Six Feet Over
The final season of Six Feet Under was a struggle. In fact, the previous season of Six Feet Under was a struggle, which might be why it was decided to wrap up the entire series this time around. The personalities in and around the Fisher family of funeral directors were never predictable – their dysfunctionality was part of the program’s appeal – but as the writers strained not to repeat themselves, so they permitted the characters to act against type, sending them careening through a series of emotional rebounds that felt at times like watching a pinball game. Viewer empathy suffered as the characters literally lost the plot, and commitment to a floundering series was further hampered by HBO’s bizarre decision, in an echo of Twin Peaks’ downfall, to switch the final series from its long-standing Sunday night 9pm bedrock position to a Monday night slot. (The switch was quickly rescinded; I obviously was not the only viewer who dropped out for a few weeks as a result.)
There was also the sense that the show dragged beyond its rightful conclusion. The third from final episode appeared, to our family’s minds, the obvious place to end Six Feet Under; for those who were watching (and for those who weren’t, I’m no spoiler), that’s the one that closed out with ‘All Apologies’ by Nirvana. But then I like unhappy endings. Televisions networks and film studios don’t. So they hammered the ending home with a two-part epilogue. The penultimate show was an inevitable let-down, a seemingly desperate attempt to keep us hooked when there was no longer sufficient bait.
For the final episode, Everything Ends, broadcast in America last night, Sunday August 21, founder Alan Ball returned to the helm as writer and director. He duly returned the show to its rightful standing as one of television’s boldest and bravest: Six Feet Under wrapped up with the same combination of grace, style, humor, fortitude, risk and emotional nudity that made it such a breath of fresh air in the first place. The final sequence, which looked far into the future while maintaining a very firm foot in the present day finale, was on a truly cinematic scale and left me emotionally wrecked. It also exemplified the show’s magnificent use of music: the song with which the show concluded (‘Breath Me’ by Australian-born, British-based singer Sia) sounds perfectly innocuous on the Six Feet Under compilation CD Everything Ends and yet was utterly epic on TV as the camera panned up to the sky and the credits began to roll.
I’ve often struggled to sleep Sunday nights after my HBO fix, usually with the graphic violence from The Sopranos or Deadwood replaying in my head and giving me nightmares. Last night I struggled to sleep also, but this time it was a love of living and a dignity in dying that kept me awake, especially that extended closing sequence. My thanks as a humble viewer to all the actors, actresses, writers and guest directors who made this such a special series over the last five years; an extra note of gratitude to Alan Ball for reining in the chaos at the final hurdle and allowing his show to die with its own dignity intact and memory enshrined. You gave television a good name.