Newsflash: people die every day. Many of us assume our deaths will be climatic, dramatic affairs that signify the end of a multilayered life. But most of the time, our untimely ends occur in the most plain or random of ways. Death doesn’t care about your dignity, your feelings, or your position in life. It just comes when it comes. Compared to most shows, Six Feet Under may have understood that the best. Throughout its five seasons, each episode opened with a death. Sometimes it was a crucial character, most of the time somebody whose corpse was sent to the Fisher funeral home, and other times it was somebody we’d never hear mentioned again. But the viewers were shown these grisly openers for a reason, whether to make a point or set a theme. A few were dark and violent, most were sad, and some, kind of hilarious.
Nathaniel Samuel Fisher (Season 1 Episode 1)
With Nathaniel Sr.’s death in the opening minutes of Six Feet Under, the show makes its point clear: death happens when you least expect it. The patriarch is driving the family business hearse on Christmas Eve, while he quibbles on the phone with Ruth about smoking. Nathaniel promises to stop, hangs up the phone, and while leaning over for just one last cigarette, a bus comes and ends his life. The death of Nathaniel Sr. leaves shockwaves throughout the season as his family struggles with unfinished business. Ruth never got to tell him she was unhappy and was having an affair. David never got to come out to him. Nate Jr., the black sheep, never got to make amends. And Claire loses a father figure during a formative time in her life. The pilot’s opener doubles down on the point that death never really comes at the right time.
Andrea Kuhn (Season 5 Episode 1)
We meet Andrea, who’s told by her therapist that she can’t go on keeping what’s on her mind bottled up. She’s terrified of the reaction she’ll get from her sister, father, husband, and friend if she tells them how they really make her feel. “Would it be so bad if somebody screamed, or cried?,” her therapist asks. “Yes,” Andrea replies, but she tries it anyway.
She first opens up to her sister by letting her know how belittled she feels, and gets a wonderful, apologetic reaction. Next, her friend, who does the same. Then her father, who breaks down in tears and finally opens up to his daughter. Hey, being honest is great! Finally is Andrea’s husband, who reacts in the way Andrea feared most. He cries, he whines, he stomps around the living room and hurls accusations, incredulous that his wife could feel negatively about him. He pushes her and she’s accidentally impaled onto a fireplace, the consequence for finally being honest.
Andrea’s death starts the final season of Six Feet Under, a season filled with many of the central characters who are in desperate need of airing out some truths and saying how they really feel. Most of the time, it can feel great, like how Andrea finally got the connection she craved with her sister and father. But sometimes, the truth hurts.
Dorothy Sheedy (Season 4 Episode 2)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A pair of doofuses fill a bunch of inflatable sex dolls with helium for a porn awards show. During the delivery, a sudden brake causes the erotic balloons to break free and start flying away into the Los Angeles sun. Cut to devout Christian Dorothy, listening to her religious radio show while driving her car with an “I BRAKE FOR THE RAPTURE” bumper sticker. She sees the flying dolls, thinks it’s her time to get beamed up to heaven, excitedly runs out into the busy street and…you know the rest.
It’s not so much the absurdity of Dorothy’s death that marks the episodes theme, but how her husband reacts while planning her funeral at the Fishers’. “It was her time, that’s all,” he says pleasantly, an oasis of calm. Nate, who just lost his wife to unexplained reasons, can’t relate. Nate can’t stop feeling horrible grief over Lisa’s passing, so what’s this guy’s secret to turning that off? Dorothy later appears to Nate in strangely erotic dreams, but her lasting impact is her slapstick death.
Jonathan Arthur Hanley (Season 1 Episode 10)
We open with Jonathan, who’s prattling on and on about funny work stories while his wife silently cooks him breakfast. Jonathan seems pretty amused with the way he’s telling his story, and seems to not pay any mind to his wife who may or may not be losing her mind. He drones on with his tale, the wife finishes cooking, cracks her husband’s head open with a frying pan, and calmly eats her food.
The Fishers gossip about the murder, wondering what could’ve driven someone to kill their own husband out of nowhere. “All she told the police was that he was boring,” David says. “The sick part is, I understand it,” Nate replies.
Isn’t that every lover’s worst nightmare, a relationship becoming so stale and empty that you resort to violence? The Fishers navigate the episode desperate to keep their relationships intact or anew. Claire loves being needed by her troubled boyfriend Gabe, David just wants Keith back, and Ruth is torn between her job and flirty boss. Jonathan’s death seems more of a foreboding omen for Nate and Brenda though, whose relationship gets heavily tested later on.
Anahid Hovanessian (Season 3 Episode 10)
We’re first introduced to a father and his young daughter who nursed a pigeon back to life. “By rescuing her, we are doing a good deed!”, the father proudly says.
The pigeon flies off, and promptly poops on an actor who’s practicing lines. He uses a convenience store bathroom to clean up, and then clogs up the toilet. The store owner complains over the phone to his wife, Anahid, while he cleans. The reception isn’t great, and Anahid, who’s cooking at home, steps outside to get better reception, only to get crushed by a random falling piece of airplane toilet ice. So much for the good deed pigeon.
So what’s the moral of the story? Death comes out of nowhere, and it doesn’t give a sh*t about coincidences.
Six Feet Under has a wide variety of impactful deaths. What are some that impacted you?