Six Feet Under" Finale SundayA happy conclusion would be quite an undertaking
By Gail Pennington St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Television Critic Sunday, Aug. 21 2005
Our five years with the Fisher family of HBO's "Six Feet Under" haven't always
been happy ones. Funny, sometimes; involving, usually. But happy? No, not so
That's understandable, because the Fishers themselves were so rarely happy.
Even at the most joyous times, the funeral-home clan - mother Ruth (Frances
Conroy); sons Nate and David (Peter Krause and Michael C. Hall); daughter
Claire (Lauren Ambrose); and their various spouses, lovers and friends - proved
to be a relentlessly morose group, seemingly determined to turn every pleasure
into the pain they were sure they deserved.
All too often, it was tempting to try to reach through the TV screen, grab them
by the shoulders and demand that they grow up, lighten up, get over themselves.
Mostly, though, they never did. Self-involved from the beginning, the Fishers
proved stubbornly unwilling to evolve much. When they took a step forward, they
almost always fell back (or were slapped back) two.
This, of course, was the doing of creator Alan Ball ("American Beauty") and his
team of writers, plunging ahead through 63 episodes in five seasons with no
clear idea - as Ball readily admits - of where they were going.
The resulting journey, like most unplotted travel, was by turns fascinating and
The idea, Ball says in a retrospective preceding the finale, was to "create as
many doors that could be opened as possible." Where they would lead, he adds,
"I had no idea."
The concept of the series, which came from HBO, was to show death not as the
ultimate taboo topic but as a mundane part of life. Thus Ball opted to begin
every episode with a death - usually arbitrary, often humorous, eventually
merely expected. ("Let's kill someone every week" is how he puts it, and the
retrospective features cast members laughing over their favorite deaths.)
But in "Six Feet Under," the dead rarely went away. Patriarch Nathaniel Fisher,
killed in the opening scene when his hearse crashed into a truck as he
attempted to light a cigarette, remained a regular character, played by Richard
Jenkins. Corpses on the embalming table or in their casket liked to open their
eyes and chat a bit, delivering unsettlingly personal lessons. ("I'm not you,"
Nate Fisher told his dead father in one early scene. Responded Nathaniel: "Just
keep telling yourself that.")
"Sadness and laughter come from the same place," Ball says in noting the
deliberately dark balance of comedy and drama in "Six Feet Under." The need for
love and the fear of it also come from the same place for the Fishers -
brittle, repressed Ruth; conflicted, gay David; searching Claire; puzzling,
Ah, Nate - did anybody, even your creator, really understand you? Ball
describes Nate as the series' pivotal character, but just who Nate was seemed
to vary wildly from season to season. All these Nates, though, had one thing in
common: a need to destroy any happiness they found.
With all this enduring gloom hanging over the Fishers, it's surprising when in
the series finale a ray of light breaks. Not that this happens quickly. The
episode, titled "Everyone's Waiting," opens with all still mourning Nate's
death in the fourth-to-last episode.
Typically for "Six Feet Under," the death blindsided us. After facing his
mortality and undergoing brain surgery between seasons 2 and 3, Nate had gone
on to become a husband, a father, a widower and a husband again. Even after the
quirk inside his skull (an arteriovenous malformation, or AVM) ruptured once
more, he underwent surgery and was declared fine. Then, quietly, he died -
shortly after telling wife Brenda that he was leaving her and had slept with
someone else just before collapsing.
People have to die "to make life important," Nate himself once said. In this
case, though, Nate apparently had to die to force his loved ones, finally, to
Before an unfortunate epilogue, it's particularly satisfying in the finale
Happy ending? No, not really. But for the Fishers, even a single beam of light
through the gloom makes for a gala farewell."Six Feet Under" series finaleWhen:
9-10:15 PM ET/PT Sunday, preceded (at 8 PM ET/PT) by a one-hour