Six Feet Under

(SPOILER -- the following contains spoilers. If you have not seen the show or the final episode, please come back after you do.)

It's been almost four days, and I'm still thinking about the HBO show Six Feet Under and its series finale, which aired on Sunday. I still couldn't sleep at night, thinking about the final montage. It's crazy. I keep reminding myself: It's only a TV show. But I can't help it.

Never have I been so deeply moved, engrossed, and affected by a piece of entertainment. Sure, I have fallen in love with and touched by a book, a movie, a TV show, or a song before, but not like this. I cried like a baby at the end of Cinema Paradiso, but not like this. Not like having insomnia for four days. What is wrong with me?

I think Six Feet Under has struck a chord with so many people at such deep level because it is so REAL. And some people don't like the show also because it's too REAL for them. The Fishers and their friends and loved ones are so dysfunctional that we could all step back and say, "Gosh, I'm glad I am not like that." Then we catch ourselves, whether it's watching David lashing out on his partner Keith, or Nate cheating on his pregnant wife Brenda, or Ruth screaming at her husband George: Oh lord, we are just like them. We have our own dysfunctional moments, our own demons and torments, our own sicknesses. And they remind us of people we know. Thus the Fishers and Co. have become our family for the past 5 years.

I love flawed people. They are fascinating. In my own work, I write about flawed people. I don't like archetypical heroes and villains -- they're boring to me. So as a writer, I have immense respect for Alan Ball, and I'm in awe of the talent he and his team of writers exhibit. And I'm insanely jealous. And inspired.

Every episode presents some brilliant writing, full of metaphors, deep meanings and nuances. It's sad, depressing and funny at the same time. I'm always in awe with the writing. Then there's the acting. Six Feet Under has some of the most talented actors (Peter Krause as Nate, Michael C. Hall as David, Frances Conroy as Ruth, Lauren Ambrose as Claire, Rachel Griffith as Brenda, James Cromwell, Matthew St. Patrick, Kathy Bates, Patricia Clarkson... the list goes on and on and on) and some of the most amazing performances. Together, the organic writing and acting (and the artful production) make the show so real.

So real that we identify with these characters as if they are -- REAL.

That's why the final episode hit me so hard. Because I believed in them and their trials and tribulations. The grief they went through. The joy they experienced. The love, loss and relationships they endured.

Most important, I can project myself and my own life to some of these characters. Every one of these characters remind me something of myself. Their stories speak to me at a personal level. I think that's what great literature is all about. And I consider a great TV show great literature.

I think it's brilliant that they delivered the shocking and climatic death of Nate (a central character) 3 episodes before the finale, then let us see the grieving process unfold within the Fisher clan. For a show about death, they chose to show us life afterwards.

And that's it. Part of the impact of the show is that it's really about life. About living.

The final 15 minutes and the montage as Claire drove through the desert hit me really hard. I watched, awestruck and breathless, as each major character met his or her demise. To me, it was like watching my family and friends die. It was like having gone to 6 or 7 funerals in 15 minutes. There's that finality. The goodbyes that are so hard to say.

But most impressively, they show us how they lived their lives. It reminds us of our own mortality, that we all die, eventually. Some suddenly and tragically, and some naturally. But we all die. It's how we live and love and take it all in and remember that is important.

"You can't take a picture of this. It's already gone." Indeed. What we have, really, are feelings and memories.

The final 15 minutes also reminds me of my own life, adventures, relationships, and losses. As Claire leaves for New York for her new life, I reflect on my own departures. How I said goodbye to my friends and family when I left for the US. The sense of loss and dread, mixed with excitement of the unknown future.

Some other favorite moments:

  • Ruth grieving for Nate while watching Just Shoot Me-- it's so subversive that it's sad and hilarious
  • Nate telling Claire, "Wake up, everyone's waiting."
  • As Claire snaps a picture of her family, Nate saying, "You can't take a picture of this. It's already gone."
  • Ruth asking Maggie if Nate was happy before he died -- that's one of the most heart-wrenching moments
  • The dinner toast to Nate at the end -- it's classic
  • Claire driving off as Nate runs and disappears in her sideview mirror -- the sense of "letting go" is insurmountable
  • Ruth dying on her death bed, surrounded by her family, and seeing her late husband and first-born son waiting for her -- I started to well up...
  • Ted coming to Ruth's funeral and reuniting with Claire -- how romantic and poetic
  • David seeing the vibrant, handsome vision of Keith before he dies -- the sense of eternal love and loss is incredible; it puts a lump in my throat
  • Claire dying on her death bed, all alone, but surrounded by pictures of everyone she's loved and outlived... the joy on her withered face... then cutting to the clear, beautiful eyes of the young Claire, as she goes off to the her new future

Sia's Breathe Me was a perfect soundtrack for the last 5 minutes. The haunting song gave the ending such incredibly emotional punch.

The song and these final images are branded vivid in my mind now. Can't shake them. And for four days I've been thinking about what I saw and heard, reflecting on my own life and losses. And I feel blessed.

I will keep thinking. And feeling. And loving. And living.


Bj√∂rn said…
Great Article.
I think this ending has something very special that's hard to desribe.

At the end of the 4th season, Nathaniel said to a traumatized David something like "don't spend so much time being frightened, live my son!"

And I'd been hit by that moment very much(as so many times before it that show).
But that final scenes you described were simply and finally mindopened.

This is what live is about: "live your life, it's short enough and you're going to die, so live live live!"
This message alone (if you're open enough to recieve it) is breathtaking. But then 'Breath Me' in the ear and dying beloved 'friends' in the eye mixed with that message in your head are more then I could take, which is resulting in thinking about this over and over again...

Great Article of an outstanding series.
SFU4Life said…
I really enjoyed reading your article! I never thought I could be so moved by a show, even though it was much more then a "show" to me. Through the good, the bad and the ugly I learned a lot about myself and how to face my own fears. I still feel heartbroken, like I have lost real family members, it's strange but true. I'm glad that I'm not the only one that cried like a baby during the last 15 mins, ha! RIP SFU...
ClaireVoyant said…
Right on! Watching the life and death of Fishers & Co. during the last 6 minutes was a very "in-your-face" reminder that we (along with our friends and family) will eventually succumb to death. It's one thing to see anonymous strangers die (such as the clients' deaths that occurred at the beginning of most episodes), but quite another to see those who are most familiar to you (yes, including the Fishers) decline and die. I know this is restating the obvious, but this final episode lent reality to the idea that "I'm really going to die some day ... it's a certainty."
keopele said…
Ray, amen to your article and amen to all the comments above. Well put, everyone. One other favorite moment of mine (well, more a thread which covered three moments) related to Maya's monkey: First, when Ruth found it next to the fridge and broke down crying, feeling so alone; next, in the scene at Brenda's when Ruth, Claire and Ted have stopped by and Ruth brings the monkey back to Maya, and Margaret has to upstage her with an "okapi" doll and tosses the monkey onto the floor when Ruth isn't looking (Margaret is so evil!); and finally, in the flash-forward to David and Keith's wedding a few years later, when Maya is holding the monkey doll (and not the okapi) in her lap. A small touch but very sweet. I am really feeling the loss of this show and these flawed, very real people!
Anonymous said…
Wow, As everyone said; great article;
Like you, I cant stop thinking about the last episode, or more importantly the impact it had and the feeling its left me with.

Anonymous said…
Your article made me cry all over again. I too haven't slept for days. Thank you for such a beautiful farewell.
Meidi said…
You describe something I've been trying to do constantly since I saw the finale. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who's devastated and afflicted with insomnia after this really heartbreaking goodbye.
Anonymous said…
I came across your blog while reading the SFU message boards. I have been reading them like they're my job!!

I like what you wrote. I wanna thank you for sharing your talent of writing and helping others identify with your expereience as if they wrote it themselves. Your words I find are very easy to relate to.

I felt what you meant about Nate running and within seconds he was gone. Man did I cry and cry with that scene.

So thank you. You are now added to my 'favorites'. I will visit.
- a new fan, pam
kevin said…
Your comments were so true. I have never been impacted by anything I have read or seen on TV as I was with this show. I too continuelly tell myself "its just a show" but for some reason I can shake the feeling of "Loss". The case was incredible and each story was incredible. The scene where David saw a young Keith before he died was incredibly moving. I will truly miss this show!
skunky said…
You articulate so well so much of my thoughts and feelings on this last episode.

I was so haunted by the last montage, and found myself sleeplessly weeping Sunday night. The thought of the last 15 minutes makes me emotional. So powerful. I share so many of your sentiments - It will take me awhile still to digest it all.
b1vision said…
Six Feet Under is about life not death but since death is a an inevitable part of of life, it's also about death. It's paradoxes like these which gives the five year HBO series such resonance that you can't help but to think about it days later.

I have been a loyal Six Feet Under viewer for the past five years, I've seen every second of every minute of every episode and I can't once recall walking away from the telvision feeling as if the show had lost it's vigor, it's magic, it's charm. Yes, I said charm which is an ironic way to describe a show in which almost every episode begins with the death of someone. There is something engrossing about its characters, the way one is able to fall in love with these people in spite of their many shortcomings which often inspire you to pity and other times to love but always to feel.
Six Feet Under is a show about the imperfection of being human. For example I never seen a show more tactfully personify the concept of loneliness. Not lonliness in the sense of being alone but the loneliness we often feel in spite of our relationships. No person can know another person completely, just as there are parts of our beings that we just cannot share no matter how hard we try. But, this does not stop us from loving and finding joy in our relationships, but like life and Six Feet Under, the joy is fleeting. Yet the joy of watching such an intricate well written show neve fades.
b1vision said…
The Fantastic Feelings of SFU
Ray Wong said…
Right on!

Keep the comments coming. I really enjoy reading them.

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