TV Review: Six Feet Under – Season Five

R.I.P. Claire's car.

Six Feet Under Season Five

Starring: Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Mathew St. Patrick, Freddy Rodríguez, James Cromwell, Rachel Griffiths

Series Creator: Alan Ball

*WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS*

Here it is, the fifth and final season of Six Feet Under, which I saw less than two months after watching the first season. It’s been quite a ride; one that, despite the perfect ending provided in this season, I’m sad to see come to an end.

Any discussion of the fifth season can’t help but focus on the last three episodes of the series. The whole season was great, but everything is ultimately overshadowed by the build-up to the finale. Despite stories about Claire’s (Lauren Ambrose) misadventures as an office temp, Ruth (Frances Conroy) dealing with the fallout of having George (James Cromwell) committed and her resentment of him as a result, Rico’s (Freddy Rodríguez) attempt at reconciliation with Vanessa (Justina Machado), or Nate (Peter Krause) and Brenda’s (Rachel Griffiths) attempts to get pregnant while dealing with their constant relationship difficulties. Even David (Michael C. Hall) and Keith’s (Mathew St. Patrick) story of adopting Anthony (C.J. Sanders) and Durrell (Kendre Berry) couldn’t compete with what the show delivers in the final three episodes.

It was a good idea giving David and Keith an older pair of kids to deal with, since the series already did stories about dealing with a baby with Maya (Brenna and Bronwyn Tosh). From a practical standpoint, it also meant that the series could film them for more than two hours a day, so that was clever. I’ll admit, for much of the story, I was ready for Keith and David (especially Keith) to get rid of those brats. But like with most stories on this show that upset or annoy me, it was well handled and the payoff was good.

But as I said, the lasting impact of the season came at the end, with the (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT) death of Nate. Six Feet Under is a true ensemble, but of that ensemble, Peter Krause is probably the biggest star. It’s not that other series wouldn’t kill off the biggest star, it’s just that they wouldn’t do it with three episodes left in the series (instead, they’d wait for the finale).

Completely shocking moment. It’s not like they hadn’t psyched us out with a Nate death before, but to actually pull the trigger, and to do so in such a fashion, shows what kind of show Six Feet Under was. His death came out of nowhere (well, not counting his episode-long death scene). True to the character and the nature of the series, he was not given a hero’s exit. The show was never interested in having perfect characters, and was always quick to get into the nitty-gritty in revealing the flaws of everyone on the show. And it doesn’t get any nitty-grittier than having your feature character cheat on his pregnant wife, then tell her on what became his death bed that he wants a divorce, then he croaks.

In one way, it made it hard to mourn Nate, revealing him unequivocally as a narcissist (a theme the show had always danced around). On the other, it showed the good with the bad; that Nate might not have been perfect, but he was basically a decent guy who got into bad relationships. Above all else, it gave us three episodes to focus on the impact he made in the rest of the characters lives, showing that even a family in the business of death can become undone by grief. This brought the show full circle to the pilot episode when Nathaniel Sr (Richard Jenkins) died, revealing the Fishers to be distant with one another and repressed in their grief. This starkly contrasts with the death of Nate Jr, which saw the family come together and nearly fall apart in their grief.

As powerful as was Nate’s death episode (“Ecotone”), or was his funeral episode (“All Alone”), neither could match the power of the series finale (“Everyone’s Waiting”). That episode hit me like a mack truck. For most of the episode, it played out like the happiest episode in series history, even failing to begin the episode with a death (choosing instead to feature the birth of Willa). Things started to look like life was going to start getting better for everyone (if not easier). Rico finally realised his dream of owning his own funeral parlour. Claire started to look like she had direction for the future. Ruth finally looked like she was comfortable with herself and her needs. David came to terms with his inner demons, and he and Keith re-established Fisher and Sons. Brenda finally comes to terms with Willa’s health scare and her relationship with Nate, and everyone looks like they love and accept one another.

Any other show could’ve ended it with Claire’s send-off, but Six Feet Under had one more chapter of its characters’ lives to tell, concluding the story in perfect fashion with the finale montage. My god. I personally don’t cry for much at all. It’s not a macho thing (okay, it probably is, but not intentionally so), I just don’t express emotion with tears. But that finale montage? As close to tears as I’ve ever been from watching something.

Watching Ruth’s death was really hard, as she’s one of my favourite characters in the history of any series, but it was nice to see that she lived a nice, long life. Then they showed Keith’s murder, which hurt me as a viewer, like a rude violation (but, still, very true to the show, which never danced around death in all its forms). Then they showed David’s death years later, when he sees a vision of a young, strong, and beautiful Keith, and I almost lost it. Quite possibly the most heart-wrenching moment in my TV watching life. When I watched the episode again with the commentary, that moment managed to eek out a solitary tear down my cheek. I’m actually kinda choked up just thinking about it now.

The whole sequence might be the most beautifully-exquisite anguish I’ve ever seen on television. It affected me throughout the night and into the next day. Such is the power of the episode, and such is the connection I’ve made with these characters throughout these five seasons. When the final season was over, I mourned for the characters, and mourned for the series. At the same time, I’m grateful for having been able to know the series and get to know the Fishers. I’m happy that the series was able to put on five strong seasons without ever sliding into the mediocrity that comes when a TV show hangs on too long, and I’m glad that we were given such definite and memorable closure.

5/5

Related:
Six Feet Under – Season One
Six Feet Under – Season Two
Six Feet Under – Season Three
Six Feet Under – Season Four

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