Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Six Feet Under

Sid Smith NAILED this. Can't disagree with a single syllable...

Six Feet Under finale was a benediction

By Sid Smith
Tribune arts critic
Published August 22, 2005

Unlike every preceding episode, which opened with a kind of mortality cocktail, the last installment of "Six Feet Under" began Sunday with a birth.

Not to worry. Death was waiting patiently in the wings, poised for a resonating last word. The 5-year-old serial drama, set in a Los Angeles funeral parlor, bit the dust in more ways than one.

Like the 62 or so victims that launched the other chapters, all of the major characters would be dearly departed by the entry's conclusion. True to form, this lead character massacre came about in a stylistic tour de force. Though not altogether original (novelist Michael Cunningham did something similar back in a 1990s novel), the stratagem involved a time trip well into the future and the later years of the 21st Century.

As Claire, the youngest adult in the Fisher family, drove to a new life in New York, the story flashed forward through time, revealing everyone's fate:

Ruth dies in old age in a hospital bed, Keith is shot during a robbery, acquisitive Rico keels over on a cruise and David passes out at a picnic, lured lovingly by a ghostly Keith. Brenda slumps, as if bored to death, by self-absorbed, prattling brother Billy.

Claire, the baby, misfit and artistic refugee, endures the longest. Her end in bed, after about a century of life, is enviable.

The tempting analogy to the cathartic pile-up of Greek tragedy is misleading. The death of the Fishers is more the stuff of a medieval morality play, an "Everyman" more than a "Hamlet." The Fishers died not from their tragic flaws (and God knows they had plenty of them). They died because everybody must: A benediction for the human condition as much as an end to a TV show.

Talk about closure. Meanwhile, the last episode hinted at plot resolutions and reconciliations in the perplexing, open-ended, bittersweet manner that distinguished the series. All summer, water-cooler debate puzzled over Nate Fisher's callousness toward pregnant wife Brenda. Several weeks ago, he died, unexpectedly at 40, after sleeping with another woman, telling Brenda he wanted a divorce and hinting much of the season their coming baby might be abnormal.

That left Brenda less than a weeping widow. She even for a time turned Nate's daughter by his first wife, Maya, over to her mother-in-law, Ruth, a kind of bloodless echo of "Medea." But the baby's birth and precarious, premature existence change everything. Thanks to a dream, in which Nate and his long-dead father, whom Brenda had never met, cradle the infant with unconditional love, Brenda finally forgives Nate, free to embrace her surviving Fisher in-laws as the only loving family she has known. Let the dead bury the dead; life is about the living.

David's panic attacks, born of last season's violent kidnapping, also give way to a purgative dream, wherein the monster of his imagination, in a beautiful bit of cinematic poetry, segues into a smiling Nate, enabling David to thwart his mental illness and commit to saving the Fisher family trade.

Family business and family bonds both survive, even if the nuclear Fisher clan is replaced by an extended interracial gay one, the kids' and Brenda's inclusion in it two very different types of adoption.

Even Rico and wife Vanessa, scions of their own family dynasty, will happily attend Keith and David's wedding.

Though at times weepily over the top, "Six Feet Under" concluded with class, voluminous surprise and a tempered hope. Most of the Fishers die in the company of loved ones. Only Claire, the sweet, vulnerable, hot-tempered outsider, dies alone, surrounded by photographs -- her art, her life mission and, as she draws that final breath, her everlasting memories.

I would add that I haven't seen a finale this perfect since M*A*S*H. This was brilliant television.


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