I was a late bloomer. A couple of months ago, I started and binged the HBO TV series Six Feet Under. It was created and produced by Alan Ball who was inspired to write the show after the loss of his sister.
Six Feet Under centers on the Fisher family and their privately owned and operated funeral home, Fisher and Sons.
The pilot episode opens with an ad for a hearse. Unusual, to me as I’ve never seen a commercial for any funeral product aside from the The Cremation Society of MN, but I suppose people in the industry are wondering what’s out there.
It camera then moves to Nathanial Fisher Sr. He’s in his brand new hearse, singing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and smoking a cigarette. His wife, Ruth, calls to ask him if he’s taken his blood pressure medication, run the errands for Christmas Eve dinner etc. and IS HE SMOKING in the new hearse?!?!
“We never should’ve bought that hearse” says their son David, who is sitting in the background at the kitchen table.
Nathanial tosses the smoke out the window and tells Ruth he’s quitting right now.
They hang up, Nathanial is momentarily distracted and is hit and killed by a bus.
Bing Crosby continues the song and my heart jumps into my throat and sits there. My grandma passed away unexpectedly on Christmas Eve and just thinking about all the lives that are about to be shattered… has me choked up. I’m not five minutes into this show and already I want to cry. This is my kind of show!
Next we see a two young, attractive people exiting an airplane (one is Nate Jr.) and spilling out into the airport with the rest of the passengers of their flight. The two prepare to part ways, as they’ve just met but take an (unexpected?) detour into a supply closet and get freaky. It’s a cool camera shot that focuses on the pair but also their reflection in a mirror that hangs and the images is cloudy/dirty/doesn’t reflect the exact image of what is happening. It adds mystery or at least a second thought.
Back at the house/funeral home, Ruth is making dinner when the phone rings. She answers, pauses and responds “yes, this is his WIFE…” She gets the news about her husband’s death and throws the phone as if it is poison. She hyperventilates and screams. She pulls out all the kitchen drawers and pushes everything off the countertops. Their house is their living space and also contains the funeral home. Unfortunately, there is a memorial service going on during Ruth’s hysterics. David, who has been overseeing the service, rushes upstairs to see what the commotion is about. He finds his mom on the floor in the corner.
“There’s been an accident. The new hearse is totaled. Your father is dead. My pot roast is ruined.”
I admire the way she started out with the less shocking things, mentioned the death and then finished up with the pot roast. I think that’s probably how my brain would’ve handled it too. Don’t leave the worst news just hanging out there…
David has a shocked look on his face but it seems set in stone. Frozen in a way.
Back at the airport, in the afterglow of a supply room romp, Nate gets the call from David that their father is dead.
Finally, we meet Claire. The youngest Fisher. She drives the old hearse and is considered somewhat of a freak because of her car and the fact that she lives in a funeral home. Like she has a choice. Kids are cruel. Anyway… she’s on her way to a party and tries crystal meth for the first time. Of course, right after she exhales, David calls Claire.
“I have to go” she states to the group.
“You’re coming back though, right?” someone asks
“Uh, I don’t think so. See my dad was just hit by a bus. It broke his neck and he’s dead. And now I’m high on CRACK.” She starts to giggle, as do her friends.
Given the circumstances, Brenda (girl from the airport) drives Nate to the hospital to be with his family as she’s in no hurry to get home to her own dysfunctional family.
Nate tells Brenda how his old man really “rode his ass” when he was in high school. He was so careful. How could a man so cautious, die in an ACCIDENT? I remember thinking something along these lines when my grandma died. Her heart gave out. She was one of the kindest, gentlest people I knew and it could not have been a defect of her heart that took her from us… like there is any logic to death, loss, tragedy.
David remains at home, tending to the mourners while his adrenaline is pumping through him and he envisions himself screaming at the top of his lungs. He also creates an internal monologue of the things people will think of him and his life now that he’s fatherless.
Nate meets Claire and Ruth at the hospital. Ruth tells Nate she can’t go in and see her husband like that. Dead bodies are work and she refuses to see him. Nate has to identify the body.
In the morgue, the attendant pulls back the sheet and Nate sees his fathers body. A voice catches his attention and he looks toward the medical staff. He has transformed into his father who, despite having left home as soon as he could, running away from the business and from death, welcomes home his prodigal son.
Back in the waiting room, Ruth asks Nate how his dad looked.
“Will he need a lot of work? Restoration? You don’t think we’ll have to have a closed casket do you? I’d hate to send that kind of message, that we aren’t equipped to handle difficult cases…”
Nate looks at her, bewildered. Unaware of the business side of death.
David is waiting for them and is confused as to why they didn’t bring dad home with them. He is focused on work. He leaves to pick up the body.
Claire, likely still high, is staring at a tv with cartoons playing and picking split ends out of her hair. Ruth enters with a sandwich and chips. Claire tells her she’s “so not hungry”.
“You have to eat, Claire. WE didn’t die!”
I love the opposite ends of the spectrum here. Claire is so detached, mentally, emotionally and Ruth is so on edge. I can feel her pain and her anger. She’s trying to feed her child. The fact that Claire doesn’t want to eat, destroys her ability to help and she feels powerless.
The camera starts down a staircase and we can see tubing that is draining blood and replacing it with embalming fluid. The frosted glass on the closed door says Private and a young Nate enters. He’s confused by what’s going on and terrified, he runs back out.
Now in the present, Nate is looking at his father who is being embalmed by a long time employee, Rico. Nathanial is the reason Rico wanted to work in restoration, Nathanial made Rico’s dad look like he did while he was alive.
Rico greets Nate exuberantly, before realizing it’s his dad that he’s working on.
I know this sounds like a dark show, at times it is and yet… it is so fucking funny.
Nate and Rico are shooting the shit until David appears and reprimands them for using foul language. His phone rings and he steps into the hall, closing the door behind him. On the phone is his boyfriend, Keith. David cancels plans with Keith and is unable to take in any consoling words.
All under the same roof again (Nate lives in Seattle) tensions are high. Nate pokes his head into Claire’s room and asks how mom is.
“She’s on top of the world!” She says sarcastically.
Nate goes down into the kitchen and sees a grocery list stuck to the fridge. He and Claire go to the store where Claire finally breaks down and cries. She collapses into Nate.
David is putting on the finishing touches to his dad and hears Nathanial’s voice:
“Oh no. Not you. You’re the worst one we’ve got” he complains.
David argues back that if it were for the fact that he wanted to please his father so much, he might have become a lawyer instead of wasting his life here.
I appreciate the these scenes where the character projects their thoughts, feelings and fears onto the spirit that is visiting. It makes it more real.
The service has started and as funerals have a way of doing, Nate and Claire are reflecting on their lives and what they’ve accomplished.
David panics when he sees Keith at the service.
Ruth asks David to escort her to the casket so she can say goodbye. When she sees Nathanial, she begins to cry and David ushers her into a private room. Nate is incredulous. Just because she’s showing emotion they have to hide her away?
Nate follows his mom and brother into the curtained off area where Ruth confesses to her sons that she had an affair and now Nathanial knows all about it. David tries to stop the confession while Nate thinks it’s healthier to express her emotions.
“Fuck propriety” Nate says
“WE DON’T USE THAT WORD” Ruth screams.
Now at the cemetery for the burial, we see Nathanial sitting on top of a hearse in shorts, a Hawaiian shirt and fishing hat watching his own service.
Someone presses a button and the coffin slowly starts to lower. The host of the ceremony shakes some salt on the casket and passes it to David. David shakes the salt and passes it to Claire who does the same and passes it to Ruth. Ruth shakes out the salt and Nate refuses to take it. He goes to the freshly turned soil and gets his hands dirty. He doesn’t want any part in the sanitation of death. “The only father we’ve ever had is gone and I intend to honor the old bastard by showing everyone how shitty I feel!” He tosses his handful of dirt onto the casket. The pastor says “Amen”.
Ruth also digs into the dirt, David tries to intervene and Nate keeps him at bay. He also offers Ruth support with one hand on her back so she also has space and knows he’s there for her.
After the service, Nate and David fight about Nate trying to save the day when he’s been gone all this time… he should just go back to Seattle.
As if David isn’t having a bad enough day, he is approached by another company that wants to buy out Fisher and Sons.
Brenda shows up at the funeral and she and Nate talk.
David shows up at Keith’s to drown his sorrow in sex.
There is a flashback of the boys as young children, running through the spray of the garden hose that dad is holding while mom watches from the cement stairs.
Later, in the kitchen, Ruth asks Nate if he can stay for a few extra days. He agrees and then goes for a run.
Out of breath, he sees his dad sitting on a bench, waiting for a bus.
The song Waiting by The Devlins plays and Nate watches his father board the bus. As he sits, he sees Nate, smiles and waves until out of sight.
Nate, still on the sidewalk, notices all of the people. The strangers. Every one of them will die. No one will get out of life alive. The camera pans back and we see a “No Loitering” sign behind Nate.
The episode ends.
I am hooked.