Once again, we're tackling another show in TV Blend's weekly series "___'s Best Episode." Each week a different writer will pick out a different episode of a TV show and argue why it is definitively, absolutely the best thing the show ever did. Arguments will be started, tears may be shed, but we're here to start some conversations and make some arguments for really, really good TV. This week Jessica takes on Six Feet Under by making a case for the series’ finale “Everyone’s Waiting.” Read below, argue with us in the comments.
HBO’s Six Feet Under followed the lives of the Fisher family from 2001-2005. In that time, the Fishers became a great TV family: a family that audiences could invest in, could practically dwell within its greatest ups and sinking downs, its births and deaths, its most distorted mentalities and its freest moments. Unlike most great television families, however, the Fishers did not prescribe to a reality that is wholly genuine - they saw the ghosts of loved ones and extrapolated out relationships in dreamscapes.
On a more realistic plane, they were still unlike any other TV family, coping to deal with a life spent within the clutches of a funeral parlor, abusing their bodies and ruining relationships through guilt and selfishness. Sometimes they were happy, but that happiness was often fleeting, destroyed by some whim or incident that was likely within each character’s control. The Fishers will always and forever be the most interesting melodramatic family rooted in the life of a funeral home, but there would be no satisfaction to that had the series finale not ended in exactly the way it did.
Six Feet Under’s finale is an episode that, for the first time ever, begins with a birth. “Everyone’s Waiting,” capably ties up all of its loose ends before ending in a scene that encapsulates how important themes of death and dying truly are to the show. We see Brenda, grappling with the death of her husband, Nate, all while watching over her timid newborn daughter, who struggles with her health through the finale. We see Claire, her mother, Ruth, and small-minded Rico moving their lives away from the funeral home. We see David and Keith repair their relationship and rework their lives. Throughout these moments, “Everyone’s Waiting” works in most of the series’ more important characters without making any of those moments ever seem staged.
Emotions are tenuous, and any staging would have made the Six Feet Under finale seem completely false. It isn’t just the story arc that is so careful, but also the move from a show whose mainframe was always twisted and awry to an ending that seems far more settled and peaceful. Leaving the Fisher family, not happy necessarily, but uplifted at the end of “Everyone’s Waiting,” is something that would never have worked at any point earlier in the series, but seems like a breath of fresh air in its final moments. We can stop worrying about the characters because we know they are finally in control.
This optimism does not completely settle in until the morning Claire wakes up to leave for New York. Here, the camera focuses on an important little moment with the Fisher family where they state their goodbyes just before Claire drives off. For one perfect span of time, Claire is stretched in two directions, alienated by her choice to move and for once comforted by all of the people she had grown up preparing to leave behind. Claire, a photographer, pulls out her camera, hoping to stretch the moment for a while longer, when Nate appears out of thin air to observe, “You can't take a picture of this, it's already gone.”
Nate is not wrong; the picture Claire takes is one of a bleary-eyed family standing together in the early morning sunlight, not that of a reconciled family willing to put everything they have into one simple, perfect goodbye. The scene demonstrates how difficult it is to achieve those moments of harmony but also how bad for a person it is to dwell in them. Eventually, we all have to move forward.
So Claire leaves, popping in boyfriend Ted’s sappy mixtape, unleashing Sia’s “Breathe Me” as she drives away. Letting Claire escape would have been a fitting enough way to end her storyline, but it isn’t particularly fair to the other characters and so producers did something very brazen: they tossed their characters in gobs of makeup and ended their lives, one at a time. It’s impossible to state exactly how strange and affecting it is to see Claire driving, moving into new and unexplored spaces, while the Fishers and their friends play out the rest of their lives.
If you haven’t grown with the Fishers, if you haven’t been privy to every inch of pain and every ounce of hope, if you haven’t prescribed to the emotional impact every episode of Six Feet Under has the capacity to imprint upon the viewer, than the scope of the series’ final scene may be a little too much to invest in. Yet, for a series defined by this emotional impact, that begins in death and ends in death, that never stops taking a chance on its characters and stands by them until the end, “Everyone’s Waiting” is the most grown-up episode of Six Feet Under and the most fulfilling, despite being the most divergent episode in the series.