Saying goodbye to ‘Six Feet Under’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 23, 2005

On Sunday night, millions of Americans said goodbye to a group of people that made them laugh, made them cry, shocked and frightened the bone marrow out of them, and helped them look at death in a new way.

That group was the Fisher family, who carried the television show &uot;Six Feet Under&uot; to a solid spot in HBO’s lineup for the past five years. Matriarch Ruth, sons Nate and David, daughter Claire, and Nate’s daughter Maya, who let us know what it was like to live in a funeral home, ended their run on cable television in the series finale.

When Season Four ended, Nate was about to marry his longtime on-again, off-again girlfriend Brenda. David and his boyfriend Keith were a solid couple that hoped to become a family. Claire and Brenda’s brother Billy seemed so happy together (as long as he stayed on his bipolar medications). Ruth’s husband George had shown a hard case of mental illness. We’d just met George’s daughter Maggie, who’d seen it before. The Fishers’ mortician Rico seemed to have given up on getting back with his ex-wife Vanessa.

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(Note: As it has since inception, the show begins with a death, often by unorthodox means or occurrences)

&uot;A Coat of White Primer&uot;

Death: Andrea Kuhn, inadvertently killed by her husband during an argument

Synopsis: Brenda has a miscarriage, but still insists on going through with her wedding. Ruth and Claire were having some serious family tension, and George’s fragile mental state wasn’t helping things, as wasn’t Claire’s relationship with Billy, which everyone but her knew wasn’t going to last. David and Keith decided to have a child.

Opinion: We got well-re-acquainted with the characters, and the road to a successful swan song was laid.

Grade: B+

&uot;Dancing For Me&uot;

Death: Nate’s old friend Samuel Wayne Hoviak, in an RV accident

Synopsis: Maya got her first scene-stealing moment in a hilarious walk-on during Nate and Brenda’s rendezvous. The death of his friend made Nate long for the easy life of childhood. Claire and Billy were getting along great, but Rico got dumped and Ruth was going nuts taking care of George.

Opinion: A good way to settle down after the first episode.

Grade: B

&uot;Hold My Hand&uot;

Death: George’s alcoholic mother Loretta Smith Sibley, in a flashback

Synopsis: George, tormented by memories of his mother, decided to go back through electroshock therapy. Claire and Ruth continued to feud, this time over Claire’s relationship with Billy (Ruth was right, but it was obvious she was taking out her own pain on her daughter). Keith and David found a suitable surrogate, while Brenda decided to leave her job. Nate and Maggie meet and bond over tragedies (Maggie’s son died in infancy). But this was Rico’s episode, and he met Angela (Illeana Douglas), his replacement from Season One, and ended up in a hysterical romp with her in a nearby hotel.

Opinion: While George seemed like a jerk through most of last season, here we understood that it wasn’t his fault, which might have been why they kept him around. And if Ileana Douglas is around (can you tell I have a huge crush on her?), it’s OK with me.

Grade: A

&uot;Time Flies&uot;

Death: Lila Simonds Coolidge, of natural causes at 96

Synopsis: Brenda was pregnant, but Nate wasn’t as enthused as she’d hoped. Billy, off his meds, drove Claire away. Rico and Vanessa fought over the kids, which led to their own one-night stand. George apologized to Ruth, but she also wasn’t receptive.

Opinion: Everyone was so incredibly sad for this entire episode, which really dragged it down.

Grade: C

&uot;Eat a Peach&uot;

Death: Daniel Holzenchenko, of diabetes

Synopsis: Daniel’s bickering family was hilarious in an &uot;All in the Family&uot; sort of way. When their surrogate mother didn’t get pregnant, David and Keith decided to adopt two boys. Rico took advantage of an incident at his son’s school to get back with Vanessa. Ruth decided to break things off with George, and Billy, with his mother Margaret’s help, tried unsuccessfully to patch them up with Claire.

Opinion: The supporting characters stole this one, with Daniel’s family, Ruth’s friends giving her some friendly guidance, and the two foster kids showed up.

Grade: B-

&uot;The Rainbow of Her Reasons&uot;

Death: Fiona Lenore Kleinschmidt, who took Nate’s virginity when he was 15, fell off a cliff while hiking

Synopsis: David and Keith clashed over the boys until a social worker’s visit helped to set things straight. Ruth helped George move out, and he reciprocated by setting her free. Fiona’s death brought Ruth’s sister Sara back around (she’d been seen only sparingly since Season Two), and she and Ruth went cavorting. Vanessa, fed up with her nanny, dropped the woman and asked Rico to move back in. But Claire, perhaps more than any other episode in the entire show, stole the entire event with her hilarious pantyhose-based parody of &uot;You Light Up My Life.&uot;

Opinion: Not so much an episode so much as an exhibition of little developments, but Claire’s performance makes it a keeper.

Grade: B+

&uot;The Silence&uot;

Death: Peter Thomas Burns, who had a heart attack while attending a play

Synopsis: Overwhelmed by parental duties, David felt better after watching one of his kids perform in a play, allowing him to relive his own stage days. Ruth, now alone, couldn’t figure out what to do with herself, until George told her of his new love. She wasn’t having it, and warned his fianc\u00E9e of exactly what she was getting into. Claire also seemed to have found a new love, in a co-worker named Ted.

Opinion: Low-key with a good flow. This show proved that it didn’t need flashes ot stunning developments to be entertaining.

Grade: B

&uot;Singing for our Lives&uot;

Death: Pilar Sandoval, hit by a truck while biking

Synopsis: This one was part sentiment, as Ruth got back with her old fling Hiram (we knew it wouldn’t last!) and Claire got things right with her friend Anita and exes Russell and Jimmy. But things got hot – both literally and figuratively – in the last few minutes, when Nate and Maggie jumped into bed (how ironic was it that SHE was the only woman on the show that didn’t wear a bra during sex?). Just afterward, however, he collapsed – the ATM brain disorder that tormented him during Season Two was back.

Opinion: It was done for the right reasons – we wanted to know what had happened to the characters we hadn’t seen for a while – but no one could have guessed what was coming next week.

Grade: B+


Death: Lawrence Hall Matheson, who was attacked by a cheetah while hiking (hilarious scene).

Synopsis: Other stuff happened, but just one thing mattered: Nate died – and unlike the Season Three premiere, this one was real.

Opinion: WHAT? They actually had the guts to kill Nate? This one was a shocker along the lines of &uot;Douglas beats Tyson&uot; and &uot;Verbal Kint was Keyser Soze.&uot;

Grade: A

&uot;All Alone&uot;

Death: None this time, everyone was still thinking about Nate

Synopsis: David dealt with his pain by planning Nate’s funeral, which included a green funeral with no embalming or casket, just wrapped in clothes and buried in a nature preserve. Tormented by Maggie, Margaret and memories of Nate, Brenda gave Maya to Ruth for a while. David was unable to speak at the funeral, but a surprisingly comforting George came through. In a sea of tears and sadness, Nate was laid to rest. Billy came to Brenda’s home to comfort her.

Opinion: I personally was still reeling myself from the fact that Nate died, so I’d have to say that this episode did a remarkable job of capturing the number of ways people react to the sudden passing of a family member. Rather than sending everyone off on their own little adventure, it based an entire episode around a single event, and it’s something that the show should have done more often.

Grade: A-


Death: Army Staff Sgt. Paul Duncan, who committed suicide after coming home from Iraq with his arm and legs blown off.

Synopsis: Six weeks after Nate’s death, David was heading-slowly into a paranoia-drive state of insanity, pulling his sons out of school in fear. Claire was fired from her job for drinking, and ended up crashing her hearse. Rico started thinking about grabbing a home of his own. After having a sex dream about Billy (if they’d even tried to make incest plausible, I’d have burned every DVD of this I could find when it finally came out), Brenda asked him to leave, then had a fight with Ruth, causing her to go into labor.

Opinion: This was OK, but the scene with Brenda and Billy kissing was obscene, no matter what type of spin they tried to put on it. Therefore, this one gets a bad grade for personal reasons.

Grade: D+

&uot;Everyone’s Waiting&uot;

Birth: After every other episode – except one – began with the ending of a life, this one began with a beginning: Willa Chenowith, Brenda and Nate’s daughter.

Synopsis: Nate continued to torment Brenda, but as we probably could have guessed, it was all an act. Ruth and Brenda made up, and George seemed OK. Rico left to start his own place, and Claire headed across the country to make her mark in the artistic world, finally finding the courage to face down her fears.

Opinion: Just in case you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil it yet. But I’ll just say that the last 15 minutes of this episode were morbid, tear-jerking, heartbreaking, even frightening – and when you think about it, the absolutely perfect way to end the show.

Grade: A+ (for sentimental reasons if nothing else)

Season opinion: Well, the show was smart enough to end just before its likeliness ran out, but it was fun while it lasted, and this season was better than the last two. After the gimmick of living in a funeral home became a near-afterthought for most of the past two years, it came back this year, as the deaths and other funeral home activities directly affected the characters’ lives. That’s what got the show on the map – and what helped it let go.

Grade: B+