When talking about the greatest TV shows of all time, HBO’s Six Feet Under sometimes finds itself on the outside looking in. It aired between 2001 and 2005, so it was up against some tough competition on its own network; The Sopranos, Deadwood, and The Wire all aired at certain points during that period, so it’s understandable that Six Feet Under may be overlooked. Personally, I would include Six Feet Under in my Peak TV hall of fame, but that’s not the thrust of this article. While the show’s overall impact as a TV drama is debatable, there’s one thing that can’t be argued: the Six Feet Under series finale is one of the best, if not THE best finale ever made.
When writing about a more current HBO show, Westworld, I noted that sometimes uncertainty in what happens can be more effective than having all questions answered. Certain finales shine because of their ambiguity—Twin Peaks: The Return and The Sopranos come to mind—but the Six Feet Under series finale takes the opposite approach; it wraps up every loose end. And although this easily could have come off as cheesy and contrived, it ends up working perfectly.
Over the course of its five seasons, Six Feet Under tackled a number of themes, including infidelity, happiness, death (obviously), and family. These themes were in full force in the finale as well. While every other episode typically opened with a random death that would eventually find its way to the Fisher family funeral home, the series finale, “Everyone’s Waiting,” begins with a birth: Willa Fisher Chenowith, the child of Brenda and the recently deceased Nate Fisher. In the pilot episode of Six Feet Under, Nathaniel Fisher, Sr. is hit by a bus and killed, sending the Fisher family down the paths we witness over the course of the show. In a beautiful form of symmetry, the birth of Willa in the final episode signals a new beginning for the Fishers.
At the start of the finale, pretty much every character is struggling in a big way. David is having trouble at home with Keith and his sons. He is still dealing with the trauma of his kidnapping in Season 4 and Keith asks him to leave until he recovers. Claire is struggling to decide what to do with her life. She knows she still wants to be an artist, but she’s afraid that she’s not good enough. Brenda has lost her husband Nate, who had sex with his stepsister Maggie and then died after suffering a brain hemorrhage. Brenda is haunted by Nate following the premature birth of their daughter, with Nate’s ghost insisting something is wrong with the baby. Even with all of this going on, I wouldn’t say Brenda is the worst-off character at this point; that honor goes to Ruth, who finds herself in a debilitating bout of depression due to the death of her firstborn.
Despite the sadness oozing from the Fisher family, things gradually begin to turn around. Claire receives a message on her answering machine about a possible photo assistant opportunity in New York City. (It was humorously obvious while rewatching this episode that it was made before the era of cell phone proliferation, as Claire receives multiple answering machine messages and Brenda shows Ruth some printed photos of Willa as opposed to pulling out her phone.) Claire is eventually is offered the job and decides to move east to start a new chapter in her life.
After temporarily moving back home with his mother, David begins to repair his relationship with Keith but remains haunted by his demons. While facing the decision of whether to sell the Fisher funeral home to Rico, David has a dream in which he is finally able to stand up to his tormentor. He fights back against the sweatshirt-wearing hijacker who then morphs into David, signaling that the only thing holding David back is himself. David wakes with a newfound confidence and a determination to keep the funeral home.
Brenda also finds peace through a dream. Stirred by a noise, Brenda walks into Willa’s bedroom where she sees Nate and his father. Nate is holding their child, smiling, and says that he loves Willa and always will. Brenda can now trust that her daughter is safe and healthy.
Even Ruth begins to break out of her shell of depression, as she decides to forgo moving in with George (but not throw him out of her life completely). Ruth calls George’s daughter Maggie (who Nate slept with on the night of his brain hemorrhage) to ask her if Nate was happy, and she says that he was. That puts Ruth’s mind at ease, making the death of her son a sliver more bearable.
After five seasons of hardships and struggle, these characters all deserved a happy ending. And rather than feeling forced, these outcomes just feel…right.
As our time with the Fishers nears the end, we are treated to one last family meal in the funeral home—some weeks later, after David and Keith’s redecorating—as a going-away party for Claire before her move to New York. The scene encapsulates the essence of Six Feet Under, making us remember why we care so deeply for the Fishers. It’s capped off with David telling a story about growing up with Nate, who he looked up to so much, and seeing a literal spiderweb sprouting from Nate’s ’80s haircut. Everyone is laughing and then George leads a toast to Nate as the camera pans around the table to all of these flawed but lovable characters. It’s almost impossible to watch this scene with a dry eye.
In all honesty, Six Feet Under probably could have ended with this dinner scene and it still would have been an excellent finale. But it takes things to a whole other level with what happens next. As Claire gets in her car to drive from one end of the country to the other, a montage outlines the lives of all of the main characters from that moment until the time of each of their deaths.
A few years into the future, we see David teaching his son Durrell the basics of embalming.
We see Ruth enjoying her life.
We flash to a birthday party for Willa.
Cut to David and Keith getting married.
Next, we are taken to the deathbed of Ruth, with George, David, and Claire at her side. We see the iconic white screen with Ruth’s name and birth/death date—the same screen used at the beginning of each Six Feet Under episode. Ruth dies in 2025.
The most tragic death scene in this flash-forward montage belongs to Keith. He is murdered by robbers in 2029, while working as a security guard unloading an armored truck.
Claire marries Ted, the boyfriend she left behind when she moved to New York. David is at the wedding. We see both of his sons, grown and (presumably) married. Brenda is also at the wedding.
At some sort of party, David dies in 2044 after seeing a vision of Keith.
Rico dies five years later on a cruise ship.
All throughout these scenes, it cuts back to Claire driving east to start her new life.
Brenda dies in 2051 while talking to her brother Billy.
Finally, we flash forward one final time to a withered, blind Claire in bed. She dies in 2085, at 102 years old.
Even though I have seen this episode multiple times, the ending still gives me chills. I remember watching the Six Feet Under finale when it aired, after having only seen a few episodes of the show previously. I was so blown away that it made me watch the entire series. It’s a true testament to the quality of this finale that I was so moved by it despite hardly knowing these characters. After making my way through all five seasons, I bawled my eyes out when I got to the end. It was sad. It was uplifting. It was perfect.
If for some reason you are reading this article and haven’t watched Six Feet Under, do yourself a favor and give it a go, if for no other reason than to watch one of the best series finales ever made. If you have seen it previously, watch the finale again. It’s a thing of beauty.