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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
David: “One day when your mind isn’t on Fisher & Sons, I will find you or someone you love. I’m not saying anyone’s going to die. There are tragedies far worse things than death: things you couldn’t even dream of, you spineless, candy-ass, corporate fuck. Just give me a reason. Are we worth the trouble, Mr. Gilardi? Lunch is over, get lost.”
Kroener funeral services would try (and fail) to purchase Fisher & Sons through Matt Gilardi for a significant part of the first few seasons, before this idea is dropped unceremoniously. “Familia” presents a more aggressive David then we have seen so far, as he tries to protect his family business, but also tries to not be such a doormat all the time. Already we can see the effect that Nate’s return is having on David.
Keith: “I know where you are. I was there. And I’ll wait for you because I love you. But I’m not moving backwards for anybody.”
Even though Keith has just started to integrate into the Fisher family, he’s already more open with them about his sexuality than David ever has been. At the beginning of the series, we see David afraid to be who he is and allowing people to walk all over him. Throughout the first season, he is tested about his beliefs and feelings, but the first time that Keith and David are insulted about their relationship, David backs down while Keith stands up for himself. The two aren’t at the same position in their lives quite yet, but they’ll get there eventually and be stronger for it.
Brenda: “Sometimes I wake up so fucking empty that I wish I’d never been born, but what choice do I have?”
Everyone in the Fisher family hides their true feelings deep down, so as to not cause a ruckus in the lives of those around them. What makes Brenda such a breath of fresh air in these first few seasons is how she’s a complete 180 from everything we see with the Fishers. It’s obvious that Nate, Claire, David and Ruth have all felt the way Brenda feels—and will often feel this way—but they never let it show. As we learn more about Brenda, we can see the pain and emptiness that she’s lived with for years, and eventually we also see the self-destructive ways she goes about filling that emptiness within her.
Nathaniel Sr.: “That’s one of the perks of being dead: you know what happens after you die—and you know the meaning of life.”
Nate: “That seems fairly useless.”
Nathaniel Sr.: “Yeah, I know. Life is wasted on the living.”
Whenever we see Nathaniel Sr. talking to a member of the Fisher family, it’s clear that we’re actually watching the person he’s talking to as they work out their biggest fears. For Nate, it’s the futility of wanting something that he will never have. In this scene, Nathaniel Sr. brags about having knowledge of the purpose of everything on earth—something that Nate clearly wishes he had. Nate will always try to grasp onto those impossible things, and when he thinks he has what he wants, his self-destructive tendencies will often cause him to lose it once again.
Ruth: “I’m surrounded by relics of a life that no longer exists.”
Throughout the series, Ruth will find items in her kitchen that remind her of a point in life when she was more hopeful, like a toy of Maya’s, or David’s little yellow cereal bowl that she still tries to get him to use. When Ruth finds an old bottle of Claire’s baby food, she realizes just how much of her life is in the past, and that she must work on making a future for herself. The death of her husband may still weigh heavily on her, but for Ruth it can also mark a completely new beginning.
Father Jack: “The hardest part about my work is the fact that most people don’t want a real relationship with God. Yeah sure, they’ll pray to a man nailed to a cross, but they’ll ignore the gay kid who gets strung up, or the black man who gets dragged behind a car, or someone’s mother living in a box.”
Six Feet Under never shied away from dealing with religious beliefs, but it also wanted to point out the hypocrisies therein. For David especially, the gap between who he is and what he believed in would often be a huge problem for him. David wanted to shake up his church—and so did Father Jack—but for much of the congregation, believing was far easier than taking action on those beliefs.
Father Jack: “Well, religion is politics David. Jesus was a revolutionary, who threatened those in power, and they had him assassinated. And they’d do the same thing to him today.”
While David’s religious beliefs would become less of a focus as Six Feet Under progressed, it remained a part of David’s character. Even after being a member of two different churches, including one that was much more open to his sexuality, David realized that what you believe is far more important than where you believe.
Brenda: “You know what I find interesting? If you lose a spouse, you’re called a widow or widower. If you’re a child and you lose your parents, then you’re an orphan. But what’s the word to describe a parent who loses a child? I guess that’s just too fucking awful to even have a name.”
While Six Feet Under would often find the humorous side to death, “Life’s Too Short” dealt with the accidental suicide of Gabe’s young brother and gave us one of the most difficult deaths to start off an episode. Here, the loss shakes up everyone that hears about it—even Brenda—as they’re forced to deal with how unbelievably tragic life can be.
Ruth (to Nathaniel Sr.): “We were such children when we met. Then we watched those children disappear.”
With her husband dead and single for the first time since she was a teenager, much of Six Feet Under shows Ruth figuring out who she truly is outside of a committed relationship. For most of her life, she’s been a mother, a caretaker and a wife, but now that no one needs her, she finally has the opportunity to discover herself. When Ruth accidentally takes some ecstasy while camping, she comes to this realization that she hasn’t had a life outside of Nathaniel Sr. for decades, and it’s hard to move past that.
Ruth: “I miss what we had.”
Nathaniel Sr.: “So find it again.”
On this drug-fueled trek through the woods, Ruth also sees Nathaniel Sr. and gets the go-ahead that she needs from her dead husband/her own subconscious to move on. Even before Nathaniel Sr. died, it was clear that he and Ruth weren’t as in love with each other as they once had been. Ruth realizes she has the opportunity to try and find that love she once had, with someone else.
Claire: “Oh god, can’t I just get upset without having to focus on what’s really making me upset?”
For much of the first season, the underlying pain of the loss of Nathaniel Sr. still resonates deeply within everyone in the Fisher family. A lot of bad stuff happens to Claire, between the foot stealing, her first love and getting close to Billy. But no low can compare to losing the only father she’ll ever have, especially since she regrets not knowing him as well as she could have.
Angela: “I never worked in a funeral home that was this depressing.”
Plenty of non-Fisher family members come through the doors of Fisher & Sons, but the first one with an extended stay is Angela, a temporary restorative artist who replaces Rico when he leaves for a short period of time in the first season. While the Fisher family bottles everything up, Angela allows herself to be completely open, despite how much the Fisher family clearly doesn’t like it. It’s not until she breaks one of Ruth’s glasses and tries to hide it, that the Fishers finally unite to get her out of their home.
David: “All she told the police is that he was boring.”
Nate: “What, that’s it? …Sick part is, I understand it. Sometimes I’m boring.”
David: “Me too.”
When a man is killed by his wife because of his incessant, bland talking, David and Nate totally get where the wife is coming from. It’s hard to believe that either David or Nate could be boring enough to warrant Keith or Brenda killing them, and thankfully it never gets to that point, but it’s hilarious to hear how they empathize with the murderer here.
Claire: “Everyone is too obsessed with what everyone else thinks about them to think about anyone else!”
After Gabe OD’s following the death of his little brother, Claire tries her best to get him better and to try to give him some sense of normalcy. Upon returning back to school, Gabe worries about how people will react to him, now that they know about his recent hospital visit. As Claire gets ready to leave high school, it becomes obvious that she already has a mindset far beyond her fellow classmates’.
Tracy: “Why do people have to die?”
Nate: “To Make life important. None of us know how long we’ve got, which is why we have to make each day matter.”
In the first season of Six Feet Under, the Fishers show that they have a complicated and frustrated relationship to death. When David’s borderline-stalker Tracy’s aunt dies, Fisher & Sons attempt to give Tracy the funeral she desires, which isn’t an easy task. But while the Fishers have had trouble trying to figure out why Nathaniel Sr. had to die, Nate seems to find an easy answer when talking to Tracy, almost as if the entire season has led up to Nate figuring out the significance of death and, therefore, the importance of living.
Nate: “All that lives, lives forever. Only the shell, the perishable passes away. The spirit is without end. Eternal. Deathless.”
It’s not a Fisher family dinner if at least one person at the table isn’t unbelievably high. While coming off ecstasy (also taken accidentally), Nate has a vision of him and his father watching life and death have sex. The scene is understandably weird, but what Nate most remembers is the above quote. Of course, Brenda has to explain to him that this profound statement he thinks he has come up with is actually from the “Bhagavad Gita.”
Claire: “You know, it’s polite for the first person downstairs to make the coffee, even if that person has a penis!”
Nate: “Well you know, it’s also polite for the first person who uses the bathroom to spend less than 45 minutes in there, even if that person has a vulva.”
Ruth: “Oh goodness, everyone’s here.”
David: “With all their genitalia”
Despite the fact that Ruth’s children are all now adults at this point, when they interact with each other in the same household, they tend to fall into their fairly childish patter. Even though they might act immature, as they do in this scene, it also showcases how hilarious the various dynamics (and the writing) on Six Feet Under can be.
Ruth: “You want me to complain? Alright then, fuck this. Fuck you. Fuck all of you and your sniveling self pity, and fuck all your lousy parents. Fuck my lousy parents while we’re at it. Fuck my selfish, bohemian sister and her fucking bliss. Fuck my legless grandmother. Fuck my dead husband and my lousy children with their nasty little secrets. And fuck you Robby, for dragging me to this terrible place and not letting me have a Snickers bar. I’m going to get something to eat!”
When Ruth goes to The Plan seminar to help “rebuild her house,” she finally lets all the stress out in a flurry of anger at a room full of complete strangers. While this scene of dialogue might just seem like a funny way to explain the deep-seeded rage that Ruth has, we can also see what weighs heaviest on her mind. Ruth doesn’t start out getting upset about her kids and her dead husband, she starts by railing against her long-dead parents, her grandmother that she had to watch over and her sister that left her, so she could follow her own “bliss.” For Ruth, her current situation isn’t all that is bothering her, it’s also the long-standing issues she has with her past and how these have stunted her present.
Brenda: “I’ve been prepared to die tomorrow since I was six years old.”
Brenda: “Yeah pretty much.”
Nate: Well, why since you were six?”
Brenda: “Because I read a report of the effect nuclear war would have on the world and it was pretty clear to me at that point that this was definitely going to happen.”
Nate: “When you were six?”
Brenda: “And I wake up every day pretty much surprised that, um…everything is still here.”
Nate: “Well I don’t understand how you can live like that.”
Brenda: “Well I thought we all did.”
The second season of Six Feet Under is especially difficult for Brenda, as she is struggling with problems surrounding sex, drugs and maybe most importantly, loving someone other than herself. The self-destructive patterns are what Brenda has often fallen back on, even as far back as a young child. While the Fishers grew up in a house of faith, Brenda did not and we see that when Brenda explains how her viewpoint on life has been negative for as long as she can remember. She has never known anything other than waiting for death, something that Nate can still relate to, even though he can’t understand the hopelessness in the way Brenda sees the world.
Nate: “Yeah, I’ll have a double dub – uh – uh – a – a Chubby – a double Chubby – a Chubby Chubby – a double double – a double chubby – a chubby chubby – a chub – I’ll have a doub – I’ll have a double Chubby cheeseburger. Oh, fuck me!”
After Nate learns that he has AVM, a brain condition that will eventually lead to his death, he keeps it to himself rather than cause everyone worry about him. On a road trip to his old stomping grounds in Seattle, Nate’s AVM causes him to stutter and throw up when ordering a burger. Not only does this scene force Nate to come clean to Claire about his brain condition, but it also shows how Six Feet Under often came out of nowhere to surprise us with moments that were simply unpredictable.
Margaret: “For your information, Miss High-and-Mighty, this is life. People have crises. They push each other’s buttons. They inflict pain on one another. And once in a fucking blue moon, they bring out the best in each other. But mostly, they bring out the worst.”
Brenda might be right about her mother Margaret—that she’s a borderline insane person, even though she’s a therapist. Still, Margaret is almost always, surprisingly right. While Margaret is talking here about her husband cheating on her (even though they have an open marriage) she could also easily be talking about Nate and Brenda as well, who occasionally bring out the best in each other, but often bring out the worst.
Brenda: “You know, it’s just so sad that you can love somebody so much and have absolutely no idea what’s going on in their head.”
The second season of Six Feet Under largely deals with the relationship between Nate and Brenda, both how they believe their relationship is going and how it is actually going. Nate keeps secrets from Brenda, like his AVM and his cheating on her with Lisa, but Brenda holds just as many secrets, with her frequent infidelities.
Father Jack: “People might wonder what point there is in leading a life where you don’t touch any other lives. But it would be arrogant of us to assume that. Every life is a contribution, we just may not see how. I’m going to encounter Emily Previn, even if it is in death. Everyone comes into our life for a reason, and it is our responsibility to learn what they have to teach us.”
Much like Nate’s “All that lives, lives forever,” quote, Father Jack’s words at the funeral of the little-known Emily Previn reflect on the ways we all effect each other, even if those effects are not easily noticed. Six Feet Under often showed us how just barely being a part of someone’s life can completely alter your own, from Rico inheriting hundreds of thousands of dollars from a woman he occasionally helped out, to the many people who touch the Fishers, even after death.
Rabbi Ari: “Maybe your soulmate is the one who forces your soul to grow the most?”
When Nate asks Rabbi Ari about soulmates, it’s clear he’s not as interested in the answer as he is in getting into her pants. But the rabbi isn’t wrong, as we see this point proven over and over again throughout the series. Brenda helps Nate’s soul grow up to a certain point, then later it will be Maggie who helps him along the way. On Six Feet Under, a person will often quit being romantically interested in another person, when they quit challenging them or don’t seem to be helping them grow anymore.
Saleswoman: “Anything I can help you with?”
Brenda: “Yes, I’m looking for clothes so expensive only an idiot would buy them. Oh, there they are!”
During “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” it’s clear that Brenda just doesn’t give a shit anymore and is intent on wrecking the current state of her life. Before she engages in sexual acts right in the middle of a store, she becomes hostile with a saleswoman who wants to help her. In spite of all the emotional drama behind the outburst, it’s hard not to laugh. We’ve all been there.
Billy: “Happy’s a concept I try not to buy into. It gets me into trouble.”
Billy isn’t wrong; whenever he tries to be happy, it usually leads to him getting off his medication and frightening those around him. And when Billy says this, Brenda understands better than anyone. Billy has threatened her and her boyfriend, cut a tattoo in her honor out of his own back and will later even try to kiss her romantically. It’s not that Billy can’t be happy—he sort of can—but to be happy without being heavily medicated is a whole other story.
Nate: “I guess we’ve got a lot to be thankful for.”
Nathaniel Sr.: “Either that, or we’ve lowered our expectations so much we’ve given up on anything better than this.”
In “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” everyone remembers their final memories of Nathaniel Sr. on the anniversary of his death. One of Nate’s memories is of Thanksgiving and a strange moment of honesty in a family that is rarely honest. Almost every time we see Nathaniel Sr., it’s a fictionalized version of the man and how these people perceive he would react. But after this fantastic moment at the dinner table, it seems like Nate’s view of his father might just be the most accurate.
Claire: “Okay, if you were a gay mortician, what would you want for Christmas?”
Toby: “Um, a new life?”
Claire’s sorta, kinda fling Toby jokingly makes this comment about Claire’s Christmas present, but it’s surprisingly on point. David took up the mantle of continuing the family business, even though he didn’t really want to; he wants Keith as a husband, and he wants his own family—in other words, he wants a life that it doesn’t seem like he’ll ever have. Thankfully, David eventually grows into who he wants to be and in the process, creates that new life for himself.
Brenda: “All we have is this moment, right here, right now. The future is just a fucking concept that we use to avoid being alive today. So be here now.”
At this point in Six Feet Under, Nate and Brenda both have secrets that they fear will destroy the future of their relationship. They’ve both cheated on each other, and Nate is also hiding the fact that Lisa is pregnant with his baby. Brenda is trying to calm Nate’s constant AVM worries, but it’s also as if Brenda is trying to further convince herself that she shouldn’t ever worry about the future and should just enjoy herself, something she doesn’t seem to have any problem doing.
Billy: “That’s the thing about Narcissus, it’s not that he’s so fucking in love with himself, because he isn’t at all. He fucking hates himself. It’s that without that reflection looking back at him, he doesn’t exist.”
When Billy tells Claire this, he’s off his medication, getting scary again and allowing Claire to take his photo, which will lead her to discover her gift for photography. But Billy’s comments on Narcissus also point to a fear that many of the characters clearly suffer from: the fear of being forgotten. There’s a lot of self-loathing on Six Feet Under, but there’s also constant worry that the people around them won’t love them as much as they want to be loved. This is especially true for Billy, who has a hard time navigating his emotions and the emotions of the people he loves the most.
Gary: “Claire is the type of person who needs her life to be meaningful.”
Ruth: “Who doesn’t need their life to be meaningful?”
Everyone on Six Feet Under is trying so hard to find the meaning in their live, be it through love, work, or family. It’s a constant struggle that is always in flux. Gary, Claire’s guidance counselor, makes it seem like Claire is an anomaly, but Six Feet Under always posited that even in some small way, everyone’s life is meaningful and we’re all trying to find that meaning in ourselves as well.
Claire: “If we live our lives the right way, then every single thing we do becomes a work of art.”
Sure, Claire says this when she’s insanely high and while she’s creating the ugliest pair of pants known to man, but she makes a beautiful point about how we should all potentially try to live our lives. And crafting those terrible pants for her mother is still a wonderful act, one that makes Ruth unbelievably happy and leads her to proclaim that she’ll wear the pants nonstop. Sure, this might be the ravings of a high person, but it’s not necessarily a bad idea.
Ruth: “You’re not supposed to protect me. I’m supposed to protect you. That’s what a mother does. She tries. Most of the time she fails, but how are you ever going to feel loved if you don’t ever let me try?”
Nate: “I do. I do feel loved.”
Ruth: “There’s just so many months I could have loved you better.”
In one of the series’ most moving scenes, Nate becomes terrified about an upcoming surgery and falls back into the arms of his mother for comfort. Throughout “The Last Time,” Nate downplays his fear and his surgery, saying it’s a pretty basic surgery, not trying to get anyone all too worried about him. But when Nate tries to protect his own mother, the tables turn and Nate becomes the one who needs protecting, breaking down and crying at the end of this exchange. Despite every problem Nate and Ruth have with each other, they always come back to their original positions: the favorite son and the loving mother.
David: “Keith’s got a lot of anger issues he inherited from his father and I’ve got a lot of doormat issues I inherited from mom.”
At the beginning of Season Three, Keith and David are in couple’s counseling. Keith isn’t happy working security since he’s no longer a cop and David rests far too much of his own happiness on Keith’s happiness. Keith’s emotional state is bringing them both down, even though that isn’t what he intends when he “blows off some steam.” The above quote explains a lot about this relationship, as Keith tries hard not to be his father but occasionally falls into certain familiar patterns, while David tries so hard not to get walked all over, which only makes him more frustrated and worrisome over the little things that really don’t matter.
David: “You can’t ever really know a person. If you think you can, you’re living in a fucking dream world.”
One of the biggest problems in the relationship between Keith and David is miscommunication, or lack of communication altogether. While David wears his heart on his sleeve and is almost too open, Keith keeps more to himself, knowing he loves David, but often not communicating that as well as he should. Despite therapy, Keith and David continue to struggle with how well they do or do not know each other—they surprise each other until the very end.
Olivier: “In the beginning, if you hate something, it’s good, because you don’t recognize the beauty of your own truth.”
In the third season, Claire’s first art teacher to leave an impression on her, Olivier, starts off as a mentor, but ends up somewhat of an enemy by season’s end. But Olivier makes some valid points about art. Here, it’s almost as if he’s is explaining how Claire feels about her own art, since she started it almost as a hobby, then had to be convinced by Sarah and Billy that she had legitimate talent. As Olivier and many of the show’s artists will go on to show, there’s no bigger critic than yourself.
Olivier: “We despise ourselves so much that we consider our own point of view as trivial. But that’s bullshit! That’s your father talking!”
After showing off her art, Claire immediately becomes self-deprecating instead of confident. And if there’s one thing Olivier isn’t lacking in and knows how to give off, it’s confidence. Claire is often in her own shell, but he helps her find the strength to be sure of her work, for better or for worse. Much like Ruth, Claire is initially too afraid to be proud of herself and do what she wants to do, but as the series progresses, she will find that confidence.
Bettina: “I think if you’re afraid of something, it probably means you should do it.”
Bettina as a character is exactly what Ruth needs in her life. She’s a free-spirit like Sarah, motivated by what she wants to do rather than what she should do, but she’s also not a relative so it’s easier for Ruth to embrace her attitude. When Ruth is trying to find her place in life, it’s Bettina that shows her the door and tries to push her through it. Some of her happiest moments are with Bettina, a person who lives her life the way Ruth wants to.
Nate: “You can’t expect everything to be perfect all the time, and you can’t get shaken when it isn’t. If there’s a moment when it feels like you’re in prison, you just have to think of all those other moments when it feels safe. And remind yourself that those moments outweigh the prison moments.”
Brenda: “Being alone is the prison, just thinking about yourself, just trapped in this fucking vortex, always watching yourself. Which I suppose is okay if you’re interesting. The truth is: nobody is that interesting.”
When Nate and Brenda both discuss their current relationship statuses, it explains plenty about who they are, and points to that openness they have with each other (something that they share with few others). The fact that Nate sees his marriage with Lisa as some kind of prison proves that their marriage is an issue, but also that Nate’s whole concept of marriage might be too. But Brenda’s reaction to being alone is even more surprising—you would imagine she’d be completely fine by herself, especially since her life does seem pretty interesting. Considering Brenda and Nate can’t make either single or married life work for themselves, it’s no wonder neither of them seem happy in either situation.
Russell: “How can you grow as an artist if you don’t have the freedom to fail now and then?”
Surely Russell and Claire would’ve never worked out in the long run, but it’s the way that Olivier gets in between them—both in their relationship and in their work—that makes everything so much harder for them. After comparing their work in class, Olivier calls Russell’s work “white elephant art,” then worries about Olivier’s assessment for days after. Throughout Russell’s college art career, he is constantly failing, then building himself up for the sake of his art.
Russell: “I have this theory that every now and then a person should get what they want right when they want it. It keeps you optimistic.”
If there’s one thing the Fisher family definitely needed more of, it’s optimism. These characters are often stuck in a perpetual depression that only occasionally seems to get alleviated. When Russell sees that Claire wants an expensive paint, but denies herself the pleasure of purchasing it (very much like her mother does with lipstick), Russell buys the paint for her, simply to make her happy. It’s such a small, simple moment in “Timing & Space,” but it’s a sweet gesture that brings happiness to Claire, even if only for a moment.
Brenda: “I wouldn’t change anything. If you change one thing, that changes everything. And some things are the way they should be.”
When Lisa secretly gets a massage from Brenda to find out more about her, it actually cheers her up. Brenda doesn’t discover who she’s actually talking to, but when Lisa breaks down into tears, saying she’s basically happy, then asking why Brenda is so sad, she responds with the above quote. At this point, Brenda has made plenty of mistakes in her life, but it has made her the strong person that she is. Not only that, but this confidence she has even helps Lisa get through the rough patch she and Nate are having and maker her happier with Nate for the time being.
Brenda: “I can’t believe how much money I’ve spent fucking up my life.”
The relationship between Brenda and her brother Billy is complicated to say the least, but at this point in the series, the two have come to terms with each other and begin to bond once again after their father’s death. When Brenda says this to Billy, it’s hard not to relate to her frustration, from the failed attempts at college and the various career moves she’s taken on to no avail, sometimes it costs a lot to figure out where exactly you’re supposed to be.
Ruth: “Despite how we grew apart, your father was the great love of my life.”
Claire: “At least you had that. I’m beginning to think I never will.”
Ruth: “You will. Everyone does. But chances are it won’t be anything like you expect.”
One of the sweetest dynamics throughout Six Feet Under is the bond between Claire and Ruth. Both are so similar in their current outlooks—they’re both trying to find themselves at different ages, and they also fight more than maybe any of the other Fisher family members. In one of their most wonderful interactions, the two worry about love and the lack of it in their lives right now. Ruth tells Claire that love will come when she least expects it, and it’s true, since Claire won’t find love with the artists she thinks she will, but at an office with a guy she would’ve never in a million years expected to fall for.
Ruth: “I guess we all wanna be loved. It’s hard to say no to that, no matter who it’s coming from.”
Out of everyone on Six Feet Under, Ruth definitely has the weirdest love life once her husband dies. First we learn she was cheating on Nathaniel Sr. with Hiram, her hair dresser, then there’s her florist boss Nikolai, and at this point in the series, it’s her strangest relationship yet, with Fisher & Sons’ intern Arthur. As Ruth will later say, she doesn’t so much see men, as she sees scared little boys, so she has this desire to help them, often with her love.
Ruth: “Arthur, have you ever had sex?”
Arthur: “I think I have… in a sense.”
Arthur is by far one of the weirdest characters that Six Feet Under ever introduced. All we ever really know about him is that he has a strong relationship with his extended family and that he has some very strange habits… like a penchant for hankies and making his own electronic versions of classical music. It’s never quite clear what Arthur means in this statement – likely that he’s a virgin – but it’s also hinted that maybe he’s gay or maybe he’s asexual. Whatever the case, it’s probably better for everyone that he never ended up with Ruth.
Olivier: “You sit in such judgment of the world. How do you expect to ever be a part of it?”
After Russell came clean about sleeping with Olivier, it was only a matter of time before Claire confronted her teacher and the two had a huge throw down. This climactic moment comes when Olivier asks Claire to give herself a grade, one last final power move before the semester ends. Although Olivier and Claire attack each other with brutal insults, Olivier’s above statement is an important one for Claire to accept. Far too often, Claire keeps people at a distance, not allowing herself to be a part of the world because of it. As the rest of the series continues, Claire will make more of an effort to be less judgmental and become more a part of her surrounding, taking Olivier’s advice to heart even if it comes during a contentious moment.
Claire: “I’m just trying to prepare for the worst so when it actually happens, I don’t feel so awful.”
For Claire especially, it always seems like the worst possible scenario is exactly what happens. She smokes crystal meth, then her father dies. She finds a guy who likes her and lets him in, then he tells everyone she sucked his toes. She gives that same guy a second chance, then she finds out he’s OD’ed. Things don’t go well for Claire in general. When Lisa goes missing, everyone assumes, quicker than Nate does, that she is likely dead, but Claire especially tries to guard herself by expecting the worst.
Ruth: “I refuse to believe that anything is wrong. I have to trust my feelings. Right now they’re all I have.”
While Claire expects the worst, Ruth chooses to live her life in denial. Lisa is missing, but Ruth has already seen so much pain, so much disappointment and heartbreak, that she’d rather not have to prepare for more of it—even when it is almost certainly on the way.
Ruth: “When I’m with George, I feel like life is full of possibility. And I haven’t felt that way in so long I had forgotten what it feels like and I don’t ever want to forget that again.”
When Ruth says this about George, he’s just her new lover of only a few weeks, someone we first met in the last episode. With all the other men she has dated since Nathaniel Sr. died, she’s admitted to trying to save them or aiding them in their life, rather than being a full part of it. With George, she feels complete with a partner for the first time in years, likely because Nathaniel Sr. and George share some similarities.
Father Jack: “You should do whatever brings you deeper into the reality of your life. Not the life you think you have, but the life you’ve got.”
David and Keith’s relationship is consistently tumultuous, with David always slightly confused as to how Keith feels about him. When Father Jack gives David this piece of advice, David is scared about continuing his relationship with Keith, but it’s the “not the life you think you have, but the life you’ve got” that needs to resonate with David the most. Before this, David asks Keith if he’s going to hit him—which we know he would never do—but he thinks it’s actually a possibility. We all have multiple sides to us, David just has to learn to embrace the side of Keith that he knows exists, rather than the ones that he fears could be there.
Father Jack: “Truth and relationships don’t make life easy. They make it possible.”
So many of the relationships in Six Feet Under crumble under lies and deception. But David and Keith are different, and proof that too much honesty can be a problem too. Still, what Father Jack says is true, and although these two characters have to learn to keep some of the small things to themselves, trust is what helps hold them together.
Nate: “None of this turned out the way I wanted it to Lisa. You know that right? I wanted to love you, I did love you. I just feel like I had this once in a lifetime chance and I fucked it up!”
Lisa: “Nate, I’m not a chance. I’m a person.”
Nate seems to see the women in his life as ideas that he can engage in to help him with what he needs in his life. When David comes back home, he embraces Brenda as an escape. When Brenda started to frustrate him and his AVM diagnosis became overwhelming, he went back to Lisa. Even near the end of the series, when he needs a bigger purpose in life, he goes for the religious Maggie. When Nate sees Lisa long after she’s gone, he makes this proclamation that he wanted to make his chance with her work, which showcases his main problem in relationships: the women he loves are chances for him to get something right, not actual people.
Ruth: “Life doesn’t stop alright. We didn’t die. We have this precious gift of life and it’s so terribly fleeting, and that is precisely why it’s important to keep on living and not give up hope.”
When Lisa dies, Ruth is planning on getting married and refuses to change the date because of the tragedy that has just fallen on the Fisher family. Ruth in particular is always holding on to hope, even in the most dire of times. And, if anything, Lisa’s death is a call to action, a reminder of how short life is and how every day should be received as a blessing.
David: “I feel so free for a week. But then all of a sudden, within days I went from “Yay, I’m independent,” to “Holy fuck, I’m gonna die alone.”
At the end of Season Three, David and Keith break up. After sleeping with another guy, David fears the possibility that he won’t find anyone else better than Keith. Damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t, David’s indecisiveness over Keith is just another series of events of uncertainty that break this character down throughout the third season.
David: “So what if I just shut the door on Keith, like he’s dead to me. I’ll just end up replacing him with someone else, the same way that mom is replacing you with George. Is that all life is? We just go through it, replacing people?”
Nathaniel Sr.: “Pretty much. Some people just do it faster and more often than others.”
When talking to his father, David’s fears about letting go or holding on become very apparent. Should he kick Keith out of his life, and if he did, would he actually replace him with someone better? This fear goes back far deeper, as David was similarly afraid of getting stuck at the funeral home, instead of following his own dreams. And he consistently is afraid of losing the people in his life, scared that someone better might not come along, which could’ve also been why he took so long to call things off with his female fiancé. Nathaniel Sr.’s understanding of the way we replace people in life not only allows David the freedom to try and move on, but also gives him the ability to embrace his mother’s new husband George.
Barb: “Lisa didn’t believe in borders and that is why I know that wherever Lisa is right now, she’s everywhere! She’s everywhere and that means she’s home!”
Lisa’s mother Barb comes to the conclusion that now that Lisa is dead, her consciousness must be everywhere in the world at once. Hers is another quote reminiscent of Nate’s, ““All that lives, lives forever. Only the shell, the perishable passes away. The spirit is without end. Eternal. Deathless,” Six Feet Under focused on a multitude of theories on life after death, but this one seems to be the most prevalent. The body might die, but the spirit of that person and what they meant to the people in the world will live on forever.
Russell: “That’s where everything started. In those cave paintings, there was the creation of the idea of image, of the representation of ourselves.”
Russell’s comments on cave paintings speaks to the first time in history that we as a species started to see who we are and form an opinion of ourselves. This episode marks one of the first times when Claire looks at herself and decides to make a change. This version of Claire is more forward-thinking, one that wants to take hold of the world rather than let it take control of her. But in many ways, this episode shows how she’s still the same Claire, struggling with becoming someone new, despite seeing the flaws of her former self.
George: “Well it’s the one good thing about getting robbed, right? It’s a great excuse for getting a new gadget.”
David: “I hope it happens again so I can get a new Palm Pilot!”
David’s kidnapping and the horrific day that follows is one of the most terrible things to happen on Six Feet Under. We watch as one of our most beloved characters get tortured and fears being killed. As with the many deaths throughout the series, one of the best ways to deal with the grief is through humor.
Ruth: “I want to know why other wives left you!”
George: “Because they asked too many fucking questions!”
Learning more about a person you love can be exciting… but also completely terrifying. When Ruth and George get married only weeks after meeting, the uncertainties begin to pop up in Ruth’s mind and she just can’t shake them. George had six other wives before Ruth and the way he keeps to himself makes it difficult for her to break the wall that he’s built up. When Ruth and George have their first fight, George’s frustration over the questions Ruth asks is a shocking declaration, and one that points to just how huge of a mistake Ruth might have actually made in marrying George.
Keith: “There’s a lot more insanity in the world than people realize. Sometimes I’m surprised it’s just not total mayhem out there.”
Considering his time as a cop, Keith has surely seen a lot of craziness, but it probably never hits as close to home as it does when David is kidnapped and tortured. With David holding his emotions about the incident close to his chest, it’s like Keith is in close proximity to a powder keg getting ready to burst at any moment.
Sarah: “Maybe it’s true what they say, we all pick the same person over and over again. There’s something nice about that.”
Sarah’s theory—that George and Nathaniel Sr. are very similar, which leads her to question whether or not we just try to replace those we truly love—fits in perfectly on Six Feet Under. Ruth and Claire both go for the damaged boys that probably aren’t the best for them, whereas Nate tries to replace every woman with whoever gives him that new, exciting feeling he gets every time, before he loses interest. But Ruth can’t see the similarities between George and Nathaniel Sr., ignorant to the fact that she’s falling for another man with a darker side underneath that’ll eventually be revealed.
Lisa: “Life is pain. Get used to it.”
In “The Dare,” Lisa visits Nate in two different ways: the first through a vision imploring Nate to settle down and move on, and in the second she’s afraid that N?sszate will move on and completely forget about her. For Lisa, at least during the period we see her with Nate, life has been filled with pain, misplaced love and a horrible death.
Keith: “I mean, Freud was saying that on some level he wanted to blow me, whether he knows it or not.”
David: “I don’t recall Freud’s position on the ‘Heywood Jablome’ phony phone message.”
While working at his new security job, Keith wonders if he’s being hit on by a co-worker, Javier (played by Bobby Cannavale). When Javier pulls a classic “Heywood Jablome” prank on Keith, he overanalyzes it to death and even asks David what it could mean. Is he really asking Keith to blow him, or is he just playing off his own insecurities about working with a gay man? In the end, Javier’s statement doesn’t really matter, but David’s confusion over Keith’s obsession with the idea makes for a great back-and-forth between the two.
Rico: “Having to admit fucked up shit about yourself fucking sucks.”
During the fourth season of Six Feet Under Rico was cheating on his wife, then getting kicked out of the house by his wife, and moving in with the Fisher family. Rico existed in a state of denial about his bad actions, until it all came crashing down on him. When Rico says this, he’s coming to a complete realization about just how awful of a person he’s been, and that a change needs to be made immediately.
Claire: “It’s so much easier to be gay.”
David: “Oh no.”
Claire: “Yeah, I’d have a really defined subculture.”
Claire: “We’re both women, I’d have some ideas of what she was thinking and feeling.”
David: “Not necessarily.”
Claire: “I wouldn’t have to deal with unfamiliar sex organs.”
David: “They’re all unfamiliar unless they’re yours.”
Once David comes out to his family, the dynamic between him and his sister became one of the most fun things to watch on Six Feet Under. When Claire briefly wonders if she might be gay, she weighs the pros and cons with David. But of course, he knows from experience that it’s not as easy as Claire thinks.
George: “Life is a series of accidents, one after another.”
George’s life is filled with one horrible situation after another. We learn of him holding his mother’s hand while she killed herself, his slew of divorces and his mental illness. Earlier in “Grinding the Corn,” George talks about the benefits of great things being grown in dung—this is the essence of life, for him. While babysitting Maya, he imparts this bit of wisdom when she spills her drink, as a way of saying that it’s okay for accidents to happen every now and then—that our lives so heavily rely on them anyway.
Claire: I just can’t seem to have a normal, healthy relationship with another person.”
Billy: “Right, get in line. Nobody has normal, healthy relationships. My theory—which I have yet to put into practice—is to pick someone slightly less crazier than you are.”
Claire and Billy aren’t exactly the greatest at developing sane relationships with significant others, but Bill’y idea on what makes a relationship slightly makes sense (and we’d know for sure, if anyone on this show actually accomplished it).
David: “It’s just so absurd. The idea that there are kids waiting for homes, and people still have the nerve to say who’s good enough, and who isn’t based on are you gay or not.”
Keith: “People are stupid. What a shock.”
Six Feet Under was one of the first shows to authentically present a gay couple and the struggles they day-to-day struggles they face. When David and Keith decide to adopt a child, they discover that, despite the vast number of kids who need homes, gay couples are still undesirable adoptive parent candidates. The options for gay men and women have changed a lot in the last decade and a half since Six Feet Under premiered, but this conversation between David and Keith still rings true in many ways—there’s still a long way to go.
Olivier: “I am a miserable prick who cares nothing about anyone but myself, and I look at you in your hospital bed, tired and worn out from surgery, and I selfishly wonder how long must I wait before I can fuck you.”
Margaret: “Wow. Finally somebody said something right.”
Brenda: “It would have been weird if I’d said it.”
Billy: “Not in this family.”
The Chenowith family is always completely insane, which is why it makes sense that Margaret Chenowith begins dating Olivier. When Margaret starts going through menopause and has to go the hospital, everyone tries to cheer her up. But it’s Olivier’s insanely self-centered desire for sex that helps Margaret get through the day. In a series filled with dark humor, the Chenowith family always manages to take it to a whole new, inappropriate level.
Nathaniel Sr.: “You hang onto your pain like it means something, like it’s worth something. Well let me tell ya, it’s not worth shit. Let it go. Infinite possibilities and all he can do is whine.”
Usually, when David hears Nathaniel Sr. speaking to him, it’s because he’s realizing his worst fears through his father. But “Untitled,” it brings about one of the more touching conversations between the two. David has just met with his attacker, and he still feels the pain that his attacker inflicted on him. But Nathaniel Sr. points out that he survived, that it’s useless to worry about the past and that, most importantly, he’s still got a future.
Nate: “I’m glad today sucked, because I wouldn’t want the happiest day of our life to be over already, would you?”
The fifth season of Six Feet Under begins with Nate and Brenda finally getting married, after being off and on for years. But the long-awaited day is filled with problems, from the happy couple losing their baby the day before, to family squabbles breaking out all over the place. But instead of matching Brenda’s frustrations like he normally would, Nate comes across as completely sweet for once, trying to make the best of a very difficult situation. Of course it’s a rare moment of tenderness, especially compared to how he’ll behave for the rest of the series, but it’s still a nice moment before all hell breaks loose for him.
Lisa: “Oh, please. Every time you try to have a nice normal life, you fuck it up. You’re never gonna have your happily-ever-after moment, no matter how many white veils you put on, honey. You’re just too fucked up for all that. Maybe you should just accept that, instead of trying to be something you’re not.”
Most of the time, it’s the Fisher family members who see dead people. But on the same day she joins the Fisher family, Brenda also engages in these meetings with the dead. While at her wedding, she talks to Lisa, who only exaggerates Brenda’s fears that she’ll never be good enough for someone else to want her. This is clearly about Brenda’s frustrations with herself more than anything else. However, as the rest of the fifth season will show, it’s Nate and not Brenda who will ruin the happily-ever-after they’re going for.
Nate: “I just feel like all I do, all day long, is just manage myself, try to fucking connect with people. But it’s like, no matter how much energy you pour into getting to the station on time or getting on the right train, there’s still no fucking guarantee that anybody’s gonna be there for you to pick you up when you get there.”
Maggie: “Well, I know if you think life’s a vending machine, where you put in virtue and get out happiness, then you’re probably gonna be disappointed. I know that.”
The first time Nate and Maggie truly connect is at his 40th birthday party, where he becomes angrier and angrier, until he takes this anger out on a bird and begins the most selfish part of his own narrative. This conversation almost seems to function as a turning point, where Nate gives up on caring about others and decides there’s no point in it—he’ll pursue his own happiness, regardless of the effect it has on those around him.
Nate: “You know, so much crazy shit has happened since these pictures were taken. So much. The idea of 40 more years…”
Nathaniel Sr.: “The next 40 fly by much faster. It’ll be over before you know it.”
Nate: “Time flies when you’re having fun, huh?”
Nathaniel Sr.: “No time, flies when you’re pretending to have fun. Time flies when you’re pretending to love Brenda and that baby she wants so much. Time flies when you’re pretending to know what people mean when they say ‘love.’ Face it buddy boy, there’s two kinds of people in the world: there’s you and there’s everybody else, and never the twain shall meet.”
In addition to the conversation with Maggie, it’s Nate’s vision of his father that also pushes him in the wrong direction. Through Nathaniel Sr., we see how Nate truly feels about his life. He doesn’t understand love, including the love he’s supposed to share with his wife Brenda, and he can’t seem to close the gap between himself and everyone else.
George: “I am so lucky. I hate that I’m the lucky one. No one’s ever lucky to have me. Nobody’s ever been lucky to have me.”
In just a few episodes, George goes from seeming like kind of a douchebag, to being a man with a legitimate psychiatric problem. He’s constantly seeing things and worrying about illogical situations. Despite how hard he tries to get better, it’s never good enough for Ruth, who feels trapped by the whole situation. Last season, it was hard not to sympathize with Ruth, but with this quote, it’s equally hard not to feel for George.
Brenda: “So I grew up with parents who had no boundaries. You grew up with parents that had nothing but boundaries. Do you really think that was so much better?”
When Six Feet Under started, it seemed like Nate and Brenda were almost kindred spirits, similar in many ways and destined for each other. However as the final season nears its end, we see just how different these two are, right down to how they will raise Maya. Brenda wants to tell Maya how she came into Maya’s life, while Nate isn’t sure if that’s the best way to tell Maya what happened to her birth mother. Brenda captures the fundamental difference in way she and Nate were raised, and it speaks volumes about who they are now.
Nate: “Love isn’t something you feel, it’s something you do. If the person you’re with doesn’t want it, do yourself a favor and save it for someone who does.”
The above quote says so much about the duality in Nate’s feelings on love. He’s right, love is something that you do and it takes a lot to make it work in the long run. But he also says that if love isn’t working, save it for someone else. The problem is Nate doesn’t know how to do both of these things, or to know when the time calls for one or the other.
Ruth: “You always told me everything happens for a reason.”
Sarah: “Oh, fuck off! Fuck that one to the ground! ‘Everything happens for a reason.’ What a crock! You say there’s a reason grandma lost her legs, and there’s a reason there’s a war and tsunamis? And there’s a reason George-fucking-Bush got reelected! Shit goes wrong because there’s evil in the world, like me!”
The last few times we see Sarah, she isn’t the happy-go-lucky free-spirit we’d grown to love. Instead, she’s a more pessimistic, realistic version of herself. She’s done away with her belief that everything happens for a reason, and she’s even scaring Claire away from the art world, after being the one to get Claire interested in art in the first place. Sarah’s friend has died, and now that she’s experienced such a profound pain from the loss, her viewpoints begin to shift.
Peter: “Why do people invite anybody to anything?”
In “The Silence,” Maggie’s Quaker friend Peter gets the honor of being the episode opening death. While at a small play he’s been invited to by friends, Peter begins to have a heart attack, bringing the play to a stop as people around watch him die. But after events like Nate’s terrible birthday party and Brenda and Nate’s wedding, it’s clear that Peter raises an excellent point about invitations.
Margaret: “All couples have these types of disagreements. You think I didn’t want to abort you and Billy?”
When Brenda and Nate discover that their unborn baby could possibly have a birth defect, the troubled couple once again splits on how to treat the situation. Nate thinks they shouldn’t risk it and should have an abortion, while Brenda believes she will love the baby no matter what. Margaret Chenowith once again shows up, with her unique blend of inappropriate reveals and maternal wisdom.
Durrell: “You look like a witch.”
Ruth: “I assure you I’m not.”
Durrell: “I didn’t say you were. I said you look like one.”
In the final season of Six Feet Under, the kids often steal the show. Nate and Brenda’s unborn child plays a huge part near the end and Maya is adorable enough to distract from much of what is happening around her. But when David and Keith decide to adopt two brothers—Durrell and Anthony—it introduces a gigantic shift in their life. Anthony is a sweetheart, but Durrell looks for any excuse to disrupt the lives of his new parents. It only get worse later in the episode, when he drives Keith’s car and smashes a neighbor’s car window by accident.
George: “The loss of a young person is always a terrible blow, but in this case, it’s even more cruel, because Nate was an idealist and he struggled all through his life to be a good man. He wasn’t perfect, then whom among us is? And he never gave up on himself or the people he loved, or even love itself, in all its vexing, beautiful forms.”
Nate’s death is a gigantic blow to everyone in the Fisher family. At his viewing, David tries to speak and has a panic attack, and Rico’s speech ends with him crying uncontrollably. George is just close enough to the family to be able to speak eloquently about Nate, and also distant enough to do so without breaking apart. In just a few well-worded sentences, George gets to the core of who Nate was: a flawed human being who tried his best and searched for love his entire life.
Nate: “Kurt Cobain died today.”
Nate: “He killed himself. He was just too pure for this world.”
Claire: “Well, his music will live on.”
Nate: “Yeah. Yeah, it will.”
Nate has died and everyone is dealing with the loss in their own ways. Claire seems to be taking it even harder than anyone else, not even able to dress properly for the viewing. When Claire has a memory of a younger Nate finding out Kurt Cobain died, it seems to bring her a sense of relief. In the moment, Nate is emotionally distraught, but it’s Claire’s reminder that Cobain’s legacy will live on that soothes his sorrow a bit. And Claire’s flashback makes her own pain just a little more bearable.
Nate: “I’m just saying you only get one life. There’s no God, no rules, no judgments, except for those you accept or create for yourself. And once it’s over, it’s over. Dreamless sleep forever and ever. So why not be happy while you’re here. Really? Why not?”
In the last few episodes of Six Feet Under, Claire has a huge decision to make: does she stay where she is, to remain close to her family, or should she move across the country and start a life that is more in line with what she wants? When she speaks to the recently deceased Nate, he pushes her towards the latter, and it’s the push she needs to do what her heart is telling her to do. Sure, Nate is just a representation of what Claire wants to hear, but it’s incredibly likely that if Nate was still alive, he’d give her the exact same advice.
Nate: “Stop listening to the static.”
Claire: “What the fuck does that mean?”
Nate: “Nothing. I just mean that everything in the world is like this transmission, making its way across the dark. But everything—death, life, everything—it’s all completely suffused with static. You know? But if you listen to the static too much, it fucks you up.”
Claire: “Are you high?”
Nate: “I am actually, yeah, quite high.”
In the last season of Six Feet Under, Claire is desperately struggling to figure out where her place in the world is. Instead of doing what she thinks is right, she’s forced into a crappy job, and is paying far too much attention to what everyone around thinks about her. When she talks to Nate in the penultimate episode, he tells her to tune out the small stuff, so she can pursue what really matters.
Brenda: “I used to think that I’d have more people in my life as time went on.”
Billy: “Mh, it doesn’t work that way.”
Brenda: “I’m starting to realize that.”
Billy: “It’s almost like as we get older, the number of people that completely get us shrinks.”
Brenda: “Right. Until we become so honed by our experiences… and time and…”
Billy: “Nobody else understands.”
No two characters get each other quite as well as Billy and Brenda do. It makes sense that, in the final moments of the following episode, Brenda is dying while listening to Billy talk on and on, once again. There’s a sadness to this, but there’s also some consolation in knowing that no matter who they lose and how hard things get, they’ll always have each either—literally until the end.
David: “We’ve been clutching so desperately to the past, and for what?”
Ruth: “Because that’s when there was hope.”
In the final episode of Six Feet Under, David, Ruth and many other characters learn to finally let go of the past. David feels freed by deciding to sell the funeral home (which he will later go back on), while Ruth is still grasping at the past—when her family used to feel whole. It’s hard to let go of the past, but it’s also hard not to idealize it, convincing yourself that it was better than it might have been.
Nate: “Claire, you wanna know a secret? I spent my whole life being scared. Scared of not being ready, of not being right, of not being who I should be. And where did it get me?”
Right before leaving for a exciting new job in New York City, Claire gets a phone call and finds out that the job simply no longer exists. She panics about having to tell everyone that the trip is off and that the new life that she was hoping for doesn’t exist anymore. But Nate visits and points out the silliness in being afraid to make a big leap. His words remind us of another quote we heard before: if something scares you in life, you should probably do it.
Claire: “I wanna take a picture of everyone.”
Nate: “You can’t take a picture of this. It’s already gone.”
So much of this excellent series is about letting go of the past, while trying forge your path to the future. When Claire starts to leave L.A. to begin a new life in New York City, she keeps trying to stay behind, talking herself out of doing what she needs to do. She tells her mom that she’ll stay back if she wants her to, and considers not going to New York when her job falls through. In the last words spoken in the entire series, Claire takes a picture of her family and her childhood home, crying at what she’s leaving behind. And in this moment, Nate lets her know that there’s nowhere to go but forward—even in the present, the past is already beginning to slip away.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.