it without any concern for her. He’s all doe-eyed sweetness, because life has taught him that this affectation is the best way for him to keep Little Phil active and happy. He has one mode for relating to women, it has worked out well for him so far, and Claire’s emotional reality certainly isn’t going to intrude on that. She calls an end to their relationship. Phil: “Okay, well, can I have a hug or something?” So, yeah, he’s devastated. Claire loses a sex partner but regains some of her authenticity.


We’ve seen Ruth break out of her shell a number of times on Six Feet Under, but she has a lot of shells. She goes on a hike with Bettina, and she’s smitten with Bettina’s matter-of-fact independence. Bettina’s daughter is in a cult, for instance, and Ruth, ever the caretaker, asks, “Can’t you get some kind of deprogrammer to go and rescue her?” Bettina says, “You know what? She’s an adult.” You can watch the life being breathed into Ruth during this exchange. Does Bettina mean to tell her that if Ruth’s children are sad or messed up, it’s not Ruth’s fault? This overturns one of Ruth’s fundamental assumptions.

Ruth likes the way she feels when she’s around Bettina. She amusingly seeks advice from Phil one morning, asking him whether it’s suitable to call her new friend so soon after their first outing together. Ruth’s asking about a budding friendship; Phil advises her from the perspective of a guy who knows how to get young women to take their pants off. Ruth wisely ignores him.


On their second “date,” Ruth and Bettina go shopping, which is perfect, because Ruth is just shopping as she observes Bettina—she doesn’t intend to buy into Bettina’s whole deal. Bettina picks out a few outfits for Ruth, and even though Ruth likes the way she looks, none of it is “perfect.” Talk about self-temperance. There’s hardly any aspect of Ruth’s personality she doesn’t tone down for the sake of those around her, because she feels the need to present a perfectly inoffensive version of herself.

Bettina, on the other hand, is messy. And it’s fun to watch Ruth get swept up in that. She tries on a lipstick that makes her look young, but she hesitates. (Bettina improvises nicely here and shows why she’s such a great companion for Ruth. When Ruth rejects the lipstick because it makes her look 20 years old—too young—Bettina responds, “Okay, it makes you look 30.”) Moments later, Ruth is following Bettina’s example and treating herself to a five-finger discount.


The real payoff of Ruth’s arc in this episode is the quick exchange that takes place near the end of the hour. It comes when Nate simply compliments her lipstick. “Thank you! It’s new,” Ruth says. Like Claire, she did something for her own pleasure, not to please others. That was enough of a delight for her. It’s even better that someone close to her would admire her for it. Her rash choice (buying lipstick is rash by the standards of Ruth Fisher) works out fine—better than fine! This is how fears are overcome.

David and Keith’s vacation at “the romantic refuge that is Los Lomos” is, at times, like separate vacations. David fantasizes about lounging by the pool with piña coladas, but Keith is the one who’s actually relaxed. He takes everything on this holiday in stride, from the disappointing chintziness of the pool to the uptight machinations of his partner. Meanwhile, as soon as they’re about to settle in, David is overwhelmed by the entirely unfounded notion that everybody at Los Lomos is judging these two “homos.” It’s as if Keith expects to take a vacation from the day-to-day stress of his life, while David expects to take a vacation from himself. Only one of those is possible.


But like I said, Keith handles David’s gay panic with aplomb. Don’t forget, this is one of the big issues that made them split up a few years back: Keith was tired of David’s shame. So it’s not off base to expect Keith to blow up here. Instead, he gently encourages David: “Offend people! Who cares?” That response makes all the difference. It cuts off the escalation of shame and anger and more shame these two often fall into.

Keith asks David to remember what their therapist said “about us being less isolated.” When David decides they should leave the awful “Tex-Mex” barbecue, it seems like a regression—they’re just isolating themselves again. But I don’t believe that it is, exactly. After all, they go to the barbecue. They see how tedious it is, with boring people forming conga lines and eating cheap reheated barbecue chicken. And the experience makes them appreciate each other that much more.


Surely this is what their therapist had in mind when he told David and Keith to be less isolated. Because if all their time together is spent exclusively with each other, their problems with each other will just fester. Spending some time amid other people, though—whether they like those other people or not—gives them some much-needed contrast. Against the backdrop of the unwashed masses, the two men remember why they excite each other, and their conflicts seem less significant. And it’s worth noting that even though they end up alone with each other again, they’re hardly isolated. They scream and pound so that everyone in that run-down hotel knows they’re fucking each other’s brains out.

The trip proves so therapeutic that on the drive home, Keith not only tolerates David’s singing, he wants to hear David sing. For a little while. When they run into heavy traffic, the reality and drudgery of Keith’s life sweep back into his consciousness. Here he is, back in the realm where he goes nowhere. Keith’s face tightens. His snappish attitude returns. And just like that, so does David’s meekness and his tempered self. The song on the CD is “Rocket Man.” “I’m not the man they think I am at home,” we hear David sing. It could be the anthem of this episode. As the vacation comes to a close and touchdown nears, David returns to being the man he thinks Keith wants him to be.


Lisa has tempered herself with Carol for practical reasons. Carol’s the boss, and Lisa has a family to support. But when Carol unleashes a passive-aggressive thunder strike—as Lisa cleans up a mess of smeared cake that looks for all the world like Carol shit the bed—Lisa decides she’s had enough. Even Lisa, with her warm perma-smile, has her limits. So she quits. Tellingly, Lisa can’t admit to Nate that she reached a breaking point (even though it’s obvious). That would spoil her “everything is always okay” mythos. Instead, she uses Maya as an excuse, saying that it’s not good for the baby to be around “that sort of hostile dementia.” (“SHE’S VERY ABSORBENT!”)

Nate realizes the immediate consequences of Lisa’s unilateral move. “So what did you think?” he says, with a face that looks like he is swallowing a bottle of lye, “That we’d go stay at my mom’s, I guess?” Lisa says it’s not the worst thing that could happen. But for Nate, it might be.


As Nate hauls a rocking chair into the apartment above the Fishers’ garage, Ruth says to him, “You’re losing your pillow.” And indeed he is. Nate exists in two spheres right now: work and home. Neither of them is much fun, but they are at least separate spheres. As Nate tells Rico after the Mortimer funeral, he doesn’t think about his family when he’s working. “I just want them to be what’s good about life,” he says. “That way, I can come in here and deal with what isn’t.”

But despite his heartfelt wishes, Lisa and Maya aren’t always what’s good about life. In fact, they’re often tedious. And Nate’s refusal to admit that it’s not all sunshine makes it harder for him, just like it does for Lisa. “It’s great, I’m totally into it,” Nate says of his marriage when Rico tries to start a conversation about the stresses of family life. “Even if sometimes you’re not, that’s normal,” Rico says. But Nate insists: “I’m INTO it.” Protesting too much.


So if work isn’t a joy and home life isn’t so much fun, either, then Nate has to savor the in-between. Last week, we saw him linger after work and watch TV on the porch (not quite in the house and not quite going home, either). This week, we have the memorable image of Nate pulling over on the side of the road to rub one out. As long as the work and home spheres were separate, he had the in-between space where he could briefly be a man who has base urges—and who shamelessly satisfies those urges.

And now Nate’s losing his pillow. Family and work are one again, just like they were for his father. We can imagine that, for the first time, Nate understands why Nathaniel Sr. had that secret apartment above the Indian restaurant. It’s because he needed a space that did not come with obligations attached.


Near the end of this episode, we again find Nate lazing on the porch after work, idly watching some tube. Except this week, Lisa walks in. “You can come watch with us,” she says. The baby “doesn’t mind the TV when it’s low.” Nate can enjoy himself, as long as he does it at a low volume. For Nate, Lisa is a paragon of temperance and self-suppression. She wants him to come up to their apartment so that she can discuss child-proofing—the process of sanding down every rough edge in Nate’s life, for the sake of the baby.

Nate tries to linger, but Lisa insists (without exactly insisting) that he come home. There is no in-between space anymore. There’s no place where Nate can concentrate on pleasuring himself, literally or figuratively. That’s going to be a problem.


Stray observations:

  • As usual, please make an effort to restrict your conversation of upcoming episodes to the first comment thread. This way, people who haven’t seen all of the show yet can collapse that thread to preserve the surprise if they so desire.
  • Claire and Phil’s post-sex scene mirrors David and Keith’s: They both begin with someone (Claire, then Keith) telling their partner to quiet down and not be so loud with all their orgasm-ing. But after that, the scenes diverge. Claire’s scene proceeds to quiet frustration (hers). David’s scene proceeds to loud exultation. A nice contrast by the writers there.
  • This week’s Before They Were Stars cameo: Zachary Quinto as “Hip Student.”
  • The juxtaposition of Nate’s self-serve afternoon delight with the very next image—Lisa pumping breast milk—is another great touch in this episode. Even she admits that it’s incredibly un-sexy.
  • Keith: “Ready for your piña colada?” David: “God, no. Then they’ll really think we’re gay.” Keith: “Oh, we can’t have that.” Now THIS is how you deal with David’s auto-homophobia.
  • The Plan, Ruth’s loopy self-help seminar from last season, gets a quick reference here. Bettina’s daughter was very much into the program too. Now she’s a member of a cult in Montana. They probably don’t print that testimonial in the brochure.
  • Rico’s attempt to discuss the challenges of married life with Nate—even though he does so in his usual semi-smug “I am the prime example of the male species” way—is a welcome moment that somewhat humanizes the character again. He’s drifted a little too close to pure asshole in this season, which is a recurring problem for Rico.
  • Phil’s list of explanations for his let-me-fuck-whoever-I-want philosophy: He only wants monogamy “when it gets really serious, or whatever.” His relationship with Claire doesn’t meet that criterion “at this exact point in time.” Crossing the threshold into a single sex partner needs to be “organic.” It cannot be “some sort of contract, or whatever.” Instead, “it has to evolve—but I’m not saying it won’t!” The sad thing is, you know that “I’m not saying it won’t!” kicker has worked for him before.
  • One more Phil quote for the road. He explains his tattoo: “It’s kind of a combination of Maori Tā moko and Japanese kanji—for inner wisdom, I think.” The “I think” really hits it home. Phil is the kind of guy who has “I think” permanently inscribed on his torso.
  • Say this for Carol: She builds a killer pillow fort.