It’s hard to come back from an episode that ends with a fade to white and a gasp. Taking a bit of a breather (was there ever any doubt that Jessica was in real danger?), it gives us a chance to reflect on times when the one thing the want—the thing that we burn for—is the very thing that will kill us. This story has been told time and again throughout history, with varying levels of moral shading, but, in some ways, it’s one of the things this show has always been about. It’s really kind of amazing, when you think about it—in this season, there’s the idea that the repressed part of you is going to destroy you, the notion that we will kill ourselves in order to save or protect the ones we love, and this last bit about the death drive.
And maybe this is particular to me, or the way that I see the world, but my favorite episodes with this, Caprica, BSG, or Six Feet Under are always ones where things are crumbling down everywhere you look. I suppose that part of it is that I trust these shows and know that the breakdown is delicious because it helps the characters prioritize and realize what is really important and what is really worth fighting for. I am always interested in the the choice to become hard or to become strong and episodes penned by Alan Ball do that so well.
Knowing, for example, that Eric will eventually get his memory back only makes it sweeter when Sookie allows herself to believe that Eric will never betray her. Sookie being happy and/or in love are somewhat surface issues for me—the real question is how, when, and why we choose to pursue a path that we know is going to come back to bite us in the end. The pain is going to be that much worse for all that we put into it. I don’t think the show comes down on either side but hopefully causes viewers to think about which choice is right in their own lives.
HBO’s Six Feet Under (2001-2005) presents viewers with a rather paradoxical situation: although ostensibly a show saturated with death (the main characters work for a family-run funeral home), the series’ core is a frank exploration of human existence in the wake of the deceased. Quite literally, the show is about life after death.
It follows quite naturally, then, that the third season episode “Twilight” concerns itself less with the moral arguments surrounding capital punishment and instead chooses to focus on the effects that the act has on those who survive. Taking this argument a bit further, we can see that while, on one level, the opening teaser of “Twilight” could be viewed in terms of lethal injection and punishment, it also more broadly sets up a theme that resonates throughout the rest of the episode: in what ways do we choose to let things die (symbolically or otherwise)? In effect, “Twilight” asks us to consider that capital punishment isn’t necessarily something that is solely defined by midnight stays and candlelight vigils; we make choices in our everyday lives that sentence others to a kind of death, whether it consists of the termination of a relationship, accepting the reality that a missing loved one might be permanently gone, or having an abortion. Importantly, while displaying all of this, the show does not pass judgment on individuals, but instead examines the inner turmoil incurred as part of the decision making process and suggests that although the choices made by the characters might indeed be the right ones for them, they do not come without emotional consequences.
Six Feet Under thusly takes a rather unexpected third position in the debate over capital punishment: instead of proclaiming the deed right or wrong, the show asks viewers to consider if they are prepared for the emotional fallout that comes from literal or figurative execution. This episode, like many others in the series, asks us to contemplate the role and power that death has in our lives—and I would argue that determining this answer for oneself greatly impacts one’s view on the morality of capital punishment. Ultimately, as we struggle with the notions of how and why life is sacred, we are also challenged by the show to consider the ways that we routinely (and virtually without notice!) determine that a life, or lives, are not worthy.
 The title of the episode also evokes a sense of the liminal state with twilight literally representing a sort of transition period but also manifests as a sedative taken by Claire during her abortion procedure and is described by the nurse as invoking a state in which “You’re not really gone, but you’re not really here.” There is, perhaps, no better line in the episode that describes the relationship of the dead to the living.
 As noted in Gary Laderman’s Sacred Matters, our constant preoccupation with death manifests in myriad ways, from Gothic Horror (my particular area of interest) to popular music to philosophy. The significance of the condition is also demonstrated by the various rituals that we have constructed to deal with death and dying—from the often-present funeral and wake (which are, to me, mainly an effort by the living to create a sacred space that confers a sense of community during a time of crisis) to the rite of the last meal and the rather morbid recording of prisoners’ last words in the state of Texas (http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/stat/executedoffenders.htm). The existence of these rituals indicates that we continue to struggle with the uncertainty and finality of death and also place particular emphasis on actions undertaken prior to crossing over.
The yellow cord lay on the ground, twisted and angry where he had left it. If you looked closely, you could see the kinks in the cable where her wrists were bound behind her back as she cried out to the empty warehouse. She remembered how she had been broken while the cord held her together.
“It’s your fantasy,” he said, “So enjoy it.”
And the sad thing was that this was her fantasy—or, at least, it had been until something went wrong. She wanted to be a tough girl, to flirt with danger, but never realized that all of the martial arts skills in the world couldn’t protect her from this.
It is a rare occasion when I feel like a scene in a show has sucker punched me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always a good thing—it means that a program has managed to move me on some fundamental level. In recent years, only Nip/Tuck and Six Feet Under have caused me to curl up in a ball, but seeing this past scene from Virtuality made me exhale slowly and sit in silence.
How am I supposed to react when I see a woman being raped? Her body was left intact thanks to a virtual reality visor, but that just made it worse. You could see this character fighting the sensation but she couldn’t escape the situation even if she wanted to thanks to a glitch in the programming. Stripped of her attacker in the real world, you could see a bit of the turmoil that a woman undergoes when she is raped; struggle and tension rippled through her body.
Commiserating with the victim, another crew member mentioned the worst part was that the crew member didn’t exist to her attackers when she was raped. The essence of what made her a person was forgotten and she was just a body. A bit edgy for Fox, but such a welcome statement! Surely we can all relate to the desire to be recognized for who we are—we all want to matter. To know that we have the power to strip away a component of someone else’s humanity is frightening.
Rape, for me, is one of the most abhorrent things—in some way worse than murder—but I suppose this is because so much of my identity is tied up in issues of sex that a violation of this sphere hits home; it pushes all of my buttons of suffering, pain, and fear. Rape is a stark reminder that the cost of sex for women is exponentially higher than it is for men and that, as a male, I often have no idea what this means. There have been times that I’ve been scared that I was going to get mugged but never once did it cross my mind that I might get raped on the street (or by a date!). It boggles my mind, sometimes, to think about the things that most straight white men do not have to deal with. Simply because of who they are, they do not have to worry; they have not learned to doubt themselves in a way that every other person has been taught to.
Ultimately, the victim was advised to ignore what everyone was saying and to just feel the rape; not in a way where she felt sorry for herself, but in a way where she was honest with what she was up against. The first step, as they say, is identifying the problem. It’s about calling the fear what it is and seeing it for as nothing more than that; naming fear doesn’t make it any less dangerous but defining it gives it limits. It’s learning that the best way to banish the darkness is not to dispel it with light, but to absorb it until it becomes indistinguishable from the rest of you.