Six Feet Under: Season 5
Many times when a television series goes on for four or five years it slips. This happened to the quirky HBO standard, Six Feet Under but fortunately for all of us fans out there the series’ swan song was one of the strongest of its five year run. It returned to the character drive dark comedy that hooked us in the first place. It has been said that the only certainty to life is death and taxes and Six Feet Under took on death with a crooked little smile. The series chronicled the Fisher family, owners and operators of a moderately successful funeral home. The business is shared by eldest Nate Fisher (Peter Krause) and his uptight brother David (Michael C. Hall). They have extended a partnership to their long time employee Federico Diaz (Freddy Rodríguez) renaming the business Fisher and Diaz. Living upstairs is matriarch Ruth (Frances Conroy) and youngest of the adult Fisher children Claire (Lauren Ambrose). As season five begins all of the relationships are experiencing major changes. Ruth’s new husband George Sibley (James Cromwell) is just coming home after a diagnosis of Depressive Psychosis and its resulting treatment with electroconvulsive therapy. Claire is back is back with Billy Chenowith (Jeremy Sisto) the often dangerously bi-polar brother of Nate’s pregnant fiancée Brenda (Rachel Griffiths). David and his boyfriend Keith (Mathew St. Patrick) feel that it is time for them to consider raising a family.
Considering this is a very dark show happiness is not really an option for the Fisher clan at this point in life. Brenda suffers a miscarriage shortly before she is finally to wed Nate. The loss of their child is compounded by Brenda having to raise Nate’s daughter Maya by his late wife Lisa (Lili Taylor). Brenda is literally haunted by the memory of Lisa, who pops up from time to time reinforcing Brenda’s feelings of inadequacy. Keeping to true Six Feet Under tradition just because a character dies is not reason they shouldn’t have a fairly important speaking role. The wedding does finally happen but it is bitter sweet for Brenda. For the audience is it the first of the series wrap-ups. We have all been waiting for this moment since the first season.
Ruth finds that her typical role as caregiver is strained beyond endurance as she has to be there constantly for George. He frequently lapses into paranoid delusions finding odd solace in an old fall out shelter. Ruth begins to crack under the stress and seeks help from George’s daughter Maggie (Tina Holmes). Towards the end of the season Nate will once again be pulled away from Brenda and have an affair with Maggie leading to one of the most famous scenes in the run.
The strength of this season was in how it allowed the characters to move forward. So much of the past four years was variations on a theme but here catalysts are introduced into their lives forcing them to consider other choices in life. Claire experiences many changes in her career choice of photography. She hits a slump and leaves college only to find her mother has cut her off financially. Claire is forced to actually work for a living in an office which also allows her to get away from her artsy friends and see the real world. The concept of parenting becomes very real for David and Keith as they adopt two very troubled boys. Keith wants to lay down the law and David has the typical knee jerk liberal reaction of giving the boys space. As the series moves on they find that neither approach by itself works, they have to find a middle ground. Claire discovers that she has no future with Billy. While he is on his medication he can be great but he will always find some excuse to avoid taking it. Claire slowly comes to the conclusion that in order for her to survive emotionally she has to remove herself from the drama of her family.
Unlike so many series this one concluded with a feeling of completeness. A term used so often by the Fisher Brothers was closure, and series creator Alan Ball has provided that to his fans. As almost everyone that follows this series knows by now the last moments of that fateful last episode were a series of flash-forward scenes. Important moments in the characters lives and their eventual deaths are shown as the series concludes. The audience is given an opportunity to see all the loose ends neatly tied up. We’ve stuck with these characters through some very depressing moments; it was satisfying to see some happiness would finally come into their lives.
Every member of this cast is nothing less than stellar. These are actors at the top of their profession, veterans of stage and screen and this final season provided just the right vehicle to show them off. One of the best of this troupe was without a doubt Lauren Ambrose. She has grown incredibly form the first season. Ambrose has taken Claire on a realistic, albeit strange journey from being a drug using slacker to a young woman that comes to the conclusion that in order for her to thrive she must leave home. Frances Conroy has season after season given fantastic performances but here she is at her best. Ruth has traveled through life after Nate Senior died with strength and determination. Even when the problems with George take her to the breaking point she is always the ultimate maternal figure. Rachel Griffiths has played Brenda as a person beset by her own demons. When things finally look like they are heading towards some happiness she winds up having to raise the child of another woman while mourning the loss of her own. Griffiths combines strength and vulnerability as few can. Peter Krause has also brought his character a long way from the start of the series. Nate has transformed from the prodigal son to a man that has found a way to use his natural empathy to best help others. His tragic flaw is his inability to fully commit to Brenda.
HBO gives this last season DVD set a proper send off. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is excellent displaying every detail clearly. The colors are bright and realistic with above average contrast. The Dolby 5.1 audio infuses new life to the many musical cues used in the series. The commentary tracks provided for about half the episodes are insightful with the cast and crew lamenting the close of the series but happy they there where given a chance to go out on top. This also comes out in the special Bob Costas interview with the cast. After so long working together they have become a close knit group. This season is black comedy at its best and it was good that they ended it as they did.