The entire episode is amazing, and it could have ended with Claire leaving her home, having taken the last “present-day” portrait of the Fischer family, to pursue her new life as an artist in New York.
But, for those of you who have seen the series, you know it doesn’t end there. We are given what is (for me at least) the most heart-wrenching 10 minutes of television, as one by one all the major characters of the show die. Not in one big, terrible swoop, but across the years, dropping in on them in their final moments.
For starters, this inclusion is obviously supposed to make us sad. We’ve spent five seasons with these characters. We love them. And we love seeing their respective deaths as means of finding peace. Ruth, who spend much of the series feeling lonely and isolated, dies among loved ones. Michael, having lost Keith years earlier, sees a vision of his late husband moments before dying himself. Claire dies surrounded by pictures of her loved ones, wrapped up in her own memories. For something as sad as the deaths of these characters, they all move on in pretty satisfying ways.
But writer/director Alan Ball is smarter than that. These emotionally devastating scenes aren’t included just to make us sad, or even to make us happy or to wrap things up. I think his main goal is to remind us that everything, in fact, does end. As viewers we take it for granted that the characters we grow so attached to will live on forever and ever, in our dreams and our hearts beyond the series finale. No matter how happy their lives go past the present-day of 2005 (where the series ends, for the most part), they all will die. We need to remember that. They are not eternal.
Sure, that’s tough love and it’s a very challenging and trying experience to sit through. But it’s a necessary one, and it really hits the point of Six Feet Under home. As borderline-traumatic as that finale is, I can’t imagine what is undoubtedly one of the finest TV series ending any other way.