When the Writers Guild of America put together a list of the best written TV series of all time, Six Feet Under was number 18, and the third HBO series on the list, behind only The Sopranos and The Wire. Writers from the show hailed from the likes of The West Wing and Seinfeld, and went on to participate in equally brilliant storytelling, on shows like The Affair, Transparent and Girls.
Most episodes of the series (all of which we ranked earlier this year) managed to pull off a perfect balance between being brutally dark, hilariously funny and emotionally captivating. From the opening death of Nathaniel Fisher Sr., to the phenomenal montage that closed out the series, Six Feet Underconsistently solidified itself as one of the finest television series of all time. And incredible writing yields incredibly memorable lines and monologues. Here are our picks for the 100 best Six Feet Under quotes.
1. Death and Pot Roast, “Pilot” (Episode 1.01)
Ruth: “There’s been an accident. The new hearse is totaled. Your father is dead. Your father is dead, and my pot roast is ruined.”
It’s the accident that starts it all. When Ruth tells her son David that her husband and his father is dead, it’s done in a way that shows just how close pain is kept to the chest in the Fisher family. Rather than simply tell David that Nathaniel Sr. is dead, she surrounds it with less awful news, like how he destroyed their new car and how Christmas dinner has been thrown on the floor in a fit of rage. At the beginning of the series, the Fisher family handles loss and pain in a far more reserved and quiet manner than they will by the end of the show.
2. Lessons in Escapism, “Pilot” (Episode 1.01)
Nathaniel Sr.: “Well, well, the prodigal son returns. This is what you’ve been running away from your whole life, buddy boy. Scared the crap out of you when you were growing up, didn’t it? And you thought you’d escape. Well, guess what? Nobody escapes.”
When Nate left Los Angeles as a teenager, it was less about starting a new life and more about avoiding the family business, and not falling into the trap that he knew it would become. Before his father is even buried, Nate sees visions of Nathaniel Sr. reaffirming that his biggest fear is going to come true soon: he will follow in the steps of his father, no matter how hard he fights against it.
3. Justice For All, “Pilot” (Episode 1.01)
Old Man: “If there’s any justice in the universe, she’s shoveling shit in Hell.”
The first few episodes of Six Feet Under are filled with mourning. But in the pilot, as in many other episodes, there was plenty of humor to ease the pain. It’s the first Fisher family funeral that we see, and it’s clear that comedy and the burials will go hand in hand.
4. Gone Forever, “Pilot” (Episode 1.01)
Nate: “You can pump him full of chemicals. You can put makeup on him. You can prop him up for a nap in the slumber room; but the fact remains, David, that the only father we’re ever gonna have is gone! Forever. And that sucks, but it’s a goddamned part of life and you can’t really accept it without getting your hands dirty. Well, I do accept it, and I intend to honor the old bastard by letting the whole world see just how fucked up and shitty I feel that he’s dead! God damn it!”
While the rest of the Fisher family is accustomed to the process and presentation of death and funerals, it’s precisely this antiseptic treatment of death that frustrates Nate and often keeps him wary of the funeral business. At his father’s funeral, Nate can’t hide his disdain anymore and wants everyone to feel the pain he feels. For Nate, death and grieving isn’t routine, it’s an experience that should be lived in and not ignored.
5. On Forgiveness, “Pilot” (Episode 1.01)
Nate: “Everybody forgives everybody for everything.”
When Nate says this to his mother at his father’s viewing, it’s a way to calm her down—telling her that his father and God both forgive her for cheating on her husband. But in hindsight, it’s hard not to read this as something that Nate truly believes, especially since he lives his life doing whatever makes him happy, regardless of how he treats others. As the series goes on, he’ll hurt family, friends, lovers and complete strangers, almost as if he knows that no matters what he does, everyone will ultimately forgive him for everything.
6. The Wounded, “The Will” (Episode 1.02)
Brenda: “Well, we’re all wounded. We carry our wounds around with is through life, and eventually they kill us. Things happen that leave a mark in space, in time. In us.”
Brenda says this to Nate while she’s giving him a massage, only days after meeting him, but it’s like she already knows exactly who this person is. Brenda is all about the body, the now, the tangible; Nate is all about the mind, the unreachable, past, present and future. He holds grudges for too long, he won’t let issues go and he picks at the scabs of the past, never letting his wounds heal. Some of Nate’s biggest wounds come from the way he lets the world weight too heavy on his mind. It’s no wonder that Nate’s downfall will be a wound inside of his head.
7. Claire’s Angst, “The Foot” (Episode 1.03)
Claire: “I wish that just once people wouldn’t act like the cliches they are.”
Particularly in the early seasons, Claire feels like she’s suffering in a world that she’s trying to find her way through, and one where she’s trying to find people she can relate to. With her boyfriend Gabriel, we see the first person outside of the family that she lets into her life and we watch as he almost immediately betrays her trust. Throughout the series, Claire will find love with people who keep their true selves hidden (Russell, Billy, etc.). It makes sense that the person she does actually end up with is completely honest about who he is, for better or for worse.
8. What Cops Do, “The Foot” (Episode 1.03)
David: “I don’t understand kids! When I was her age, I never would’ve taken a foot!”
Keith: “David, I can help. I’m a cop. That’s what I do for a living.”
David: “You find feet?”
Despite the many problems they have in their relationship, Keith and David are really the only strong romantic relationship we have at the beginning of Six Feet Under. While David is afraid about coming out to his family, Keith is always there (even when they’re separated) to try and help him and his family in any way he can. True love to Keith, apparently means helping his boyfriend’s sister find the severed foot she stole.
9. Keith and David, “The Foot” (Episode 1.03)
Keith: “When someone sees you as you really are and wants to be with you, that’s powerful.”
Six Feet Under was a show concerned with whether or not one person can ever really know another. If a person you love dies today, how much can you really know about the person, now that they’re gone? When Keith tells Claire this, it’s because he knows he’s found that with David—a closeness with someone who loves you for you. Everyone else in the show struggles with who they are and who they want to be with, or trying to find that person who can complete them, but Keith seems to know that David always loves him for Keith, and not for being, you know, “big black sex cop.”
10. Emotional Undertakers, “Familia” (Episode 1.04)
Brenda: “No mistake, you guys are undertakers. You take every fucking feeling you have, put it in a box, and bury it.”
Having barely spent any time with the Fisher family, Brenda has already nailed down the biggest problem they have. By the end of the first season, the Fishers will become more open with each other, but it still takes the entire family so much cajoling to get them to even mourn the loss of Nathaniel Sr. Brenda won’t become a therapist for several seasons, but early on she acts as the faux therapist that the Fishers need, moving them towards a healthier place through Nate, and his return to the funeral home.