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Six Feet Under: Ecotone

Nate: "You're making love with somebody and your head explodes. That's a good sign."

"Nathaniel Samuel Fisher, Jr., 1965-2005."

When the series began, Nate was running from death. In the end, he stopped fighting; in the dream, he jumped right in the water, and found it warm and welcoming. (Was it Nate's dream, or David's? Or both?) In his final day on earth, Nate was so calm and quiet. It was almost like he shorted out, like his body blew up and it cleared his mind. He found peace before death. Or he found peace, and it ultimately led to death.

I loved Nate Fisher. Not because he was good or bad or funny or charming or sexy or self-centered or annoying — he was all of these things — but because he felt like such a real person to me. He loved, he made mistakes, he hurt the people in his life, he searched for happiness and struggled to find meaning, as we all do. Losing Nate was like losing someone I knew. I don't think a fictional death has ever affected me as strongly as his did.

And yet it felt right, somehow. This is a series about death, after all, and right from the very first episode, a specific subtheme has been Nate's relationship with death in particular. I thought from the very beginning that the only logical way to end the series was with the death of the main character. Even if I hadn't known it was coming, I would have known it was coming.

The Bus of Death came in the form of the family van, with Nathaniel Senior at the wheel -- the same van that Fisher & Sons always used to transport bodies. That dream, whoever's it was, was so moving. Nathaniel said, "Am I going to have to separate you boys?" and that was just what happened. Death took Nate from David. In many ways, Nate's death was a repeat of the pilot episode; the father becomes the son, and the son, the father. The story began when Nate and Brenda met at the airport, and Nate broke up with Brenda right before he died.

Nate told Rico about the ecotone, the area where two ecological worlds overlap. Like Ruth in the wilderness and Nate in the hospital. Like life and death. During this episode, Nate was sort of in limbo between life and death, in the spiritual ecotone. Ruth got lost, literally and figuratively, and missed the last few hours of her son's life. She finally got on the Bus of Death, too (it was even a Buddhist Bus of Death), that brought her back from the wilderness to civilization. Even though I thought the scene where she shot all of her husbands and boyfriends was very funny, I found her entire sequence so frustrating; you just know that she's going to regret not being there to see Nate one more time for the rest of her life. But it was like life. These things happen. You don't always get to say goodbye.

Tragedy brings out the best and the worst in people. Ted turned out to be a helluva guy. He was just there for Claire, holding her up emotionally, asking practical questions but not inserting himself. No small thing for someone he barely knew. Claire and Ted may be opposites politically but they are both good people, and that's what counts, after all. Nate's death may have given Claire an unexpected gift in the form of a very special man.


— The Opening Death was just priceless. You think the guy is going to drop dead from overexertion and he gets jumped by a cougar. We were supposed to keep thinking of the cougar while Ruth was out in the wilderness, too. And not coincidentally, David talked about feeling like a lioness with her cubs. Maybe that was why the guy died.

— Ruth's bus ride was with people who didn't speak English. But she still managed to successfully transmit her frustrations with men.

— In this modern age, we usually find out someone is desperately ill or has died because of phone calls. Lots of heavy and interesting phone calls in this episode.

— There was a show about sea birds on the hospital television while Nate was dying. And then the birds were in the dream. This after the bird at the wedding and the bluebird of happiness. Birds are symbolic of the spirit, aren't they?

And pieces:

— "Laurence Hall Matheson, 1971-2005." I think this was the first opening death that made me laugh out loud. Interesting when you contrast it with the closing death of my favorite character in the series.

— It was so nice seeing everyone in and out of Nate's hospital room. It created such a sense of relief, like of course Nate was going to make it. At least they sort of got to say goodbye.

— Brenda and Nate decided on Willa if it was a girl. Of course, now Brenda can name her whatever she wants.

— Poor Maggie. Completely out of her element and the focus of a family emergency that wasn't her family, unwanted and unable to leave because she might know something that would help Nate. She was sort of in a family ecotone.

— I was confused about why the dream had David all shaggy and smoking a joint. The second time through, I noticed that David had told Nate he was thinking about smoking a joint all through his first parent-teacher conference.

— Brief drama with Vanessa and Rico. You know, most guys who say they'll never cheat again are lying, whether they realize it or not. I think Rico might be the kind of guy who means it. Then again, maybe not.

— Anthony was freaked by the hospital because his mother O.D.'d multiple times. Poor Anthony. I wasn't on board with the adoption thing at first, but now I'm glad that those boys have David and Keith.

— There was dead silence instead of music over the closing credits. I think that was the first time.


Claire: "I think we've stumbled upon a Republican nest."
Ted: "I believe it's called an enclave."
I loved Claire's and Ted's faces as they realized they were complete political opposites.

Ruth: "You know what I'd like?"
Hiram: "What?"
Ruth: "I'd like to see life clearly."

David: "I didn't know I'd feel like this. Like a lioness with my cubs." Like the Opening Death, perhaps?

Claire: "Thank you for the worst fucking news I ever heard."

Nate: "I see that there can be peace between a man and a woman, and that's what I want."

Nate: "Maya?"
Brenda: "She's with my mother. (Nate looks at her) It was an emergency."

Hiram: "You can't survive out here on your own. You have no wilderness skills!"
Ruth: "Oh, go give yourself a hand job!"

Ted: "You'd do the same thing for me, wouldn't you?"
Claire: "I would now."

David: "Where the fuck could Mom be? (louder) Sorry, Chuck."
Chuck: "That's okay. I'm a Buddhist. We don't care about that shit."
This was right after Ruth on the bus of Buddhists/bus of death.

Four stars,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. Great post! :) While the episode was deeply tragic, it also had some laugh-out-loud moments. You mention the cougar, for instance. Ruth's gunning down her past lovers cracked me up, especially Arthur. What was it he said? "I love you, let's rub heads together"? :D (Then again, Arthur as a character always made me laugh.) The best thing about the episode, though, was Ruth's argument with Hiram. She really stands up for herself (finally). Can't seem to find the exchange quoted anywhere, though, which is a shame.

  2. Some day, when the urge to rewatch this series strikes and I tell myself this time I'll be prepared and not be a hot mess when Nate dies, I'll realize I'm going to be wrong again.

    As you said Billie, he felt like a real person in my life. All the Fishers do to me. And no other character's death on any other show makes me feel as heartbroken as Nate's. And knowing we're going to see the fallout because the series isn't over. Someday I'll realize the only way to watch this show and not feel like I've been gut punched is to be dead inside. It's a testament to this series that rewatches don't diminish it.

  3. I think you really nailed it, this *is* lik life. Messy, complicated, oddly timed, that's why a death like Nate's really shakes you, even if you can't stand him. Poor Maya, loosing both of her parents so young. And poor Willa, who will never meet her Dad. How fucked up is that?
    The scene between David and Brenda was moving, both bonding over their children. I don't really like Brenda either, but her willingness to overlook Nate's transgression with Maggie is heartbreaking. All she wanted to do was safe her family. The question remains: Is love work or not?
    Claire's storyline implies that yes, it is. Their political views are fundamentally different, but at least Claire got out of her stupor and notices the world around her again. There might be a real connection here. Please, let this be the jumpstart for her to create art again, and not just for the sake of success but for the sake of dealing with what real life throws at you.

    The last dream sequence was stunning. Birds can be taken as spirits, or be a symbol of freedom. His last moments were filled with the men in his life, to whom he always had an easier relationship with than the women. In the end, he perceived his brother as a cool, easy going guy (what a contrast to season 1) and his dad as the ferryman, taking care of his passage onto the other side. The water is warm, the sun is shining and Nate is finally free.


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