Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

Both Sides Now

Note: In this entry, I talk about life, death, and the conclusion of Six Feet Under. Don’t read it if you don’t want to know the ending of one or more.

I’ve loved other TV shows. I was sad to see Buffy go. I misted up at the end of Northern Exposure. But the series finale of Six Feet Under had me leaking like my kitchen sink for 75 minutes.

Here’s the thing about Six Feet Under: You can’t think about it without thinking about your own life. I think that’s the mark of truly exceptional art.

I didn’t grow up like the Fishers, but I did grow up with an unusual awareness of death. That happens when most everyone with your last name was killed in a war. My dad went on to become a clinical psychologist, and when I was young, he worked with kids who were dying of leukemia. My step-mom worked in hospice for many years. Our breakfast table conversations often mentioned what a blessing Morphine could be.

My grandmother still says to me every time I call: “Enjoy life when you’re young.” The second part, the one she thinks but does not say, is: “Because then you get old and die.”

Everybody dies. It’s the one thing you can be absolutely sure of.

Photo by Derek Powazek, ephemera.orgAnd Six Feet Under, for all its maudlin failings, was absolutely consistent in its treatment of that one, true fact. At times, it was difficult to watch. I used to call it “television for the emotionally masochistic.” At its worst, the show threw the audience from one implausible tragedy to the next. At its best, it was one of the most honest portrayals of life and death I’ve ever seen. And boy did it go out with a bang.

After five years, with all the plot points wrapped up, the last few surprises unfolded, the show went out proving, once and for all, that no one gets out of here alive. Each of the main characters’ deaths are shown, fading into that trademark white gravestone, their end dates set in the future. One by one we see them leave this earth, fulfilling the show’s dark promise. Everybody dies.

And then we zoom back to Claire, the show’s beacon of hope, speeding through the desert, leaving LA, on her way to something new. (Just like I did in 1991, except I was in a VW Bug and only going as far as Santa Cruz. But still.) The message was, just like Grandma says, enjoy it while you’ve got it.

It’s so perfect an ending, I bet they planned it all along.

I might have mourned the passing of other shows. But for a show that was all about death, the ending of Six Feet Under made me want to turn off the TV and go enjoy my life.

Thanks, Alan Ball and company. You made the best show I never want to see again.

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Hi, I’m Derek. I used to make websites. Now I grow flowers and know things. I’m mostly harmless. More.