Throughout Six Feet Under, tragedy becomes second nature to us. Every episode opens with the death of a new person in the LA area. It gets to the point where death is routine, it’s just another part of life, and it is for the most part, especially if you’re a funeral director. This episode, perhaps the most disturbing and uncomfortable of the entire show, revolves not around death but a near-death experience for one of our main characters: David Fisher.
The episode opens with David not wanting Keith to travel for his new security job. They argue about it. Keith brushes off David’s worries and remarks that the job will enable them to have a better life. Nate is still grieving Lisa and joins a bereavement group per his mother’s suggestion. Claire takes still portraits and shows them to her class. Ruth tries to set up George’s son with a friend of hers. But the main story of the episode follows David on a journey so harrowing and traumatic that it will haunt him for the rest of the season. David is picking up the dead body of the woman in his van.
Along, the way, he spots a hitchhiker who seems to have car trouble and picks him up. ‘I can’t believe someone finally stopped’ the guy- Jake remarks, meaning most people decided to pass him by. It’s not surprising that David picks up the hitchhiker, because as we know, David is always trying to ease other people’s burdens, be the shoulder to cry on, and also the doormat to walk all over. They go to buy gas because apparently, he ran out. Jake steals a pack of gum and shares it with David. David feels as if he is growing closer to this stranger as they chew it. After driving around for hours, looking for an ATM they finally find one, then boom. Jake punches David in the face, points a gun at him, and orders him to get money. After getting his money, he’s still not satisfied, he asks David to keep going with him. While driving, in an attempt to bond with David he shares the story of how his father died in a car accident when he was 10. David tells a similar story of how his dad died a few years back.
After a while, he smells a fart, makes David stop, and dumps the body on the side of the road. He makes David go in the back of the van and ties him up. David manages to loosen the knots and untie himself, he almost escapes. He’s on the run. A police car pulls in at just the right time. Finally, an end to this madness. No. Jake catches him just in time. He watches helplessly as the police leave and is held down by his assailant. As they continue, David asks how someone can even do these things to someone, ‘Is it because your father died. He scoffs, replying his father is in prison somewhere. Now as if being a criminal didn’t already make him an unreliable narrator, he confirms that he’s lied at least once. Has anything he said to David been true? Is his name even Jake? As if the night wasn’t chaotic enough, he takes David to buy crack and makes him smoke it while driving. David gets high, feels alive, and starts driving. The nightmare is almost over. What’s telling is that while high David still has a sex fantasy about him he’s fantasized about him pretty much for the entire ordeal, as if even actually having sex with this guy would erase all the torment he’s put him through. David thinks he is finally ready to let him go. But no, after everything, he still wants more. He says they should go to Long Beach to get meth. They continue driving to Long Beach then the guy sees a dog and thinks it’s his.
They pull over. He calls the dog but it doesn’t answer. The dog runs away and they follow it. They get to an alley where the dog is eating scraps. They go out to get the dog and get it only for him to realize it’s not his dog and they let it go. After the dog goes, he goes into a rage, taking David’s wallet, and then beating the shit out of him. He goes to the van, gets gasoline, and pours it all over him. David begs for his life as he faces death by both fire and gunshot. He puts the gun in David’s mouth and makes him close his eyes. His life flashes before his eyes. His mother, his father, his job, his boyfriend. By the time he opens his eyes. The guy has driven away with his van. He walks toward the street, waving down cars but no one stops finally, a police car comes to the rescue.
As painful as it is to watch David go through this ordeal, we can’t help but wonder how David’s personality and decisions led him to this point. He feels lonely with Keith traveling for work, so he looks to a stranger for company. He’s the guy who puts other people’s needs ahead of his own so naturally, he stops doing his job to tend to the needs of a stranger. Had it been Nate, Claire, or Keith in his position, they likely wouldn’t have even looked Jake’s way.
Jake is more of an enigma. We know nothing of him before his ordeal with David and nothing he says about himself in this episode can be taken at face value as he contradicts himself so many times, we lose count. He speaks softly but acts with loud violent impulses. He tells so many different stories about his father, we don’t know which one to believe. There is something painful there for him that he hasn’t dealt with.
The combination of these two very opposed characters coming into contact with each other makes for probably the most memorable, sobering experience of the entire show. The episode is memorable for the deeply unsettling way in which it hijacks not just David’s life, but that of the viewer also.