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British actress Olivia Williams with sabre fish.
You heard that right: Narm!
You know, Narm! as in, “My arm is numb!” as in, “I might just be dying right before your eyes!” as in, “I made you hate me all season just so you could take a little sadistic joy in my untimely death!”
Yes, fans of “Six Feet Under” gasped in horror and delight last week when Nate, aka the Man We Love to Hate, fell to the floor and hit his head with a bang. These were his last words, before he fell:
“My arm is numb. Numb arm! Numarm! Narm! NARM!”
It was the last scene of the episode, shocking to the point of feeling slightly abusive. There was no warning. One minute Nate is putting on his clothes after cheating on Brenda with Maggie, that faux-pure Bad News Jane. The next minute, he’s on the floor, eyes wide open, and there’s a horror soundtrack playing just to let you know it’s serious. Suddenly, all of our collective sadistic fantasies are realized. It’s as if our worst, most vengeful urges willed the scene into existence.
See how those who watch way too much TV develop boundary issues? But more important, should we feel guilty now that Nate is either dead (no, I don’t have any privileged information beyond what we all saw in the last scene of last Sunday’s episode) or he’s a vegetable or he’s about to die?
OK, I’m just guessing. But when someone’s arm feels numb, and then their eyes roll back in their head and they hit the floor, and then lie there with their eyes open? That’s not a very good sign. And really, as many of us who’ve known people to die of heart attacks and strokes know all too well, there’s nothing more shocking or sudden or terrible than a sudden, irreversible trauma to the circulatory system.
Which is probably why it made me laugh. But also, this is Nate we’re talking about. If it were Claire, or Ruth, or, God forbid, David or Keith, that would be a whole different story. I really want them to be happy. I want Claire to marry a lawyer, oddly enough. I want David and Keith to raise those sweet little delinquents. I want Ruth to find love with Ed Begley Jr. And if the price I have to pay for their happiness is seeing Nate ripped from life at the least convenient moment possible, so be it.
First of all, that’s the whole point of the show, to demonstrate the arbitrary and unavoidable nature of death, to drum home the fact that death has terrible timing, to shove death in our faces when every other part of our culture is so adamantly opposed to acknowledging its existence. Every new season of sports and television, every latest media circus, every sizzlin’ summer sale flashes in our faces, taking our minds off the fact that we’re just a faulty valve or a weak blood vessel away from muttering “Narm!” and dropping off the face of the planet.
Second, Nate has always been an ingrate. What’s brilliant about him, as a character, is that he embodies the very worst of the so-called sensitive, liberal, enlightened, privileged white world. He has a cushy job, a smart, beautiful wife, a reasonably sane family, and an adorable daughter who never babbles on tediously like most toddlers. So what does Nate do? He goes crawling off to screw a relative stranger and tricks himself into believing that his infidelity is a piece of some greater search for meaning.
In other words, Nate embodies all of our selfish urges and all of our pathetic rationalizations for indulging those urges. He’s a big, sad child who finds it impossible to connect with those who actually matter to him, who are in his life, who care, and instead goes running after wholesome-seeming strangers whose complicated needs aren’t apparent to him yet.
But here’s the sick thing: Nate has, from the very beginning, served as the perfect blank protagonist onto which the viewer is meant to project him- or herself. The degree to which we despise Nate is directly proportional to the degree to which we hate our own selfish, lazy, endlessly rationalizing selves.
In other words, Narm! Narm represents the self-destruction that lies ahead for the self-hating! It’s the tender, chewy moral of “Six Feet Under,” a show that’s painstakingly avoided morals until now: Those who endlessly look inward, who gnaw relentlessly on their own worldview, who sneak around instead of being honest, who blame themselves for everything instead of trusting their instincts, who torture themselves instead of trying to experience life more fully or trying to give a little more of themselves to others, those modern negative nellies are destined to waste their time here, then die in some lonely, debased manner at the worst possible moment.
The only unfortunate thing is that Nate will likely appear and speak to members of his family after he dies, when, in real life, all they’d be left with is his last incoherent garbled Narm! Oh yeah, and his last words before he noticed his arm, which were: “This wasn’t planned, you know.”
Ha ha! Narm, damn it! Feel like being grouchy to your mom? Feel like snapping at your kids? Feel like fucking your secretary? Feel like beating yourself up for every single neurotic thought in your head? Narm! The end is near. Narm! Better have another slice of pizza. Narm! Better be nice to the people who put up with you. Narm! Better walk the dog. Better have another glass of wine. Better turn off the TV set.
Narm! Because you never really know, do you? Narm! A cry of anguish or a cry of celebration? A cry of pain and regret, or a life-affirming squeal of joy? It’s anyone’s guess! Narm narm narm!
Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky. More Heather Havrilesky.
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