I guess it was probably 2005 or 2006. I was working at Vanderbilt and Tower Records was across the street, just within walking distance to stop and get a movie on the way home. I flew through all five seasons of Six Feet Under without even knowing how many seasons there were. When the last episode of season five came, Claire got in the car to drive across the country, and a montage started to play that showed how all of the main characters would eventually die. I felt sad, cheated, and blindsided. The show was over, these characters were gone, and I had seen none of it coming. I felt suddenly orphaned. By a tv show.
It’s roughly ten years later, I knew this was coming, and I feel exactly the same way. Like there’s this little part of me crossing its arms like an angry toddler and refusing to believe that any of it is happening. The only difference now is that I knew this episode was coming and I had the sense to queue up Bridesmaids to act as a palate cleanser.
I can’t remember what exactly I got out of the show ten years ago; I just remember a first impression of the show not being nearly as funeral-tastic as I expected it to be. I was disappointed, but I watched episode two just because I’d already paid for the rental for disc one. I eventually got attached, wondering what would happen next and developing a crush on Freddy Rodriguez.
This time, I was hit in the face with how well-written and how true to life the first episode was. Tehre were moments of hilarity that are only funny when you’re in your thirties and similar things have happened to you. You can see things in a show, but they don’t really hit home until you’ve lived them already. Any other way, and the writing is entirely too obvious, or the writing is subtle and you don’t really get what’s happening. David comes home from a tough day at work and Keith tells him to suck it up and everybody in the audience knows that David just wanted Keith to be on his side because we’ve all been there. Claire goes to art school and says things like “it’s not blue hair, it’s more like a comment on blue hair,” right before finding out that what kills you about art school isn’t thinking of projects; it’s trying your hardest and sometimes failing anyway. It’s competing for internships against your friends in a system built more on ass-kissing that work quality. It’s constantly wondering if you’re good enough. It’s taking some bullshit office job and wearing pantyhose and wanting to shoot yourself in the face every day while you secretly pray that no one from school finds out that you’ve sold out because you have bills to pay and no new ideas.
There was little part of me just dancing when Keith finally understands that David just wants a hug. When Claire finally meets a nice guy (even if he is a “republican frat boy who voted for Bush”). When Ruth walks though the woods imaging her self taking a shotgun to every man who has expected her to worry all about his needs and never about her own. Stella and her groove, with a shotgun in the woods.
I watched that show in 2005 as though it were a fun little soap opera to distract me from my life. I watched it in 2015 because each character was living out some part of my life, probably of everybody’s life. Ruth is the woman in us that wants to have her own life, but has no idea what to do with herself if there’s no one to take care of. Claire is our free spirit, the part of us that never quite feels like an adult and never quite knows what to do. Nate is the part of us that means so well, but sometimes screws up so badly. David is the part of us that has to keep it together, to suck it up, even on days when we just want to go home and find someone there handing out hugs. So often, the show hits the gross little parts of human nature that we all pretend don’t exist. We pretend so hard that those parts don’t exist that maybe we start to wonder if we’re the only person to have them. To notice them. It’s all done with such skill. When Ruth eats dinner alone, we don;t have to have her say “I feel lonely today,” (which would be ENTIRELY too self-aware and direct for the Fisher family). Instead, we get a wide shot of Ruth alone at the table, sadly cutting up a piece of asparagus, sitting solo at a table for four. Everything about the Fisher house seems sad, dreary, constrained, and passive-aggressive. The Fishers are the family that we all want to grab by the shoulders and shake while yelling “WHY don’t you just SAY how you FEEL?”
It’s like the show spends most of its five seasons making us watch these people be unhappy. Part of us KNOWS why they’re unhappy because we see the characters doing things that we do. Maybe that’s why we want to shake them and yell at them. We’re frustrated with them because they are reminding us of ourselves. But all hell breaks loose in season five: Ruth finally gets sick of everybody’s crap, David stops sucking it up, Claire finds a path, and Nate? Nate can’t seem to stop screwing up…so he dies, his death being the catalyst of change for everybody else, the “Ned Stark’s rolling head” that sets everything else in motion. Eventually, even the house changes. Even the house gets happier.
So, have I spoiled this entire show for you by telling you (sort of) what happens? I don’t think so. I came into this viewing knowing exactly what was going to happen, and it didn’t change the value of the experience one bit. If you’ve never watched this show, you might want to check it out now. Hell, it’s on Amazon Prime.