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RIP ‘Six Feet Under’: Gone But Not Forgotten

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Fifteen years ago, Alan Ball introduced HBO audiences to the quirky Fisher family in the landmark series Six Feet Under. And for the years that followed, audiences got to know Nate, David, Claire and Ruth, the beautifully flawed family who lived in a funeral home. Wonderfully dark and twisted, Six Feet Under began each episode with a death, but then celebrated life and all of its complications.

While one might suspect that a show set in a funeral home will be a little dark, the unique characters that filled the drama gave the show brevity and humor, as well as intensity.

Here is a look at the top five moments from the dearly departed Six Feet Under.

5.  The Death of Nate Fisher, Sr.

The moment when you realized that this series was a standout. A few minutes into the first episode, right after the introduction of Nate Fisher Sr. (Richard Jenkins) gets hit by a bus while crossing an intersection. Unexpected and surprising, the scene sets the tone for the entire series.

Dark but not depressing, oddly funny and filled with flashes of genius, the death of the patriarch of the Fisher family sets the ball rolling on the HBO series. The death of the elder Fisher sets up the players: it brings the younger Nate (Peter Krause) home to his family after decades away and drifting, it introduces David (Michael C. Hall) as a man who is trapped by his family duty and his hidden passions, it shows Claire (Lauren Ambrose) as the outcast teen who has her own life and issues within the Fisher clan, and it introduces Ruth (Frances Conroy), a mother who is barely holding on.

fam2 While Nate Sr. returns to the series dozens of times to offer ghostly advice, his final farewell in the first episode gave the series an appropriate push off.
 

4.  Brenda’s Addiction

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Brenda (Rachel Griffiths) has always been a unique character on Six Feet Under. Not part of the Fisher clan (at least, not for most of the series), she was a driving force for Nate. Both a good and bad influence at times, Brenda offered a sexy ambivalence to the show and for many episodes. Her introduction to the series was as a quicky for Nate while on the way to visit his family. Just random sexual partner who got swept up in a family’s drama when Nate’s father was killed in an accident. But despite her constant presence in Nate’s life after becoming a touchstone for sanity in an insane situation, there was still a big question mark as to who she was as a person.

Slowly, the audience was treated to answers. She was the daughter of self-serving psychiatrists, the sister of a sociopath and the focus of a thesis what marred her childhood. As the mystery of Brenda began to unravel, Nate (and the audience) became more involved. Soon, she was regarded as essential to the story and to the Fishers.

During her engagement to Nate, Brenda began to unravel. While working on her novel, Brenda decides she needs to experience more to life, and begins to flirt with random sex. Soon, her flirtation becomes a full-blown sex addiction, as she places herself in one terrible situation after another, all for the sake of her “novel.”

In a final blow, Brenda discovers that Nate had an affair with an old flame which resulted in a pregnancy. Feeling betrayed, she takes off her shirt and opens the door to two randos on the street who use her in every way possible. As they take turns, the camera pans to her face, which is blank and numb from feeling. The sex doesn’t help, nor does it blunt out the feelings of hurt, but merely passes the time so she won’t have to come to terms with her pain. As least not yet.
 

3. David’s Kidnapping

Perhaps one of the most riveting, jaw-clenching, hair-pulling TV scenes to ever be aired on the small screen.

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David is kidnapped by a junkie (Michael Watson) and forced to walk on the dark side. There are times when David could have escaped, but one bad decision after another kept him in danger and fans at the edge of their seats. Painful to watch at times, the moment when David smokes crack with his kidnapper and they both pass out, missing an opportunity to escape and seek help, was a moment that had fans face palming as they yelled at the television.
 

2. Nate’s Death

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Nate Fisher Jr. was the deeply flawed anti-hero of the series. During the course of the series, he made many, many, many mistakes. From having an affair while engaged to Brenda to having sex with his step sister Maggie, Nate was a character rich in humanity and brimming with imperfections. An egotistical, selfish liar who felt that the world owed him a favor. Yet fans loved him despite the fact that it was painful to watch him bumble through life, making one bizarre life decision after another.

After a close call in 2002 with arteriovenous malformation, the audience was led to believe that Nate was fine and good to continue with philandering ways. However, after a little post-coitous romp with his new step-sister, Nate began spouting nonsense words before he collapsed.

While in a coma at the hospital, his brother David falls asleep while at his side. After a twisted dream featuring his more adventurous brother jumping into an ocean on a clear summer day and their deceased father offered to share his crack, David awakens, to find his brother has passed away peacefully in his sleep. The screen goes to white and the beeps from the heart monitor begins to fade.

End scene.

1.  Claire’s Car Trip – The Finale

You can’t even talk about Six Feet Under without discussing the finale. Perhaps one of the greatest series ending of all time, the episode “Everyone’s Waiting” brought the series full circle as it examined the lives and deaths of each of the central characters.

In a scene set to the music of Sia’s “Breathe,” the beautifully tragic six-minute montage follows Claire as she sets off to an unsure future in New York. As she drives off in tears, the music begins to swell and the audience is swept up into the array of images and scenes, as years tick by. Soon, fans are told one by one how each character meets their maker. Some are met with a violent end (Keith), while others go peacefully into that good night, surrounded by loved ones (Ruth).

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In the end, we are left with an old, old Claire, over a hundred years old and saying goodbye to a world she can no longer see, as the successful photographer lost her sight many years ago in a final dagger twist of irony.

The overall effect is breathtaking, giving the series a proper send-off and fans a final tearful goodbye.

sunset

 

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