Warning: this article spoils the first season of “Six Feet Under.” Please don’t read on if you haven’t seen the show.
“Why do people have to die?”
“To make life important. None of us know how long we’ve got. Which is why we have to make each day matter.”
I recently finished the first season of HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” and it is the best show I’ve watched since “The Wire.” But it is a great show for other reasons. Miriam Krule of Slate calls the show “the perfect, accidental post-9/11 show” because it is a show that allows you to share in the grief of its protagonists, the Fisher family. The Fishers run a funeral home, but struggle through their own grief after their father, Nathaniel Fisher, dies in a car accident. “Six Feet Under” is definitely not a show for everyone — but it is a show for people in pain, for people who are looking for a “right” way to grieve.
“Six Feet Under,” so far, for me, is a show that depicts the paradox in emotions perfectly. Although the members of the Fisher family feel isolated after the death of their father, they grow closer through their grief. The genre of the show is “dark humor,” and it is called so because although terrible things happen to the characters, ranging from illness to incarceration, there is still humor in their plight. The creators seem to be saying that humor is a way to cope, but I won’t extrapolate a message that isn’t there. Although characters often imagine apparitions of the deceased that are not there, the show is still wildly authentic.
The members of the family include Ruth Fisher, the late Nathaniel’s wife, Claire Fisher, Nathaniel’s teenage daughter, and Nate and David Fisher, Nathaniel’s sons. Nate Fisher is, for me, the most compelling character of the family. Before his death, Nathaniel would say that Nate had a “gift.” Numerous times throughout the first season, Nate works magic in talking to, listening to, and comforting grieving people. It is his use of this gift to comfort members of his family that persuades Nate to stay in Los Angeles to help his family run the funeral home.
Each episode of “Six Feet Under” begins with a short film — and in this short film, someone in the scene dies. The remainder of the episode is an overview of the funeral process for that person, as the deceased’s loved ones and the Fisher family interact to coordinate the ceremony.
The lines at the beginning of the article are said by Nate Fisher on the very last episode of the first season. Nate and his girlfriend, Brenda, were recently discharged from the hospital following a car accident. Although they survive it unscathed, CT scans show that Nate has AVM (arteriovenous malformation), a potentially deadly brain condition that could cause Nate to have a stroke or seizure at any time.
The first season ends with a scene of Nate observing his friend, Rico’s christening party for his baby. His brother, David, throughout the season, opens up and comes out as gay to his family, and even fights for more progressive changes to his conservative church as a new deacon. His sister, Claire, has entered a relationship with her friend, Gabe, who is grieving the accidental death of his younger brother. His mother, Ruth, has allowed herself to fall in love with other men. His girlfriend, Brenda, recently committed her bipolar brother to a mental hospital. Nate looks around the room at his family and friends, smiles and marvels at how lucky he is.
With death pressing for Nate, he has to apply his gift for comforting the grieving to his own predicament. It is in the christening scene that he realizes both fear and joy, simultaneously.
I have a long ways to go with “Six Feet Under,” but the show has taught me one thing to do whenever I feel disappointed or in pain. I’m doing this now, writing this article, looking around the library, thinking back to the friends who I spent time with today, and I think these words: “I can’t believe I’m here. I’m so damn lucky.”
Originally published at https://www.theodysseyonline.com on September 4, 2018.