Six Feet Under: Ruth

Six Feet Under was one of those amazing shows filled with characters unique, flawed, crazy and mostly unsympathetic that I just couldn’t stop watching. Okay, well, I stopped after the second season but only because I couldn’t afford premium channels anymore. During a recent move (and subsequent lack of Internet and TV at home), I had the chance to sit down and watch this show straight through.

For those who aren’t familiar, the show is about a family of funeral directors and it starts out with the death of the patriarch on Christmas Eve. The event is so sudden and unexpected for them, it throws the remaining family totally off kilter, none, I dare say, more than widowed Ruth Fisher.

It’s quickly apparent that Ruth’s role in the family was traditional, and by that I mean she was a housekeeper and caregiver. Her life seemed very regimented by routine. With the sudden loss of her husband, she doesn’t seem to know who she is. It turns out, though, that Ruth wasn’t the perfect housewife – she is wracked with guilt and breaks down on the day of her husband’s wake with the confession she’d had an ongoing affair for two years. It’s difficult not to see her in a new light, then.

Ruth breaks it off with the man out of this guilt and begins her struggle to find her identity. We see her jump from man to man (each more bizarre than the last), as if trying to fill a hole, or to recapture the domestic nature of her and her husband’s relationship. She dates her boss who’s chauvinistic for a time, until he basically tells her she’s smothering him. She has a very strange relationship with a young intern, until she meets a man named George who seems like a dream. She says he reminds her of her late husband, and she marries him…and then figures out he’s buckets o’ crazy and she’s saddled with him as caregiver for the rest of her life.

It’s only then that she finally bucks that role. She doesn’t want it and she’s no longer willing to settle for it. She adeptly and rather cruelly cuts George out, which isn’t a noble action but it is a strong and understandable one. She drifts briefly, still searching for herself, and backslides into an attempted rekindling with the man she had an affair with. It doesn’t last.

It takes her five long years, but Ruth Fisher eventually realizes that she’s not defined by whom she is sleeping with or caring for. Nothing shows this more than when her oldest son dies and her daughter, recently offered a job across the country, says she’ll stay for Ruth. Ruth is in a particular position to appreciate the sentiment – her whole life was spent caving to other people’s needs and wants and she tells her daughter that she will not see that cycle repeated.

Ruth’s progression from non-entity to independent woman wasn’t fast, clean and simple. It wasn’t even over by the last episode, but there was a grain of hope that didn’t exist when we first met her.

Posts in this Series

  1. Six Feet Under: Ruth
  2. Six Feet Under: Claire


  1. Purtek says

    Ruth’s progression from non-entity to independent woman wasn’t fast, clean and simple. It wasn’t even over by the last episode, but there was a grain of hope that didn’t exist when we first met her.

    This was what I continued to like about SFU as it seemed everyone else was complaining about it in the last few seasons. I hate the way on most shows, people either never move beyond basic character traits or develop and lose major neuroses so quickly you don’t even remember they had them. I also particularly love characters like Ruth, who are allowed to display depth within these traditional roles–it brings a way of relating across generations in a way that most of the caricatures don’t allow (when Emily Gilmore was allowed to show real emotion, she did a lot of this as well, as I wrote about a few months ago).

  2. sbg says

    I’m so used to sci-fi fantasy shows that at the beginning of S3 I really thought we’d eventually find out SFU had gone AU. Some of the storylines from there on in didn’t quite feel right to me.

    But, yes, there always remained a certain amount of that original Ruth but overall she wasn’t static. Thank goodness, because it’s boring to watch the same thing over and over.


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