Best Episode Ever # 39: ‘Six Feet Under’
Well, the universe sure insisted that I cover “Six Feet Under” this week. I had always been thinking that when it’s time to do this show, I may very well pick the finale. Last week, I had the chance to interview Frances Conroy for “American Horror Story: Coven” at the PaleyFest, and she agreed with me that the finale was the best episode of “Six Feet Under.” Now that “How I Met Your Mother” has aired its finale to divisive responses, the world needs a great series finale more than ever.
It is especially appropriate because both “Six Feet Under” and “How I Met Your Mother” showed what became of the characters in the future. “Six Feet Under” saved it all for a closing montage and followed them all until their deaths, as was relevant to the show. The Sio song “Breathe Me” might have had a lot to do with it, but it seemed like a fitting end for all characters.
Keith (Matthew St. Patrick) and David (Michael C. Hall) get married, perhaps Alan Ball predicting the passing of Prop 8. Ruth (Conroy) is with George (James Cromwell) until the end. Keith dies violently, but he owned his own security company which was surely successful despite the risk. Rico (Freddy Rodriguez) and Vanessa (Justina Machado) live the high life until Rico collapses on a cruise ship. David has a vision of Keith long after his death and has a heart attack, but he’s taught their sons the family business. Billy (Jeremy Sisto) is still talking Brenda (Rachel Griffiths)’s ear off, probably still about Claire, until Brenda dies in an old age home. Claire lives to be 102 and the framed pictures on her wall suggest her success in photography.
That is a fitting and emotional end for all the characters, but it is a long way off in the future. Heck, the 2020s are still a long way off now, nearly nine years after the finale aired. The episode proper features the characters moving forward from where we’ve been following them for five years on “Six Feet Under.”
It’s not easy for them to move on. In fact, when it looks like everyone is getting some opportunity dropped into their laps, life and drama make it more complicated. Claire does not get her dream job in New York, but realizes she has to go anyway. David decides not to sell the house and business and divvy up the profits. Keeping the home makes it more complicated for partners Rico and Brenda, but Keith steps in with a partnership that doesn’t solve everything, but moves things forward. Rico still gets to start his own independent funeral home.
It is nice to see Rico and Vanessa happy. It always bothered me that “Six Feet Under” never fully dealt with the rift in their marriage. Rico paid the price for cheating on Vanessa, sure, but he suffered alone. Did everybody forget that Vanessa went effing crazy and completely checked out of their relationship? A stronger man might have stuck it out but humans are fragile and Rico succumbed to temptation. He shouldn’t have paid the price alone though. Vanessa just snapped back into reality and acted like the scorned wife. Where was that state of mind when Rico was trying to connect with her? That was two seasons ago so I guess it doesn’t impact the finale. It was an oversight made in the past so I have to forgive and move on just like Vanessa did.
The finale almost opens with the stillborn death of Brenda’s baby. Thank God it didn’t go there, but I wouldn’t put it past them. The last few seasons of “Six Feet Under” practically became Final Destination: The Series as they kept thinking of new ways for people to die.
Nate almost has more to do in the finale as a ghost than he had in episodes where he was still alive. I never liked the narrative device of ghosts talking to living characters in otherwise not sci-fi shows. It seams like a weak, cheap way to get the actor back even when their character died, but you can’t have it both ways. Dead is dead and when I think about my long lost loved ones, it’s not as physical entities having conversations with me. “nip/tuck” did it too, but it was built into “Six Feet Under” from the beginning when Nathaniel (Richard Jenkins) died and remained a series regular. As imaginary ghosts go, Nate has a pretty strong arc in the “Six Feet Under” finale.
He’s vicious at first, terrorizing Brenda and their baby with predictions of future complications. He joins Nathaniel in terrorizing David, still suffering PTSD from the attack from a killer in the red hoodie. Nate’s most haunting moment is simply sitting and smiling at David after David wakes from a nightmare. From there, Nate becomes supportive. He realizes he loves his daughter, and encourages Claire to move to New York. Then it gets weird with Claire dreaming of Nate singing the rock n’ roll song on her clock radio alarm.
A few surreal touches are part and parcel for a drama about morticians featuring a new death each week and dead characters who remain active cast members. The heart of the “Six Feet Under” finale is creating a conclusive scenario that makes it logical to stop following these characters. The “Breathe Me” epilogue gives us closure without necessarily violating anything we believe. Keith was a former cop and went into another risky profession. Ruth already outlived her husband and first born son so it wasn’t hard to imagine her dying of natural causes. David was sensitive. He could have an episode like that after raising two sons alone for several years. Poor Brenda could never shake Billy. Claire must have lived very clean.
There is some business to be resolved before the big conclusions too. David is still suffering from PTSD and Ruth from depression, reasonably so considering the traumas they’ve each recently suffered. They come out of them slowly, sensitive to the real process of dealing with those conditions. Claire rekindles a relationship that’s seemingly off when she leaves for New York, but pays off later in the “Breathe Me” sequence.
I never get that sensitive about series finales, because I don’t actually expect a single episode to encapsulate everything about a show that may have run for years and 100s of episodes. The point of an ongoing series is to be on the journey, not to wait for some ultimate conclusion. Certainly, if you’re holding out your best material for the last episode, then the earlier episodes probably won’t be very good anyway. I expect with “Six Feet Under” it happened organically. The series finale was the Best Episode Ever.