Claire Fisher: A Study in Scarlet

The following piece was originally pitched, written, accepted, edited and posted as part of PopMatters salute to Six Feet Under. It was taken down shortly after by editors who objected to the language. I find this odd, given the fact Six Feet Under was an extremely honest show that was always at its best when confronting forced taboos. I strongly disagree with the arguments presented for censoring the piece. I am reposting it in full here. Ironically, this represents the precise reason I’ve decided to stop pursuing a lot of my usual freelance gigs and go into business for myself. Here’s to shaking up the snow globe. Enjoy. Comment. Pass it on.

Where does Claire Fisher rank in the all-time pantheon of hot-ass TV redheads?

Or – more to the point – does Claire Fisher even merit a rank in the all-time pantheon of hot-ass TV redheads? I mean, does it really make sense for a sexually insecure spitfire with baby fat and a three-chamber water bong to be lumped in with the likes of Angela Chase, Joan Harris (nee Holloway), and perhaps even Ginger Grant?

Something tells me the all-time pantheon of hot-ass TV redheads review board would argue that, no, it does not make sense for a sexually insecure spitfire with baby fat and a three-chamber water bong to be lumped in with the likes of Angela Chase, Joan Harris, and perhaps even Ginger Grant.

The rationale, one might argue, is that we’re talking redhead hall-of-fame here. We’re talking Ginger Grant, the pop culture princess who launched a thousand hard-ons … Ginger Grant, a sitcom sensation from the mid-sixties who has somehow managed to remain relevant in our collective subconscious despite three seasons of completely meaningless dialogue and one abysmal-looking cocktail dress … Ginger Grant, who couldn’t even manage to be the most alluring, attractive, intelligent, or even affluent castaway on a deserted fucking island.

Ginger Grant, who lost the 1965 Miss Castaway Pageant to a goddamned ape.

How on earth could Claire Fisher possibly be expected to contend with the likes of Ginger Grant? How could she possibly be expected to contend with 36-24-36 and all that Boop-Boop-A-Doop? How could Claire Fisher possibly be expected to contend with a character so layered and complex she’d eventually go on to inspire the likes of Jessica Rabbit and Peg Bundy?

How? How, indeed?

How could a pot-smoking slouch like Claire Fisher possibly expect to go toe-to-toe with a bombshell beauty like Joan Harris, for that matter – she of the full-figured hips and the knee-length hemlines? She of the buxom build and the Bordeaux pumps? She of the feminist sheen and pre-progressive ideals?

How? How in blazes could Claire Fisher possibly be expected to contend with all that?

How could Claire Fisher ever expect to be mentioned in the same breath as Angela Chase – she of the so-called life that only lasted five months? She of the bulky, bookish sweaters and the constant boy-crush dreams? She who, even way back in the closet-friendly 90s, didn’t think twice about wandering the halls of Liberty High with a Puerto-Rican homosexual named Rickie?

How?

How? How? How?

How?

OK, I’ll tell you how.

The explanation goes a little something like this: Claire Fisher was smoking crystal meth at four o’clock in the afternoon on Christmas eve when she originally found out her father had died. Claire Fisher was smoking crystal meth at four o’clock in the afternoon with a drug-addled boyfriend whose toes she would eventually suck in the rear cab of a lime-green Hearse (because, hey, anybody can suck a cock, right?).

Claire Fisher was smoking crystal meth at four o’clock in the afternoon with a drug-addled boyfriend who would go on to steal formaldehyde from her family’s funeral home, rob a liquor store at gunpoint, and fail at just about every worthwhile endeavor in life up to and including suicide, before literally disappearing off the face of the earth and eventually winding up dead two seasons later.

That drug-addled boyfriend’s name was Gabriel Dimas.

How could it not be, right?

Gabriel Dimas was a stark reflection of the paradoxical tug-of-war between fierce independence and acceptance that consumed Claire Fisher every day of her adolescent life. Gabe was Yin to her Yang; Ra’s Al Ghul to her Bruce Wayne; Vader to her Kenobi. In the end, Claire Fisher decided to go one way, and good-ole’ Gabe … well, he went quite another.

But Gabe was only the first in an ongoing string of relationships that primarily served to exploit Claire Fisher’s acute fear of and yearning for both commitment and abandonment. There was Billy, the bearded bipole who originally got it on with Claire for no other reason than to get back at his older sister; a sister who was simultaneously getting it on Claire’s older brother (Take a moment to consider the Freudian implications of that). There was Russell Corwin – the tortured artist who cheated on Claire with their (extremely liberated) male Form-and-Space teacher before eventually making the leap to full-blown bisexual/alcoholic. There was that crematorium dude with the kick-ass torso and a van full of groupies … but that whole thing was kind of over before it even started.

And then there was Ted – the black-tie conservative who wasn’t only willing to suffer Claire Fisher’s dysfunctional behavior, he actually kind of cherished it. Ted was the first boyfriend who was willing to do for Claire Fisher what she had been forced to do for all of her previous boyfriends. Ted was the first real boyfriend who didn’t need Claire Fisher as much as she needed him. More importantly, his attraction to her had nothing to do with some kind of fucked-up Messiah complex or an artificial need to inflate his own ego. Their relationship was based on middle-meeting, mutual understanding and compromise – a dynamic which had always represented a one-way street for Claire Fisher in the past.

How’d all that work out? Well, Claire Fisher eventually wound up marrying the dude (not until years later, mind you). But that type of thing doesn’t make for good TV or good essays, which is why I’d like to get back to Claire Fisher: The Wonder Years, if I might.

Claire Fisher … Claire Fisher.

Claire Simone Fisher.

Claire Fisher, who arrived on the scene armed with precisely the type of sad-sap pessimism and fuck-all swagger that simultaneously attracts and repels people. Claire Fisher, the poor little cupcake baked in hell – equal parts bitter and sweet; Queen bitch and soft shoulder. Claire Fisher, who would just as soon kiss you as she would kill you.

Claire Fisher was a highly-nuanced character – fully fleshed, non-linear, tangible, relatable, brimming with endless layers of complexity. Claire Fisher made sense to every fucked-up loser who’d ever been bullied or blown off or smacked in the back of the head with a three-pound Trapper Keeper. Claire Fisher made sense to every wayward teenager who was having a rough go of it.

Claire Fisher just made sense, for lack of any better way of putting it.

But it was more than that, really.

Claire Fisher was both the ugly duckling and the brilliant auteur. She was both the red-headed stepchild and daddy’s little girl. She was both the social reject and the chick who could hang. She was worlds more determined and likely to compensate for her apparent lack of popularity by digging down deep to create something truly meaningful.

And, to Alan Ball’s credit, Claire Fisher somehow managed to remain a chronic underachiever throughout Six Feet Under’s entire five-season run. I mean, sure, there were brief flashes of brilliance every now and again. But in the end (and by “the end” I mean right up until the show’s final six and a half minutes), Claire was still grinding it out for peanuts as a third-rate temp.

But even then, Claire Fisher was aspiring to something worlds more fulfilling than a 40-hour work week capped off by happy hour at Doc Hannigan’s. Claire was still busy evolving during her down time – pursuing her own dream, rather than someone else’s distraction. That, in large part, explains why we see the final six and a half minutes of the show through Claire’s eyes.

It makes perfect sense when you think about it, right?

The reality was that Ruth Fisher, God bless her soul, had officially entered the moonlight-mile phase of her life by the time Six Feet Under was winding down. David’s arc had pretty much reached its conclusion – he had found happiness with the love of his life, he had two kids of his own to raise, he had the family business, and – at long last – he had finally summoned the guts necessary to embrace who and what he truly was.

Nate was dead and buried, so, y’know, there goes that idea.

Nope. It simply had to be Claire during those unforgettable closing minutes.

No ands, ifs, or buts about it.

It had to be Claire speeding down that highway in the dessert; had to be Claire rushing toward something, rather than away from it. It had to be Claire – the fucked-up ugly duckling who every other cast member originally thought was headed for rehab or jail – that would ultimately live to die in her bed at the age of 101.

Who says the good die young? Conventional wisdom proves as long as someone’s fortunate enough to make it past that crucial hump at 27, she’ll more than likely manage to level out and fly right. When you come right down to it, Claire Fisher wasn’t really any more dysfunctional or prone to nonsense than the lot of us were at that age – a point Allan Ball demonstrates quite eloquently during an exchange between Claire and her mother toward the end of the first season’s fifth episode.

“I know stealing a foot is weird,” Claire admits, weeks after she finally copped to swiping a cadaverous foot from the funeral home’s prep room and planting it in Gabe Dimas’ locker, “but, hello, living in a house where a foot is available to be stolen is weird.”

Right on, sister.

Point is, to some extent, we’re all kind of drifting through our own personal Fallujah when it comes to navigating the murky waters of adolescence. Every one of us is having weird sexual dreams about people we shouldn’t be having weird sexual dreams about. Every one of us is obsessed with either becoming or berating the homecoming queen (sometimes both). Every one of us is jerking off in the dark.

Every one of us is having a rough go of it, for lack of any better way of putting it.

And Claire Fisher drives that idea home in ways no other TV redhead, blonde, or even brunette ever has. Claire Fisher made people laugh in ways Lucy Ricardo never could, and she was willing and able to tell people to fuck off in ways Alice Kramden never would.

All of which is to say, if you prefer your TV redheads served up with cotillion dresses and matching rouge, there’s always the Little Red-Haired Girl from It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown. If you – like Goddard – are of the belief that the only elements necessary to make a good television show are a girl and a gun, well then, I suppose there’s always Dana Scully.

But if, on the other hand, you – like me – prefer everyday characters who stumble and struggle and continually find themselves victims of their own self-righteousness … well, if you prefer everyday characters like that, then I think you’d have to agree Claire Fisher doesn’t only deserve a considerable rank in the all-time pantheon of hot-ass TV redheads, she may just be entitled to her very own wing.